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Quit worrying about publication

8 August 2012

From LouisvilleKY.com, interviewing author Sue Grafton:

Do you have any words of wisdom for young writers?

Quit worrying about publication and master your craft. If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid. Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.

In light of our Louisville neighbor John Locke’s blockbuster indie sales, and the growing percentage of each best-seller list being filled out by “indie” writers, do you still feel that advice is solid? I know it was the standard advice a few years ago, but is it still good advice?

If so, what hard work are indie success stories too lazy to complete?

Is it possible that indie publishing is more effective than querying agents & publishers, for the new writer? More and more agents and publishers seem to be treating indie books as the new slush pile.

Good questions.  Obviously, I’m not talking about the rare few writers who manage to break out. The indie success stories aren’t the rule. They’re the exception. The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall. Don’t get me started. Oops..you already did.

Link to the rest at LouisvilleKY.com and thanks to Jolea for the tip.

Self-Publishing

147 Comments to “Quit worrying about publication”

  1. Sorry about it but I got a Red Dress Ink book just yesterday and it’s boring and amateurish.
    Traditional publishing was not a shortcut for Snooki who learned her craft, and the book was well-honed by professional editors before being released upon their victims. I mean grateful reading public, of course.

  2. I think she has a valid point. The ease of digital self-publishing means that there is a good possibility of a new author publishing a book before it’s ready. Speaking as a new author, one of the hardest lessons for me to learn was how to know when a book is finished. Traditional publishing alleviates a lot of that because you’ve got people who will tell you “no.” I’ve learned that “no” is as important, if not more important, than “yes” in this process.

    I’ll be self-publishing my debut novel in the fall, but it was a long hard slog to get it ready. Of course writing is a very personal endeavor. I’m sure there are some folks who can type gold. I’m not one of those, but your mileage may vary.

    • Traditional publishers do a lot of saying “no,” but a lot less of saying much else of use to a new writer. Rejection alone doesn’t teach us much of anything, if all my years of it mean anything.

      Back in the day, I wrote and submitted short fiction to science fiction and fantasy markets. I’d send something out and it would come back and my husband would say “Aren’t you going to rewrite that before you send it out again? If an editor rejected it, it must mean something’s wrong with it.”

      I’d reply “Possibly. It might also mean it wasn’t right for that editor on that day.” And frequently I’d end up selling the same story to another editor of equal caliber. Or one editor would send me 2 pages of suggestions on how to make it a story he’d publish, but with which I didn’t agree, and the next would take it with no changes at all. Once I sold a story (no changes) to an editor who’d rejected it roundly two years before.

      It sounds like you’ve put a lot of work into getting your novel ready–by your own definition of ready–to meet its readers. Sure, a lot of writers won’t, and their books won’t be the ones your future fans will buy. Nobody types gold, except possibly Harlan Ellison. Sue Grafton certainly does not. All success to you.

      • Not only does Harlan type gold, but he can do it in store windows.

        • Must be his ribbon, then. I can’t stand 99% of what Harlan writes, and the only thing I can stand, I hate the ending.

      • Bridget,

        “Traditional publishers do a lot of saying “no,” but a lot less of saying much else of use to a new writer. Rejection alone doesn’t teach us much of anything, if all my years of it mean anything.”

        I couldn’t agree more.

        Russell

    • It’s such a negative viewpoint – and also buys into the whole idea that “the readers won’t know what’s good unless it goes through traditional publishing.”

      Frankly, I’m much more interested in getting to ‘yes’ with my readers, without jumping through a lot of needless hoops.

      Sure, there are some works published that are still doughy in the middle (at least to my standards). Some readers like that taste, some will enjoy the flavor despite it being undercooked, and some won’t eat it at all.

      It comes down to taste, and tolerance for grammar. A lot of authors are much much pickier about ‘correct writing’ than readers are. Yes, the goal of the writer should be to make the craft as transparent a vehicle for the transmission of story as possible. But if you have a huge, wonderful story that’s blazing in fiery glory, a few grammatical missteps or clunky language use won’t deter readers, who above all, want to *connect with a story*.

      My two rambling cents~ 🙂

  3. “If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid.”

    Bollocks! While the Universe is many things, it is not noticeably concerned about good storytelling.

  4. “Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.”

    It was dumb when Jodi Picoult said it, it’s dumb now that Sue Grafton said it, and it will be dumb the next time an established author says it.

  5. I agree that you should learn your craft.

    The rest is… well, irrelevant. Indie publishing has just as much rejection as traditional publishing. When you indie publish you are competing against exactly the same books as if you publish traditionally.

    In the old days if you self published andgot rejected by the market it cost thousands of dollars. Today it costs less than postage.

  6. “The indie success stories aren’t the rule. They’re the exception.” And the traditional publishing success stories aren’t the rule, they’re the exception. And the professional athletic success stories aren’t the rule. And the business success stories aren’t the rule. And so on. If indie publishing is a short cut it’s only a short cut around little tin god gatekeepers. MS Grafton’s commentary fires my ire.

  7. Wow, this kind of thing really gets me heated. Here’s my comment:

    “‘If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid. Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work’

    Well, that’s some fantastic advice right there. It’s as useful as, ‘When the student is ready, the master will appear.’

    Sue, it’s comforting to know that if you were starting out today, you wouldn’t self-publish. You’d just toil away for years in obscurity waiting for the Universe to lend a hand.

    Sweet Christmas, authors like you and Jodi Picoult should be ashamed of yourselves when it comes to your edict to not self-publish. You have a large platform to actually help young writers, but your ‘advice’ is driven by nothing more than your own ignorance and self-interests.

    Maybe you think that you’re not talented or hardworking enough to self-publish. Many others chose that route and are doing well for themselves, so stop dismissing the self-publishing option out of hand, because it makes you sound scared.”

    • I think we’re not translating this correctly, Dan.

      “Don’t self-publish” = “Don’t compete with my publisher”

      • Wait … just wait … that translation is like the Rosetta Stone for me. With it, I’ve been able to translate further:

        “Please don’t let there be a self-published author out there who writes in the same genre, but is also better and cheaper than I am.”

      • Also, “the Universe” = “the publishing industry”.

        As in, “Don’t you stupid self publishers understand that the publishing industry IS the Universe?!”

      • Ouch, but yes. I am really stunned by the hostility a lot of pro authors show toward self-publishing. I think there is also a bit of “I had to jump through all those hoops to prove I was good enough, so you should have to do it, too.”

  8. “The indie success stories aren’t the rule. They’re the exception.”

    All publishing success stories are the exception. Having your work accepted for traditional publication is still a one-in-a-million chance. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done; quite a few of us who hang out on PG’s porch managed to have that particular dream come true, only to discover what happens to writers after they wake up.

    “The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time.”

    I’m with her on the mastery part–a destination at which no-one ever quite arrives–but having been there and done that with the mailing of manuscripts and getting them back ad nauseum, I happened to notice that the hard work of submitting mss to publisher after publisher very seldom results in anything a writer can learn, except how to cross off that name and mail to the next. And there is quite a bit of hard work involved in preparing a book for publication that Ms. Grafton has never experienced.

    I stopped reading Sue Grafton the day I clawed my way through a painfully-detailed half-page “Look at all the research I did on this!” narrative hairball, followed by the line “…but I really didn’t know anything about ____.”

    • I never knew what to call research dumps before. Now I do: “narrative hairballs.” Perfect! 🙂

    • Narrative hairballs! Genius.

    • ‘Narrative hairballs’ should be a standard term in the trade. I want that phrase. I want to use it, and use it often, and be understood whenever I use it. Then vengeance will be mine, nyaah hah! — er, I mean, the language will be meaningfully enriched.

      • I’m all for enriching the language, Tom. Narrative hairballs for all my friends! Price is no object!

        • Back in the day when I was sending out my short fiction to places like Redbook, I would get encouraging notes from the editor like, “Sorry, just bought one so much like this, so I can’t use it. But don’t stop sending me stories!”

          Mind you, I was happy that she liked my work, but I didn’t learn anything from that rejection other than that submission had bad timing.

          Also, that Playboy stationery does have the bunny on it, and you get that with your rejection letter.

  9. Too lazy to do the hard work? Um, not likely. I’ve spent 15 years learning art and craft, have signed 11 trade publishing contracts, have won an award for spec-fic, and I cannot seem to sell to a large house in my market.
    Every time, what I’ve just finished is their “we don’t want it flavor of the month.” Why is it better for me to let these stories languish on my hard drive than to sell them as I can–indie?

    Sorry, Ms. G. I don’t buy the idea that if trade publishing works for one writer, it’s the only path for all.

    • No doubt! I’m with you, Deb. I have spent many years on the art and craft of writing poetry. For me, literary journals are a worthy bar that helps prime/improve my poems. My new poetry book has about 30 journal publications, so in a way I’ve passed through the gate of the literary gatekeepers—but not for the reasons they want me to. My goal is to improve the poem, test it out. And there are other ways to do that—time is a good one, as Wordsworth said. For the book, I chose to publish it myself and not to wait two to three years for a small press to publish it and give me sub-par royalties.

  10. I had a friend (passed on now)–this is just a comment, just some hearsay– who was at an event with Sue Grafton and overheard Ms Grafton saying how much she loathed that series Kinsey Milhone or whatever A-Z thing she wrote. It shocked my friend enough that she called me and did 10 minutes on it.

    • I think all the big series writers learn to hate their successful series. They aren’t allowed to write anything else, EVER.

      Doyle HATED Holmes.

      I’m hoping she’s got a hard drive of ‘other stuff’ that she’s afraid to publish.

      • “I think all the big series writers learn to hate their successful series. They aren’t allowed to write anything else, EVER.”

        When working with a trade publisher.

        Of course now they have the freedom to write and sell whatever they want… so long as they self-publish it.

      • Abolutely. He even killed Holmes off at one point.

        A more recent example: Spider Robinson got so tired of Callahan’s Bar that he actually nuked the place (it didn’t stay nuked; like Doyle, Robinson changed his mind).

      • Baum begged kids to buy his non-Oz books, till finally he gave up and started moving characters to Oz. (It was really kind of sad to read his forewords.)

        • Yes, he even tried to turn Oz invisible at the end of the EMERALD CITY OF OZ so that those pesky “air ships” wouldn’t see if if they flew over. Unfortunately for him, one of his “dear tyrannical child readers” suggested the use of radio to get in touch with the Wizard (who was mechanically inclined). He finally gave up and wrote eight more Oz stories before his death at which time Ruth Plumly Thompson and others took over.

          Series writing is difficult in any genre since it is difficult to maintain pacing and “discovery” of characters. I think the more successful series writers in any of the genres are those that have sufficient detail in their world-building and plenty of color and characters to explore different pathways so they don’t get bogged down or muddled.

          • Something of a branding issue, no?
            When the product becomes the brand, instead of the producer. Most businesses can live with (or rejoice at) such a problem but it can be hell for a creator (or performer) seeking to make a living at his/her craft to be pigeonholed like that.

            Hoary old aphorism: “Find a way to way to make living doing what you love or learn to love the way you can make a living.”

            It’s hard either way and the crotchey old guard of the Ancien Regime aren’t helping any with their lofty pronouncements.

  11. Aside from all the excellent points, she failed to take note that a self-published author doesn’t need to get on the best seller’s list to earn a living at this job and be “successful.” Sure, that’s still only going to be a small percent of those who actually try. Many only put out one book, and when it doesn’t rack up big sales, get disappointed and end their “career.” But there are a lot more successful self-published books that are good than what she is giving credit for.

    And compared to getting traditionally published, I’d say your chances of being a success are actually bigger, because at least your work is out there to be found by readers instead of in an envelope going from agent to agent, and pub house to pub house for years.

  12. I can’t think of a single other profession where you are expected to not make a living at it until you’ve mastered it. The idea is simply ridiculous.

    • Out of all the great comments on here yours is my favorite Sarah. THANK YOU for saying that. I have friends who are engineers, dentists, plumbers, accountants, lawyers, teachers and NONE of them would say they have ‘mastered’ their careers, yet would be shocked to the bone if somebody said “well since you havent mastered it you shouldn’t be making a living at it!”
      Ah yes but ‘writing is supposed to float from fairy dust dandruff ouf of your muse’s golden locks and should not be judged like merely earthly toil’. Ugh! Writing is work just like everything else. And a worker is worthy of his wage. Writers should work towards mastery, but they have the right to expect to live off it when they are ‘good enough’, on their way to utter and complete ‘mastery’ (whatever that would look like.)

    • I love your comment, Sarah!

      I’ve been writing since I was 15 (42 now) and working as a paramedic for 19 yrs. Even in EMS we’re not expected to master it right off. It takes years to be a top notch medic, and that’s a critical job with big downside if you mess up. Yet after writing for almost 30 yrs, I finally got fed up with the industry too and am put the final touches on my first ebook this month. I figure, wth, right? I’ve got three more I’m finishing up to follow and plan on filling up my online library of work for the rest of my life. It’s an exciting time to be an indie writer!

    • “I can’t think of a single other profession where you are expected to not make a living at it until you’ve mastered it. The idea is simply ridiculous.”

      Really? So you’ll hire a contractor to build your dream house who has never picked up a hammer. And when the house comes back with a leaky roof, cracked foundation, crooked windows, doors put on backwards, and sloping floors: “Oh, look, he finished a whole house! Here’s five stars for you on Angie’s List!”

      Or order a shirt off the internet, and when it arrives it has crooked seams, fallen hems, threads hanging loose, missing buttonholes, and the collar put on backwards. “Oh, isn’t it sweet she finished a whole shirt! Five stars on Amazon for you!”

      Or buy a GM car in the 1970s. Oh, wait, nobody with any sense did that. They rightfully bought cars from Japanese and German automakers instead.

      Doctors have to pass boards. Lawyers have to pass the bar. Teachers need licenses, as do a whole host of other professions.

      The idea of being a “master” at a craft doesn’t mean one has to be Leonardo da Vinci before putting your wares before the public. It comes from the medieval guilds, where one had to serve so many years of apprenticeship before achieving “master” status and therefore able to join the guild and sell to the public.

      The fact is publishing is the one industry right now where there are no barriers to entry save a word processor and an internet connection.

      And the fact is that there are many people who think just because they can publish, it means that they should. And, yeah, no, they shouldn’t. Because as Grafton rightfully points out, writing is indeed a craft that requires an apprenticeship before mastery.

      Are there brilliant self-pubbed books out there that would have languished on hard drives because New York publishing is a marketing driven world? Of course. It’s terrific that they can finally reach their readers.

      But are there millions more self-pubbed books out there that commit egregious crimes against the English language and the principles of storytelling? Ye gods, are there ever.

      Stop being so thin-skinned and quick to take offense. No wonder reviewers hate working with y’all – you can’t take a lick of honest criticism.

      Grafton’s experience matches mine. The self-published books she’s read are “often” (note: she didn’t say “always”) amateurish. And that is the plain, unvarnished truth. As is also: “Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project.”

      A self-pubbed author who is savvy about the industry and their craft would admit the truth in Grafton’s statements.

      Yet time after time I see self-pubbed authors slamming out what barely passes as a first draft on Kindle Select, asking the public for money, and then whining about their hurt feelings when they receive less than rave notices.

      Your enemy is not Sue Grafton. Your enemy is the self-published authors who don’t study their craft, don’t work at honing it, don’t want to hire an editor or find an honest critique group, treat readers and reviewers as their beta testers, and then leave pompous, self-inflating comments on blogs like this one.

      ‘Cause you’re just making each other look bad. And now I refuse to buy a self-pubbed book unless it comes recommended from a trusted source. Sorry, but I’ve been burned too many times by amateur apprentices who think they are master profe

  13. The bottom line is still the bottom line – I’m not even a ‘successful’ Indie – but I’ve got 25k copies of my work in readers hands.

    They may never read it – but it’s out there. Something that would never have happened if I didn’t publish the book myself.

  14. When I see a post like this I always cringe….

    Not at the ignorant thing said by the old pro who is understandably out of touch with current changes, but at the predictable (and frankly, shallow) response to it.

    Sorry folks, but behind that out-of-date statement (which isn’t actually stupid — five years ago it was very valid) is good advice.

    Sue Grafton is a long-standing pro who actually knows a thing or two about writing. Maybe she doesn’t know about the current publishing climate, so what? So she thinks self-publishing is that printed book on her desk (which was probably vanity press) – she probably doesn’t know how to program her DVR either.

    But that’s not relevant because that’s not something she knows enough about for us to care.

    Here is the advice:

    “Quit worrying about publication and master your craft.”

    In other words, she’s saying “Don’t traditionally publish either.” At least not until you’ve mastered your craft. When you’ve mastered your craft, nobody’s advice matters.

    • I normally agree with most everything you post here, but come on. At no point did she imply that an author shouldn’t traditionally publish. In fact, she stated that rejections are part of mastering the craft (how a “no” from a publishing house is better than real reader feedback is beyond me). That section of the interview was blatantly anti-self publishing.

      If she’s ignorant about the current publishing climate, she shouldn’t speak of it. And if all she said was to stop worrying about publishing and just write and improve, no harm. But she stated in no uncertain terms that “self-publishing” = “lazy amateur.”

      • Yeah, no.
        A top editor rejected my romantic comedy because she thought it wasn’t a legal thriller. I fail to see how that feedback can help any writer hone their craft.
        In an alternate universe where editors were still the thoughtful well-educated people they were say when Malcolm Cowley or Maxwell Perkins was in the business, then I’d say sure, listen to editors and take their advice.
        Now, no. They’ve demeaned writers for so long that their credibility is gone. For me. Other people–Sue Grafton and uh that Turow person–may think they’re great.

        • I had a similar experience, Barb. My last go round with an agent was along the lines of: “I love your story, I love your writing style. Ummm, could you re-write the entire series so that it will be from the wives and other womens viewpoints? I think I can get in front of editors if it’s Historical Romance instead of Historical Fiction.” Note, the criticism had nothing to do with my ability to tell a story. It had to do with changing POV and genre in order to make it more marketable.

          Fair point for the agent since that is one thing agents and editors need to consider but I didn’t learn anything from the exercise with regard to craft. What I did learn was that I prefered to tell my story the way I intended. Self-publishing enables me to do that instead of a compromise that didn’t appeal to me.

          • Note, the criticism had nothing to do with my ability to tell a story. It had to do with changing POV and genre in order to make it more marketable.

            Moreover, the criticism had nothing to do with making the story more marketable TO READERS. It was only to make it more marketable TO EDITORS, without the least thought about what the actual consumer might want.

    • Your point would be valid if that had been all that Grafton had said. But it wasn’t; she went on to say, Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work. That’s a self-serving comment that seriously reduces my estimation of her, both as a writer and a businesswoman.

      • It’s not like she stopped there, either. She left NO doubt about how she feels about self-publishers:

        “The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall. Don’t get me started.”

      • She also said: ” I think we’d all be well-advised to ignore the opinions of others. There’s always someone who wants to tear you down.”

        I can’t be the only one who found that amusing in light of her ‘Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.’ 😉

    • Dan, K.W. – you both missed the point.

      The anti-self-pub bit is a red herring. It’s not useful or relevant or worthy of any comment whatsoever.

      I particularly disagree with K.W. — that’s not a self-serving comment at all. From her point of view, it’s an incredibly generous statement. From her life long experience (and it’s accurate experience up until two or three years ago) self-publishing sinks a career. Preventing young newbies from doing something destroy their careers is not self-serving. Self-serving would be to tell people to do it in hopes that it would take out the competition.

      It’s like a teenager dismissing grandma’s advice on life because she’s ignorant about Twitter.

      When you sneer at someone for not being as hip as you are, YOU are the loser. You’re the one shooting yourself in the foot.

      • How on Earth did we “miss the point?” Sue Grafton, an experienced writer if there ever was one, went to great lengths to make sure everyone knew her views on self-publishing. It has nothing to do with being hip. Are you really just glossing over what she repeatedly said?

        It is a self-serving comment. I don’t think she believes that self-pub can sink a career; I think she’s afraid of the opposite. And, let’s be honest, her venom isn’t directed at the self-publishing industry; it’s directed at those who would dare to self-publish.

        I’m stunned at your contention that the people who would call Grafton on her obvious anti-self-publisher vitriol are the bad guys here because they’re just misinterpreting what Grandma meant to say. You’re trying to get into her head. We’re going off of what she repeatedly said. You yourself said that she knows writing, so it’s safe to assume that she said what she meant to say.

        • First, it was MY point you missed, but you missed something else:

          This is what SHE said on her own:

          “Quit worrying about publication and master your craft. If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid. Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.”

          The rest was in response to a provocative question which basically baited her into saying it. She didn’t say all that on her own. The above statement is what her message is. And if you look at JUST THAT, it’s obvious that her primary message is not “don’t self-publish” but rather “do your work.”

          She phrases it exactly like she would have phrased it five years ago (when she would have been absolutely and completely right) and there is no reason why she shouldn’t.

          MY point is that we indies are so wrapped up in being the Coolest Kids on the Block that we stop learning. We become this bleating broken record which whines on and on, and just keeps us from ever exploring anything else, or learning anything else.

          And it’s all over something that is utterly irrelevant. That argument is over! We won! Can we PLEASE move on?

          • You said: “…it’s obvious that her primary message is not ‘don’t self-publish’.”

            Yet she said: “Don’t self-publish.” And then insulted the people who do. At length. She drew a line in the sand between mastering the craft and self-publishing. Point me to any passage in her interview where we can reasonably infer that she’s speaking negatively of people going the traditional route. I’ll wait.

            She went off on the AUTHORS who choose to go the self-pub route. Are you really going to say that she was “baited” into saying the following? Seriously?

            “The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall. Don’t get me started.”

            I don’t know if winning is on the table, but I do know this: We won’t “win” until attitudes like hers go away, and until people stop making excuses for them.

            You may think this is all irrelevant, but it seems most everyone else thinks otherwise. What’s worse is that you’re ignoring what she actually said (again, she’s experienced in word use and says what she means) in favor of what you hope she meant to say.

          • Camille, having looked up the interviewer (mostly because she lives in my neck of the woods), I don’t believe she was baiting Ms. Grafton. She’s actually “one of us;” she has four novels self-published under the pseudonym “Red Tash” through Smashwords and CreateSpace. I think the question–and its slightly abrasive phrasing–was prompted by her own support of indie authors, as well as a bit of personal offense that the famous literary figure she’s interviewing just called her “too lazy to do the hard work.”

            That said, I do believe there’s nothing to be offended over. Sue Grafton made her fame and fortune in a different time, under different rules. I wouldn’t take her views seriously any more than I do Grandma’s crazy rants about the commies. :p

            • I did my due diligence on that particular question (the only follow-up I submitted to her past the original questionnaire). I stopped short of sending statistics to inform Ms. Grafton about how common it is to be an indie success, because I’ve found that puts interview subjects on the defensive, as a reporter.

              I’m not writing for 60 Minutes here. This is a local topical news blog. It wasn’t my intention to alienate the interview subject or castigate her for being out of her depth. Believe me, had she been a serial killer or a political candidate, I’d have been much harder on her, but this wasn’t that kind of article–and no matter what, I’m biased by my full-time job as an indie author, so this was a tricky situation.

              Her response was that the best-selling indies weren’t the ones she was talking about, which told me that the information embedded in the question didn’t even register. All she could relate to was the awful-selling self-published who go to the extreme of sending her copies of their horrible masterpieces.

              Maybe not the most helpful or gracious answer, but fair enough. To Sue Grafton, indie authors = what’s sitting on her desk. It’s a disappointing answer, but it’s her reality, I suppose.

              Regardless, it was Ms. Grafton who brought self-publishing into the conversation. Not I.

      • Just so I’m clear, here: We should disregard everything she said about self-publishers being lazy, disrespectful, shortcutting amatuers as irrelevant. Instead, we should focus solely on a platitude like “master your craft.”

        That’s, um … great.

        • Dammit, I typo’d “amateurs!” Grafton was right about us self-publishers! If only I’d waited for the Universe! 😀

          • I had no idea the Universe possessed the ultimate spellcheck! Gee, if I wait long enough for the Universe, will it also write all my stories perfectly, too? 😛

            After all, it can apparently deliver publishers if I wait long enough. Shouldn’t it do the same for the story itself?

            • Gee, if I wait long enough for the Universe, will it also write all my stories perfectly, too?

              Of course. Address your query to:

              The Universe
              Infinite Number of Monkeys Dept.
              P.O. Box ∞
              Stochastic, NY 00000

              Allow up to 1 googolplex years for a response.

            • “Allow up to 1 googolplex years for a response.”

              Sounds like some agents.

            • It’s the new industry standard, Dan.

      • I think you’ve got it backwards, Camille. The “master your craft” bit is the red herring that’s suppose to make people swallow the “don’t self publish” bit easier.

        And ignorance isn’t an excuse for giving out terrible career advice. She should be called out on it.

        • I agree, Sarah.

          She clearly had an agenda. Grafton has an axe to grind and she was waiting for the opening to grind it.

      • I’m pretty sure Sue Grafton is not so opaque to the publishing scene and the rapid emergence of author-centered publishing that she made her remarks in ignorance, and I frankly don’t care how unhip she is or is not. Many young writers look up to her and value her advice, and it’s bad advice–regurgitated platitudes about trad pub and dire warnings of the dangers of publishing your own works. I will happily (and shallowly) stand by everything I’ve said so far, and I’m leaving much unsaid.

    • Perhaps she could explain how a writer is supposed to ‘master their craft’ without getting feedback from the readers who would want to buy their book.

      A form rejection from a trade publisher certainly won’t help, and publishers have a lousy track record for picking books that readers want to read.

    • “In other words, she’s saying “Don’t traditionally publish either.” At least not until you’ve mastered your craft. When you’ve mastered your craft, nobody’s advice matters.”

      Which is bad advice. In my opinion.

      How does a writer know that they have ‘mastered the craft’? If writers knew whether the book they wrote was good there would be no need for editors. Publishers could simply publish every book they received.

      It is terrible advice to say not to try to publish work until you are sure it is ready. Both in the traditional world, and the new world, rejecting your own work or not writing at all is the only way to guarantee it will never be read.

  15. “Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.”

    LMAO. I know lots of traditionally published authors who prefer that route because they don’t want to be bothered with cover design, typesetting, finding an editor, formatting a word document into ebook format, etc. It makes one wonder if Ms. Grafton could handle putting a book out w/o all the hand holding her publisher gives her.

    • LOL. No s***. 🙂

    • The “hard work” I don’t want to do is wait two years to be one of the tiny percentage of writers to have my manuscript accepted by an agent or publisher.

      I finished it the first week of June. I took Stephen King’s advice and let the manuscript sit before editing. (“On Writing; heard about it here, recommend it.) I sent it out to a few beta readers. I’m editing it. It will be published this month. I hired everyone but a copy editor (my dear friend the professional editor did that for me gratis), and I’m waiting on my cover designer’s final versions, plus (sigh) re-learning InDesign to get it ready for CreateSpace.

      So, what hard part have I not done? Get an agent and a Big Six house to tell me I have what it takes? My readers will tell me that, or (heaven forbid!) my lack of readers. But that is a chance I am willing to take.

      Yep. I’m lazy, all right. Short cuts. I don’t want to wait two years to see my book in print.

      Can’t wait to see how it plays out.

      • As Karin Cox says down below, you’re so ‘lazy’ that you are doing a whole bunch of extra work — the publisher’s entire job as well as the writer’s.

        Assembly-line robots should be so lazy.

  16. My only thought on Ms. Grafton’s post is, why on earth would any hard-working author choose to let their stories languish on the hard drive of their computer, when they can indie publish their work (after they’re as clean and polished as they can be, of course). How sad that Ms. Grafton doesn’t see how the world of publishing is changing because I’m not sure that in this new age, going the traditional route might be the biggest mistake a writer can make.
    Laura Landon – who’s indie published 6 Victorian historical romances and put more than 155,000 copies in readers hands.

  17. It’s been said that you will not have “mastered your craft” until you’ve written one million words. So, I’m looking forward to being a “master,” after I write another 600,000 words, but in the meantime I’m trying to make a living.

    I self-published my very first novel, and all six of my other novels and “short-novels.” Is my writing better now than it was in the first book? Yes. But thousands of people bought that first book. Last year I sold a total of 75,000 ebooks. This year, my numbers are way down. But I did raise my prices. 😉

    I’m not suggesting that everyone should self-publish their very first work. You need to somehow determine whether it’s good enough. I had published my first few books on my website (before Kindle took off), and had received an overwhelmingly positive response. So, while I knew that the books weren’t the best I’d ever write, I was confident that an acceptable percentage of readers would enjoy them.

    No book is perfect. And even if it was, some people would give it a One Star review.

    And I don’t think that anyone who has written a novel, even if it is poorly written, should be classified as “lazy.”

    • As someone who is 670,000 words into a 1 million goal I subscribe to the Ray Bradbury theory that a million words just puts you at the foothills of good writing.

    • “And I don’t think that anyone who has written a novel, even if it is poorly written, should be classified as ‘lazy.'”

      Agreed. I attended a symposium on writing a few years back that had Kurt Vonnegut and Joyce Carol Oates as panelists. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Any writer who has completed a novel is a colleague of mine.” He didn’t say “published.” He said “completed.”

      I’ll take Kurt Vonnegut’s word over most any other author’s any day of the week.

  18. “Quit worrying about publication and master your craft. If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid.”

    We are all being silly here. Obviously, a luminary like Sue Grafton cannot be wrong on this (U)niversal absolute. I mean, it worked for Herman Melville and John Kennedy Toole.

    Oh. Oh wait.

    What I meant to say is that she’s totally right about the laziness and ineptitude of self-publishers like Walt Whitman and Samuel Clemens.

    Ummm…

  19. I try to wait for my anger at these statements to subside before I respond. This time, no anger just disappointment. This from an author who has been phoning in a few of her Stephanie Plum books.
    What kind of lesson is someone supposed to learn from a rejection that says ‘not for us’.
    Yes, writers who don’t do the hard work will have problems – of course that’s unless they write 50 shades of grey. But many of us self published authors do the hard work, and more and more of us are opting out of a dying industry – at least until they get their act in shape and learn to live in the real world.

    • That would be Kinsey Millhone. Stephanie Plum is written by Janet Evanovich.

      But yes, it must be hard to keep up enthusiasm for any long-running series, especially if that’s all your publisher wants to see from you~

      Give Sue Grafton a few more years, and she’ll be indie pubbing with the rest. 😉

    • What kind of lesson is someone supposed to learn from a rejection that says ‘not for us’.

      Today, the lesson is, “Hm. Not for them. Okay. My beta-readers liked it. So I’ll cross someone else off my list, and at the bottom I have [Smashwords/PubIt/Kobo/Amazon/Etc.], and if only 10 more people like it there, that’s $X bucks I’ll have that I wouldn’t if it stayed on my hard drive — and 10 more people who’ll be pleased to’ve read it.”

      (…Turned out I had a really short list. Also turns out there are a decent number of total strangers who apparently like it. Some days, it makes me want to kick my shoes off and run in circles in the front yard, flailing my arms and making dolphin noises.)

      • I like those days too, ABeth. I’ve received some very kind emails from people I’ve never heard of and it really gives me a lift to have someone tell me how much they enjoyed my book and then discuss a scene that appealed particularly because it echoed something in his or her own life.

  20. Anybody heard of the book, “A Time to Kill?” I really enjoyed that book, and so have millions of other readers. Would it have ever been traditionally published if “The Firm” had never been written? Probably not. But if John Grisham had written it in today’s climate, would he have been “lazy” and self-published it? Oh, wait. That’s right–he DID self-publish it in hardcover, and drove around selling it out of the trunk of his car. Something tells me he would have put that baby in the Kindle Store if there had been such a thing back then.

    Now I certainly don’t claim to be a John Grisham (although I can aspire to it), but there are writers out there who have that kind of talent, and who have written a very good first book. Why shouldn’t they self-publish it?

    • Grisham didn’t self-publish A Time to Kill.

      “A Time to Kill is a 1989 legal suspense thriller by John Grisham. It was Grisham’s first novel. The novel was rejected by many publishers before Wynwood Press(located in New York) eventually gave it a modest 5,000-copy printing.”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Time_to_Kill

      • Yes, technically “A Time to Kill” was not self published. But the publishing deal he had for that book was no better than the arrangement I had with Lightning Source for my first book. He had distribution, but he had to do all the marketing and promotion. He worked like a dog getting the book into stores and libraries, and setting up his own book signings

        But my main point was that John Grisham didn’t need to write one million words before he had a book worth publishing. His first book was a great one.

  21. Ms. Grafton is probably still equating self-publishing with vanity publishing in her mind, even if she recognizes on the surface this new world of ebooks is qualitatively different. Her statement would be more correct if it made an exception for an *experienced* writer choosing to self-publish. The hard work, craft-honing, etc. she requires would have taken place. I do agree that tossing your first draft ever up for sale has a low chance of success, but few writers (as others have mentioned) learn much from “doesn’t work for me” on traditional publisher letterhead.

    • Exactly. She still sees self-publishing as vanity press. She threw in that statement up top because that’s as much as she thinks about it. She only said more because the interviewer insisted. Grafton herself doesn’t even think about self-publishing.

      Therefore, don’t ask her. When she talks about traditional publishing (something she knows) you filter it to mean both, because you know that publishing is publishing.

      • Serious question: Do you know her?

      • I have the same question as Dan, Camille. You’re making statements about Grafton’s motivations as if they were fact.

        Like you, I like her message about focus on craft. But in terms of her other comments here, she certainly had a lot to say about self-publishing, and she said it quite articulately and at length. I didn’t get the impression it was a reluctuant answer about something she’d never thought about.

  22. “Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do hard work.” I self-published and it was hard work, and it will be hard work. Sue Grafton lives in the clouds, where hard work is defined only as writing. Obviously she doesn’t know what reality is.
    “I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.” Well, in order to be booked into Carnegie Hall you have to perform somewhere. Playing the piano in your room will not get you to Carnegie Hall, playing the piano in public will either tell you you’re lousy or keep going kid, you’ll get there.

    Bottom line, Sue Grafton just like all the elite published writers are afraid of competition.

    • I like your piano analogy. It takes courage and hard work to put yourself out there, and I think letting go of your stories (instead of obsessively polishing them in a quest for perfection) is the only way to grow and, as you said, see if you’ve got something worth pursuing. 🙂

  23. All I have to say is I almost hurt myself laughing.
    And that I’m very happy I’ve never bought a single one of her books.
    “The universe will come to your aid.”
    Right.
    “The force is strong with this one.”

  24. I’ve gotten almost the exact same thing from my aunt, who’s a bit out of touch with the way we ‘regular people’ do things. She took me out to lunch a few weeks ago and we talked about *why* somebody would want to self-publish and she had some pretty vile things to say about it. A few minutes later, she was bitching about how her publisher for her Christian Suspense novel couldn’t be bothered to make it available through Barnes and Noble.

    I debated telling her how she could have actually made it available all the places her publisher did AND have it available to purchase at Barnes and Noble but I decided against it. I also didn’t send her copies of the ebooks I have up at Amazon.

    The attitude, from her, at least, seemed to be she did a lot of work to get where she was in her career and everybody else should do it, too, because that’s the way to be successful. Well, not everybody can marry a philandering millionaire and write for free for 10 years. The path to success is going to be different for everybody and there aren’t any hard and fast rules except to write, and write well.

    She did offer to introduce me to her agent once my novel was done. I thanked her but said I wasn’t ready to work with an agent yet. Pretty sure I’ll never take her up on the offer.

  25. Are we completely sure that Sue Grafton hasn’t become Ewan Morrison, or vice versa? They seem to be saying pretty much the same thing.

  26. Ewan Morrison isn’t responding to loaded questions — he’s intentionally stirring up controversy.

    Here’s the thing that disturbs me: when I hear “she just doesn’t like the competition!” or “She should talk, because her writing sucks!” I hear self-defeating self-justification.

    Come on, folks. We don’t need that. Honestly, Sue Grafton is not jealous of self-publishers. She is not threatened by them. Maybe she should be, but the problem is that she ISN’T. She doesn’t recognize self-publishing as a force — but that’s HER problem.

    In the meantime, we just lost something in all the noise: her message of don’t be in a hurry, don’t be lazy, don’t take short cuts. Because let’s face it, folks, that’s what most writers DO (not just self publishers) and she knows that. Writers are impatient, and only those who are patient succeed.

    • Excuse me, but we did not lose anything in what you disparage as “noise.” Nobody is disagreeing with Grafton’s comments about mastering one’s craft. It’s her other comments, which you so blithely overlook, that are being discussed here. If you want to pick out the one intelligent thing Grafton said, then disregard the rest, that’s your choice.

    • I agree with what you said in those first three sentences, Camille, but the problem is Sue Grafton gave some very, very bad advice. To be sure, her advice on waiting and taking time to master your craft is excellent–but the thrust of her message is wrong. She did not say “take time to master your craft because a lot of writer rush to self-publish bad work.” If *that* was her message, then okay.

      But what she said was, (paraphrase) “Take time to master your craft. Wait for the Universe to recognize you. Don’t self-publish. If you do, you’re lazy.” Why should we master our writing according to Grafton? Because the Universe will eventually discover us. Self publishing, according to what she says, is the loser’s way out–the writer thinking he is much better than he is and trying to publish his work before the Universe discovers him. (however that happens…)

      You can’t take her advice, extract the good, and pretend she never said anything bad. It’s not just Sue Grafton’s problem that she’s spouting bad advice–it’s everybody’s problem. Because newbie writers look up to established authors like her. Givers of advice had a responsibility to make sure their advice is relevant and true.

      • I don’t think Camille’s pretending that Grafton hasn’t paired her fairly obvious good advice (“dear gods, at least spell-check that puppy”) with the even more obvious bad.

        I think Camille’s perhaps just a little overdosed on the successful (for our own definitions of success) and hopeful indies pointing at the bad stuff and giggling. (And possibly throwing the baby out with the bathwater, to indulge in cliche.) –psst, Camille! Apologies if I’m putting words in your, er, fingers!

        There is a point there. The pointing and giggling is kinda fun, and a good snarky zing is a thing of beauty — but there’s really very little to say about this sort of thing. It’s like when MZB said, “Look, I’ve gotten every possible twist on the ‘in this town, we don’t send a girl to do a man’s work’ plot — SEND DIFFERENT STUFF.” Until we get the different stuff (*beth indulges in a 200 word gloat*), pointing and giggling isn’t going to do anything but enhance the tribal solidarity, at best, and make us the moral equivalent of those Mean Old Agents who Mock The Authors Who Query Them.

        Perfect the snark and zingers! Don’t take the lazy shortcut of just pointing out the obvious! 😉 (Actually, DeMaio-Rice, below, has quite a good zinger, I think.)

  27. What I’d like to point out, that no one else has, is that Sue Grafton made these comments to the lovely Red Tash, who independently published “Troll or Derby.”

    So, she is one of two things:

    1) Rude: meaning, she was perfectly happy to insult Red to her face, to which I reply, what’s the point of being a bestselling traditionally published author if you treat people like crap?

    2) Lazy: meaning, she didn’t do her research or due diligence to find out who was interviewing her. She took a shortcut. Oops.

    In either case, I wish the fact of who did the interviewing was more transparent, so we can all see what a certain kind of success does to people, either nothing (she was always horrible), or a slow rot of the soul.

  28. It will be a wonderful day when the majority or writers and aspiring writers realize they are first and foremost business people selling a product. The customer only cares about the product and experience it provides them. Craft is a key part of making the product, but Sue Grafton gets it wrong in my opinion by suggesting the universe will take care of your product’s success. A business person in any other industry would laugh their head off at that statement. No one takes care of your business except you.

  29. Any time assumptions are made and groups lumped together into one hill, mistakes will be made.

    Grafton makes hers when defining self-published writers to amateurs and “wanna-bes”. As we’ve seen and discussed here and elsewhere, it’s such a narrow view, and as narrow as the one that defines the literary merit of published books by houses. *snort*

    I get tired of smart people saying dumb things.

    She’s not wrong when she suggests new writers should work at honing their skills. But that applies to all writers whether published by a big house, a small house, a university press, an indie press or a micro-press (yourself). Work hard to improve your skills; strive to be better; the readers will reward you.

    It’s unfortunate that she looks down her nose at the unwashed when she could have been saying something inspirational.

    • Micro-press.
      Love the term!
      Do I need to pay royalties if I bandy it about? 😉

      • I’d like it better if ebooks were produced on a press. In fact, ‘micro-press’ would be a perfect term for modern self-publishing if it were done mostly by POD.

  30. In five years from now these kinds of arguments will be mute. There will be writers that sell books and writers that won’t, regardless how they got published. And, yes there will be even more titles and authors than there are today. Success will depend on good writing and good marketing.

  31. The bottom line is, who cares what Sue Grafton thinks about indie e-publishing versus trad print publishing? If the Titanic is going to sink, it’s going to sink regardless of whether Grafton and Morrison et al stay on the deck and sneer at the people who have managed to get into the lifeboats.

  32. I spent five years trying and failing to get a publishing contract (two agents, but …). By her standards, I should still be trying. And the fact that I’m not means I’m lazy? All of my books (or at least the first in the series’) were rejected by traditional publishers. They were languishing on my hard drive.

    “If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid”.

    That is, of course, absurd. It wasn’t the universe. It was Amazon.

  33. The distribution model isn’t what determines whether or not a product is amateurish, the quality of the product does.

    The beauty of writing, much like other arts such as dance, music, dressage, painting, is that the end-point of mastery never comes. A writer strives for more depth, more nuance, more rhythm every time they sit down and type. The pursuit of clearly communicating what’s in our heads to the reader is really the only reason to write. The rest is pure masochism no matter which distribution route is taken.

  34. I’m late to this discussion because I’ve been weighing it against the woman I know, or at least did know during the many years when we were best friends. I knew her first as a creative writing teacher at Ohio State. I know, from that experience, some of her views on what it takes to become a writer beyond just calling oneself one. I also know how supportive she was of people whose work she thought showed promise. I know how generous she was in being that “Universe” for such people, stepping in and getting unknowns’ work into the right hands. And I definitely know she is not unhip, fearful, or jealous. She’s a brilliant, funny, and multifaceted woman, and not just in terms of her ability to spin a yarn.

    I can only guess at what her comments meant, but based on what I know of her, I’d say that she meant “do not go instantly from word processor to self-publishing before you’re ready.” Hone your craft — earn your right to consume a reader’s time.

    She certainly knows all about the hard work involved in getting one’s work “ready.” Her father was an author, and she followed his path — not finding success early on. She wrote five novels before hitting on the alphabet series, only two of which were published, and neither of which brought her much attention. She spent years writing films, putting up with story-by-committee (an exquisite kind of misery) and she was the story editor for a television series. I suspect that as she looks back on her career and sees where her writing has taken her, she realizes the importance of all that prep work she put in before finding significant success. She knows it’s not as easy as uploading a file to KDP.

    When she speaks of the universe intervening, I think she’s talking about the element of luck. For her, what looked like bad luck, was good luck when she went through a messy divorce and child custody battle. She took out her anger by murdering her ex on paper, which in turn launched her career as a mystery writer. Then the universe stepped in again when Jay Leno’s wife happened to pick up a copy of her book. Leno’s wife insisted he bring Sue on his show to talk about the book, and the rest is history.

    Bottom line, I think her message is to those who want to BE a writer, automatically, rather than doing what’s necessary to become one. I don’t think she sees self-published writers are too lazy to go through the submission/rejection process; more likely she thinks some are too lazy to learn and perfect their craft before rushing to publication. If that is her point, I can’t disagree with her.

    • “Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.”

      Honestly, she’s not being vague in the slightest here.

    • I will give you the fact that she may have meant something else when it came to advise about self-publishing. But she also compares people who write in coffee shops to exhibitionist. Yes, people who dare to write in a coffee shop, on a laptop, ( something she states she can’t do) are right up there with flashers, and other sorts of exhibitonist, like naked bike riders, or streekers at a sports game. If you are turly friends with her, then you might want to call her and let her know that something might be wrong, and it is time to seek some help.

  35. Well.

    Quit worrying about publication and master your craft. If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid. Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.

    Every word of that is wrong. Unless they are writing solely for therapy, a writer's goal is to find an audience. The one guaranteed way to not find an audience is to not publish. Grafton's thinking is stuck in the old scarcity model of publishing. It's not just out of date, it's flat wrong.

    Don't wait until you "master your craft". Publish when your story is done. You are the only one who can define "done". Not Sue Grafton, not an agent, not an editor or publisher, just you. Listen to people you trust, but you will never find an audience if you don't publish. "The Universe" will not come to your aid. I believe more strongly than most people in a benevolent Deitty, but I believe just as strongly that said Deity acts primarily through mere mortals. If your calling is to be storyteller, then tell stories, dammit.

    You should definitely self-publish, if your goal is to find the readers who will love your work. You should publish with a traditional publisher too, if that fits within your career plan. If you don't have career plan, stop reading this blog and make one. Then, come back and read this blog, because that should be part of your career plan.

    Hard work is not its own reward. Don't waste time on pointless tasks, whether those pointless tasks are Twitter spamming or query letter spamming. Nobody has the answers, so you should make sure that every career strategm you try will at least result in knowledge.

    Most of all, realize that everyone's advice (including mine) is suspect. Think for yourself. You are the person best equipped to understand why you write and what you want to get from it.

    • Okay, color me dense, but I’ve never been able to figure out what a career plan for a writer actually looks like. Is it something you commit to paper, a mission statement, goal setting? (If so I’m hoping it doesn’t include statements such as, “I will become a bestselling author within five/ten years.” Out of your control, that baby.)

      My career plan has until now consisted of writing and submitting. These days it’s writing and self-publishing. Is that a plan? I’ve never been sure.

      P.S. PG, please find some good stuff on Writer Career Planning. I’m pretty sure I need help. :-/

      • I know of two off the top of my head. First is Bob Mayer’s “Write It Forward” ebook and online workshop (keep an eye out for the workshop or send them an email for dates of when the next set will be). It takes you step-by-step towards deciding what you are wanting personally in your writing career, and developing a plan to get there. – https://coolgus.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=55&product_id=88

        Then there is Dean Wesley Smith’s series on the subject from a couple years ago. You would need to update to the Indie publishing side of things, but the basic material is still valid. This is what I used to create my first writing career business plan:

        Motivation and Year End Writing Goals #1 – http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=627

        Start with that link and move through the Motivation series. There’s a lot of great stuff there for planning a writing career. Also look at the early posts in Dean’s “Think Like a Publisher 2012” series. Use aspects to create your business plan.

        Hope that helps!

    • This!

      Dean Wesley Smith always says a writer is the worst judge of his or her own work.

      My take on that concept: write, do your best, release, learn, and write some more.

      Waiting for “perfect” or “ready” or whatever . . . not so much. Done seems a good place for publishing.

  36. Fun fact: My self-published debut has a higher Amazon rating than every book in her Alphabet series thing. She should’ve spent more time mastering her craft, I guess. 😀

  37. She has half a point, although making it in a jerky way. A lot of self-pubbed work I’ve read so far isn’t very good (a subjective term of course). Does that mean that they shouldn’t have self-pubbed? No. Does it mean they won’t succeed? No. I just read (half, because I couldn’t finish) a Very Big Deal “chicklit” book that made a big splash on Kindle and thought, you’ve got to be kidding! There was no story. I mean, NO story. The author succeeded in selling and building a fan base, and that’s great for her. A lot of readers like it, and that’s great for them, although it might have more to say about the unquenchable need for books in that genre.

    But I would like to see, and I think we will see, the bar being raised on DIY fiction and non-fiction. I come from the film world and I noticed over the last two decades as it became cheaper for indie filmmakers to do what they want with lower and lower budgets, the price of entry to the biz was lowered. But the percentage of good (there’s that term again) films remained the same. Just because anyone can produce, or publish, doesn’t mean everyone can tell a compelling story. As with trad publishing, some junk will succeed. Great for the creators. For my own sake, as a reader and film lover, yeah, more time an author or filmmaker spends working on craft (and vetting it through trusted friends and colleagues) is much appreciated.

    • Sturgeon’s Law will always hold, but a larger pool of crap also implies a larger pool of non-crap.

      • Actually, it’s worse than that.

        For years there were entire market niches where you couldn’t even find crap, because the trade publishers said ‘lesbian steampunk westerns don’t sell’. Now all the people who’ve been waiting for those books can find them for sale… 80% crap is still better than no books at all.

        There are other niches where the publishers said ‘no, there are already enough werehamster romance novels and we don’t need another one.’ Even though readers were devouring every story they could get their hands on, they might be bored of them in two years when the publisher managed to get it out on the book store shelves. Now you can upload your novel straight into the werehamster romance boom.

        • Dammit, I want more werehamster romance novels! Where are my steely-eyed werehamster heroes and meltingly gorgeous but strong and initiative-taking werehamsteresses? I’m missing out here!

        • Hey, don’t laugh at hamsters. I learned all about the circle of life when, as a teenager, my best friend and I learned to our horror that her mother hamster could very easily eat her young. She did it twice.

          Bring out those werehamster novels, and don’t forget that the young eat each other, too.

  38. My aim is still to publish traditionally. I do have to agree that part of the statement may be true, that there aren’t a lot of great books out there that are self-published; however, the same holds true for ones that ARE published traditionally.

    Personally, as far as Sue Grafton, while I liked her alphabet series in the beginning, by the time I arrived to maybe “F” or “G,” I lost interest. They’re all pretty much the same after that.

    Jodi Picoult, to me, is a master at character development, DEEP character development. I know it’s easy for these authors to say people shouldn’t self-publish or that those books are drivel, because they are ALREADY at the top.

    I’ve been toiling away at my own first novel for the last six months, editing and re-editing a million times. My hope is to have these sweat & tears receive a thumbs-up for publication. As I write this, an agent has asked me to submit the full mss after reading my query letter and first chapter. It’s hard not to get your hopes up, but I also need to remain realistic and hope I have tough enough skin IF she rejects it.

  39. At the risk of sounding, well, so many things, allow me to add this: I started the U book on my Kindle just last week. I put it down for a day or so in between chapters 2 and 3. When I resumed reading, I actually went to the Home page of Kindle thinking that the reader had mistakenly opened to another book. Who was this character? Why was the narration in 3rd person all of a sudden? Who cares about 1967? Lo and behold, it was still U, but I was floored at how disjointed and amateurish it was. I could not fathom that an editor actually allowed, let alone cultivated this. The same pattern followed until I simply gave up about 20% into the book. My point being what I said to Mr. Novak: If she weren’t who she is, this book would never have been published. It’s beyond awful. Is my indie book any better? Maybe not. But clearly her big time editors did her no favors with that book. And personally, if I were as rich and famous as her, and had a personal chef, I would wish everyone success and great luck and tell them to follow their dream and their gut instincts on the best way to achieve those dreams. U indeed!

  40. And personally, if I were as rich and famous as her, and had a personal chef,

    A penny just dropped:

    What Ms. Grafton is doing is functionally equivalent to a French noblewoman of the ancien régime telling people not to eat at these new-fangled restaurants. ‘If you can’t afford a personal chef, don’t eat at all. That’s just being lazy.’

  41. Thanks for mentioning the article, PG. Let me know if you have any questions.

  42. Honestly when she called Self pubbers lazy I had to walk away from the computer. I think there are a lot of interesting, good points here in the comments. I know, for myself, before today I had never heard of this arrogant woman. And if I see her books, I certainly won’t buy them.

  43. Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.

    I spent years following the standard submission process with both publishers and agents. During this time, I never submitted anything as slush: all my submissions were specifically requested by the editors and agents involved. Out of all these submissions, the net result was one rejection letter. The other people I submitted to didn’t even bother to respond. One editor had two of my novels (full manuscripts, by his request) sitting on his shelf for three solid years, until I got fed up and withdrew the submission. And during that time, per the standard rules for unagented writers, I could not submit those works to any other publisher.

    This year, I dusted off one of those manuscripts, did a bit of cutting and a bit of adding, and self-published it. It went live on Smashwords last week, and is now on Amazon and iTunes as well, and sales are beginning to trickle in. In other words, I did all the work of publishing the book, after a parcel of so-called professionals could not even be bothered to send a form rejection in response to a submission they had actively solicited. No doubt somebody is being lazy in all this, but I don’t think it’s me. Sue Grafton can stick that in her pipe and smoke it.

    Thanks, by the way, to PG, his vacation guest bloggers, and all the regulars here. You’ve taught me a lot about what I needed to do, and shown me a lot of good sources for further information. It would have been a far slower and more difficult process without your help.

  44. By the way, I think Red Tash did a really excellent job with the question and the follow-up. She really didn’t let Ms Grafton get away it. Well done you, Red!

  45. I think trade-published authors trot out these things in interviews thinking they are being well-meaning and helpful, and not realizing that indie authors actually work harder for their success than legacy published authors.

    They have to pay their own editors, formatters, and cover designers, often working day jobs and scrimping and saving to do so. They also do all of their own marketing and publicity (which many trade-published authors are having to now as well). They pimp and hustle and hobnob with the best of them to get word out, and I don’t think anyone likes having to do that.

    I’ve been a Senior Editor involved in commissioning and project managing trade-published titles. I’ve been a trade-published author, having written more than 25 books that were trade published. And I’ve been an indie author. I can tell you that being an indie author is harder than being a trade-published author. There is a lot more work involved to achieve any kind of success. But those who have, are validated in a different way.

    They have found their fan base, and the readers and rave reviews are a validation that their books did indeed have an audience, even if agents and editors didn’t think so. And they have only themselves to congratulate.

    I really think the decision comes down to mindset. I don’t need the validation of the legacy publishing world. I’ve been there, done that. I like the cooperative, collaborative feel of the indie community. I like having a say. I like not being railroaded into one genre.

    No one has the right to say what is right or wrong for all authors. We all have to make our own decisions. I don’t presume to tell legacy published authors what to do, so I don’t expect to hear them attacking my choices either. And yet, they do.

    • Karin, I think this part of your comment is at the heart of self-publishing.

      “I like the cooperative, collaborative feel of the indie community. I like having a say. I like not being railroaded into one genre.”

      As a writer, it’s very nice to be able to explore and experiment with storyline, characters, style, and genres in a way I was never able to do before. As self-published authors, we’re not even limited to specific word counts or genre formulas to fit some template now but can spread the wings of our imaginations to fly as far and as high as we choose.

      • That’s it, Beverly. It is liberating to be able to write what you want to, when you want to and not to have to write to a deadline, or a defined word count, or to a three-book contract or whatever.

  46. How does where you choose to publish equate to ‘being lazy’ instead of ‘learning your craft’ (presumably having been stamped out by The Universe in the likeness of Sue Grafton)? I’d suggest such a statement reflects more about Grafton’s unfamiliarity with the process of self-publishing than it does the work ethic and character of a self-published writer.

    Besides, I have an inkling that even publishers backed by powerful publishing houses can be lazy.

    Barbara Hambly self-publishes short stories in her Silicon Mage series (and other selections from her body of work, such as Benjamin January short stories). Sue Grafton, if you want to call Barbara Hambly *lazy*, be my guest.

    The Official Barbara Hambly Page – Further Adventures!
    http://www.barbarahambly.com/?page_id=78

  47. P is for Pretentious, Pedantic and P-‘out of touch with the business realities of the book consumption market’.

    So authors need to give up 93% of their profit so a publisher can tell them that they suck?

    Guess what, start a blog and people will tell you that suck…for free!

    Publish your book on Kindle, and the lack of sales will tell you that you suck. The 1 star comments and refund requests will tell you that you suck.

    The exact same feedback without having to give up a 93% stake in your intellectual property. Take that feedback and work on your craft.

    Once you’re good enough to be accepted by a publisher, why would you give up 93%?

    Here’s a better plan. Keep working on your craft and submitting to publishers. Once they “accept” you, don’t sign their one-sided contract that would make the Devil blush, but instead publish your book yourself and keep the 93%.

    Consider the publishers an unpaid focus group for your next product.

    All the quality, properly ‘curated’ and ‘vetted’ and ‘gate-kept’ by the publishers, but you keep your IP.

    That’s thinking like a business person and not some insecure ar-teeest.

  48. Jeremy,

    Hard words on a hard subject.

    Thank you. You’ve given us the crust of a thought to gnaw on.

    Russell

    • Let’s deconstruct this line by line:

      “Good questions. Obviously, I’m not talking about the rare few writers who manage to break out.”

      So, like a good scientist you throw out the data that doesn’t conform to your preconceived conclusions?

      “The indie success stories aren’t the rule.”

      Success in every field isn’t the rule, otherwise it wouldn’t be called ‘success’.

      “They’re the exception.”

      Because success and excellence are by definition exceptional.

      “The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish.”

      I assume that you only made this statement after you’ve read a representative randomized sample of self-published books, rated their professionalism on a widely accepted objective scale, and then compared them to a representative randomized sample of trad-published books and ran the appropriate statistical tests to show to a 95% confidence interval that trad-pub are superior to self-pub.

      Query if Snooki’s book in your randomized sample would have changed the results.

      “I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth.””

      I have here in my hand a list of 205 names…

      “The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time.”

      Because there’s no hard work in writing a book, doing all the business and technical things to get it into the hands of readers, only to be savaged or praised by readers. No hard work at all. As I said in my earlier comment, you can get rejection for free by bringing your work to the marketplace. No need to give up 93% of your equity in your product.

      “I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to.”

      And I’ve seen too many people start websites thinking they will get fame and fortune. Most are wrong. Ergo, this whole “interwebs” thing is a joke and waste of time and the newspapers are not really dead and dying, they are just ‘sleeping’.

      “To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research.”

      A person is being “disrespectful” to you because he chooses to offer his products to the market and bypass a middleman who doesn’t even want to do business with him?

      “Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time.”

      And form-letter rejection slips are both necessary and sufficient to complete that process. They have publisher magic in them. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

      “This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project.”

      Huh? Traditionally published authors don’t write from home?

      “Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts.”

      Doing all the work yourself to not only write the book but also prepare it for sale and distribution and market it is a short-cut compared to giving up 93% of your equity so someone else can do that work for you?

      I don’t think “short-cut” means what you think it means.

      “I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.”

      I compare self-publishing to someone starting a business and instead of giving up a 93% equity stake to an entity that doesn’t come close to delivering that much value, chooses to put his own sweat and capital into making his product ready for the market and takes control over the process from manufacture through distribution.

      But no, you’re right. Someone offering their book for sale without going through a publisher is JUST LIKE a kid playing chopsticks on the piano going to Carnegie Hall [facepalm emoticon].

      “Don’t get me started. Oops..you already did.”

      Don’t worry, I’m finishing with you 😉

  49. Jeremy,

    Whew! Good deconstructive analysis, Professor.

    Moi, je me tais.

    Russell

  50. Some very good writers lose their publishers. At least they have an alternative.

    I for one, take exception to Grafton’s judgement of my books. How dare she? She’s at best a mediocre writer and has never risen above that level.

  51. To some extent, Grafton is right. Just because someone CAN publish doesn’t mean they SHOULD. 99% of everything is crap.

    Where she’s wrong, I think, is in assuming that *everyone* who goes the self-publishing route is doing it because they don’t want to bother with the filtering process of agents and editors that traditional publishing provides. This is, demonstrably, not true; and equally demonstrably, quite a few of those who HAVE gone through that filtering process are still, well, crap.

    But she is absolutely right that the ability to self-publish does not in any way absolve the writer from the obligation to hone her craft and learn and get better, and too many people publishing today think they’re good enough because they’ve never been edited, criticized, or rejected. The same folks who filled out slush piles in traditional publishing are now going directly to self-publishing instead. The 1% who would have made in it in traditional publishing will make it in self-publishing, too–it will just be harder to find them in among all the rest.

    • That such a small percentage of people make it through traditional publishing piles could indicate that talent is being rejected instead of developed, and not even given a fair shot.

      Having seen some of the rejection letters, I often think part of the problem is a lack of any kind of standardization in the review of slush-pile titles. That makes rejection and acceptance akin to guessing the will of a god. I’ve always thought this would drive talented writers out of the branded market, and that was before I learned about how unfair and greedy most publishing-houses are when it comes to their contracts.

      The lack of ability to do anything to control the outcome of a two to five year slush pile wait may outweigh the advantages of sending a book to a publisher, for some. That doesn’t make them less committed to the art of writing. Getting a branded publisher is not a stamp of legitimacy as a master of your art. I think it does mean you’ve got work that will sell, so it’s a clear success, but so is publishing yourself. There are checks and balances, here, that are totally ignored.

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