Thanks to Sue Grafton's elitist attitude, indie authors are fighting back

It’s time self-published authors fight back.

They’ve heard the talk for years: self-publishing doesn’t make you a ‘real’ author; it means you’re not serious; it means you’re not good enough. Some of these comments have come from literary agents and even mainstream authors.

And at least one author isn’t taking it anymore.

Alanna Brown (pictured at right) penned a column for The Huffington Post, likening mainstream authors to playground bullies.

“Those snot-nosed, mainstream-published authors who think indie writers are not real artists just because they don’t have a traditional book deal. Pooh on them, I say. Pooh! Don’t listen to a single misinformed word from their filthy mouths. They’re just plain bullies.”

Brown wrote the column in response to a Forbes blog post written by David Vinjamuri, and points to a quote from author Sue Grafton:

“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. … 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.”

Of course, others jumped in to respond to Grafton’s remarks. After all, there are enough successful self-published authors to show just how inaccurate Grafton’s comments are. Does she really think that writers don’t do research or study or read or do the things that makes writers want to write?

As Brown points out, it’s actually in the best interest of an author to go down the self-publishing route financially. Mid-list or established authors can make more money with their fan base than by going the traditional publishing route because the royalties are in their favor.

It makes me wonder why Grafton is so angry with self-publishers. Is she finding less people are buying her work because they would rather spend money on new authors? I don’t know what the answer is, but it sure seems as though Grafton has an axe to grind with independent authors.

But it’s good to see that authors aren’t letting Grafton’s words go away without a fight.

It’s time mainstream authors start embracing other new authors. You see this in music where big stars promote, back and even bring new artists on tour.

What is Grafton so afraid of?

17 Comments on Thanks to Sue Grafton's elitist attitude, indie authors are fighting back

  1. Imagine, for example, an experienced leather worker hand producing wallets and purses and making a living. Then along come cheap knock offs from China from unskilled labor. A lot of customers will go for the less expensive knock offs so the leather worker gets a little miffed. The trend towards less quality for less price might be unavoidable, but can you blame him for his anger.

    The cheap readers pushing indies are performing the same role as Walmart importing knock offs. But for some readers, the knock off is good enough. I’ve read a few a dozen or so indies and haven’t been impressed above meh. Maybe that will change some day.

    Professional publishing has its stinkers, of course, and books I’d never care to read, like Sue Grafton, but until then the indies need to write better books before they can gain respect from people who’ve spent decades honing their craft.

  2. Sue Grafton actually apologized for that quote, citing her ignorance of the present state of self-publishing about a week after her original interview: http://louisvilleky.com/2012/08/more-from-sue-grafton-on-publishing-indie-writers/

  3. Modern detective writers like Sue Grafton benefited for decades from the restrictive distribution regime, backed by copyright law, that made it cheaper for publishers to commission and release new books rather than making their backlists available. Now that’s coming to an end, and Grafton’s work is going to have to compete with eight decades of top-flight detective story writing, rather than the few recent bestsellers which used to be all that could make it into bookshops. No wonder she’s scared.

  4. Looking at Grafton’s apology, it seems that she was speaking from the perspective of a couple decades back, when vanity press publishers were basically all con men trying to separate authors from their hard-earned money. She hadn’t been paying attention and thus hadn’t noticed the world had suddenly changed. When people called her attention to it, she apologized. I’d say that’s fair.

  5. Jon Jermey, nicely put. Would love to see someone do a more detailed piece on this.

  6. Sue Grafton said, “Self Publishing is a short cut.” So is being born to a detective novelist father who opened doors for her early in her career. Just an fyi.

  7. I seriously doubt Sue Grafton’s father opened any doors for her. C.W. Grafton published four books between 1943 and 1950. Sue Grafton began writing seriously when she was 18 and first book was published six years later, in 1967, her second in 1969. They were unsuccessful, despite one being turned into a movie, so she became a screenwriter for the next 15 years.

  8. Indie authors are a blight, sure it makes more financial sense and its easier, to self-pub rather than write a good book and shop it around. It doesn’t take much to upload a book to Amazon, or Smashwords. People advocating indie publishing as a viable way to make money, get famous, get your work noticed is an exercise in futility.

  9. About a year ago an online science fiction book club selected an indie novel. It started off with the author’s introduction about what a great experience the reader was in for and how proud and happy he was to become a PUBLISHED author.

    The book was crap. Bad crap. It was the quality of first draft unproofed by the author or anybody else. The author probably would have flunked remedial English, but he was sure happy about becoming a REAL author. There was speculation the author (or friends of the author) invited people to join the group and vote for his book. Book like that are a reason indies are scorned.

    Indie authors can send their work to Amazon before it’s ready for readers. As someone who wrote about 200k of stories and novellas in the 80s and early 90s I know how easy this would be to do. I sent my work to magazines and got rejected. I was mad. How could my great stories be refused? Ten years later I attempted to reread my work and came to the conclusion that the rejections were correct. But if indie publishing had been an option back then, there would be a few more bad works for sale on Amazon.

  10. Common Sense // July 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm //

    I’ve read many great indie authors. Authors like Scott Nicholson and Gordon Ryan. Sure, there’s a lot of crap out there, but you can usually see the quality of the writing by reading the description and the reviews.

    I’d rather spend $2.99 or less trying a new author than $18.99 or more. Just because some NYC editor thinks the author is good doesn’t make it so. And those editors are also trolling the indies looking for the next great thing instead of developing new authors themselves.

    Fact: Vince Flynn’s first efforts were roundly rejected by publishers and he had to self-publish. Without self-publishing, we would have missed out on his great thrillers.

  11. Susan Lulgjuraj // July 23, 2013 at 6:06 pm //

    Hey Ryan, Thanks for the link. I appreciate you sending it this way.

    I think to paint all indie authors with the same brush is unfair. Just like you wouldn’t do that with traditionally-published authors. I think one of the biggest differences is the amount of work that gets done once drafts are finished. I think a larger issue is that many (not all) indie authors don’t employ good editors, or ones that are willing to say the tough things about books to make them better.

    I think there is room in the world for both types of authors (probably why we have so many hybrids these days).

  12. Published authors also need to remember that it only takes the non-renewal of a book deal to potentially put them in the same boat as indie writers.
    What I’d love to see is an established author championing a self-published writer they ‘discovered’ (or at least acknowledging that they do read some indie books!).

  13. Why are you writing about something that happened this time last year? Seriously, didn’t you think to look at the date on the articles?

  14. I highly doubt Sue Grafton is “afraid” of competition from the mountain of self-pubbed dreck out there.

    The thing is, the process of submitting to many agents and publishers is a very important learning process for writers. EVERY would-be writer is certain that their efforts are brilliant and rage at those who reject his manuscript and fail to recognize his “genius.” And years later, with a more mature perspective, he can see how terrible that “brilliant” manuscript really is, and is immensely relieved that it never saw the light of day.

    Lots of self-published authors like to cite anecdotes such as the fact that “The Help” was rejected X number of times as proof that the traditional publishing world doesn’t know how to recognize a good book. What they conveniently fail to mention is that the author refined the book after each rejection. Therefore it became a much stronger book throughout the process, and by the time it was accepted it was NOT the same book that was originally submitted. If she had been too hasty and had simply published the first version that she thought was ready to submit to publishers, I highly doubt the book would have been the tremendous success that it was. Rejection is not a failure of the system, it’s an important part of the process of becoming a professional.

    Personally I’m so happy they didn’t have cheap and easy self-publishing when I was a newbie writer. I surely would have self-published — and those early works would now be haunting me. The thing about e-publishing is, once your horrid early efforts are out there they will NEVER GO AWAY, even once you realize how terrible they truly were. I’m so glad I had professional publishers to tell me the unvarnished truth, no matter how much it might have stung at the time: they reject work because it is NOT READY yet — no matter what lie you prefer to tell yourself.

    So if you want to self-publish, fine…but submit to legit publishers FIRST, and, when one of them offers you a contract, THEN you’ll know you’re good enough to withdraw your manuscript and self-publish. But, no offense, I won’t be reading it. I’ll stick to the vetted books when I’m looking to spend my limited money and time.

  15. Sturgeon’s Law still applies: 90% of Science Fiction is crap — but so is 90% of everything else.

  16. I have to agree with Greg M. I’m a traditionally published author and freelance editor and I do a lot of editing for potential self publishing authors. 100% of them are not ready for publication. I think that’s Grafton’s point. Anyone, and I mean anyone who has the money can self publish. My 22-year-old autistic daughter could scribble on some paper, I could have it self published and she’d be an author. Does this make sense?

    Of course, there’s a time to self publish and that’s if you have a niche book and a good way to market and sell it. You certainly can make more money by self publishing a needed book.

    But if you’re going to self publish, put out the money to have it professionally edited so you can be proud of your product. There’s a craft to writing – it’s so much more than simply having a good idea on paper.

    Personally, I want the validation of my peers, so I’m willing to put in the time and patience it takes to be traditionally published.

  17. My book was edited by a professional, paid for my me. And I spent a months re-writing it to get it right. And one response from an agent — great story, excellent writing, but so graphically realistic they didn’t know if a publisher would take it. Its about a crime, a young woman taken advantage of, so its graphic in what happens, but not about sex or blood and gore. I probably should have lied and claimed it was a memoir and it might have been picked up.

    It’s very difficult to try to break into paid publishing when everyone only wants the standards–erotica, ditzy romance, cutesy mysteries, or vampires. Follow the heard or be dismissed. No matter how good a book might be, if you don’t have connections, or pay huge fees to attend one of the writers conferences where the agents are paid to attend, the likelihood of getting a foot into the publishing world is nearly impossible. But that doesn’t mean that some authors truly care enough about their craft to make the effort, expend the money, and work hard to produce a quality story. Just because its independently published, doesn’t mean poor quality any more than traditional publishing means quality.

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