As a political reporter, nothing is more tiring than watching a politician say something he or she truly believes, then issue a forced apology when the backdraft becomes too unpleasant.
But it is even worse to watch a bestselling novelist engage in that kind of behavior.
By now, many of you have already heard about mystery novelist Sue Grafton’s interview two weeks ago with the LouisvilleKy.com, in which she advised writers to avoid self-publishing at all costs and then proceeded to denounce any who have gone that route.
“Don’t self-publish,” she says. “That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.”
And that was just the beginning of Grafton’s obnoxious tirade. After interviewer Leslea Tash challenged Grafton, she opined further:
“The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish… 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 a 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.”
Grafton’s comments sparked outrage from the indie author community who, quite understandably, didn’t like being called “lazy wannabes.”
But Grafton was just the latest in a long string of prominent traditionally-published authors to criticize the burgeoning indie movement. John Grisham, who once sold his books out of the back of his car in an effort to get noticed, essentially said indies are the scum of the Earth. Jodi Picoult, meanwhile, provided this piece of “advice” to writers (emphasis hers): “DO NOT SELF PUBLISH.”
As a result of the pushback, Grafton waited a week and then issued an apology: “I’d appreciate a chance to clarify the remark I made in the recent interview you posted. I meant absolutely no disrespect for e-publishing and indie authors.”
She goes on at some length trying to justify her remarks by saying, a) she didn’t really know what she was talking about and b) she had incorrectly assumed indie publishing was the same as vanity publishing.
While it’s good that she felt the need to respond, it’s worth noting that this apology is actually missing a, you know, apology. She calls her remarks a “gaffe” and—much like every politician I’ve ever seen after they made a mistake—says she wants to “clarify” her remarks. But she does not actually say she was sorry or, more tellingly, that she was wrong.
Indeed, it seems likely that the non-apology apology was just a way to recover from the public relations problem her statements had created.
Her initial comments, meanwhile, say a great deal about Grafton’s attitude toward indie writers. In short, we are hacks. We don’t know how to write books, spend no time trying to learn, but take our crap stories to the market without regard to the basic rules of narrative, dialogue, characters or plot. We are, to use her metaphor, children who want our crayon scribbles on paper to be regarded as the same kind of high art she produces.
If we can actually write a good book, she says, the traditional publishers will find and promote us: “If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid.”
The arrogance reflected in Grafton’s comments is truly awe-inspiring. It’s clear that she believes that: a) all good writers will get traditional book contracts and b) anyone who doesn’t isn’t a good writer.
Nothing in her apology in any way backtracks from those views. But they are clearly incorrect. Yes, there are plenty of bad self-published books. But there are awful books among the traditionally published as well. The idea that indie authors do not know how to “construct a narrative and create character” is demonstrably untrue.
I read mostly indie novels now and I’ve found some fantastic books, including “Mercury Falls” by Rob Kroese, “The Darkening Dream” by Andy Gavin, “On the Island” by Tracey Garvis Graves, “Devil’s Hand” by M.E. Patterson and “Wool” by Hugh Howey.
Those books feature great characters, interesting plots, and well-constructed narratives—and the “Universe” did not come to their aid. In all cases, they decided to STOP waiting for the Universe to come to them and seize their own destiny. Some of those writers have made it big, but others are still waiting to break through.
The idea that indie authors are “lazy” is also insane. If anything, we work harder than traditionally published novelists. When she’s done with a book—no matter how long she works on it—she has a team of people ready to edit, design a cover and plan a marketing campaign. Indie authors do all that themselves.
Candidly, I’ve seldom worked so hard as in the past year. I have a full-time job as a journalist that I must keep to support my family and—in my free time—I have tirelessly marketed my first book while simultaneously writing my second. During that time, I’ve mastered the art of the Facebook ad and spent thousands of my own money promoting the book. I’ve done blog tours, entered contests, been on radio programs, and found my way into the local newspaper. Trust me, that took work.
As for the writing itself, I slave over it. I’m not tossing off dreck and throwing it on to Amazon’s KDP. I’m not even writing a short novella and selling it, which I would do if I had any sense. No, I plot, write, edit and edit again. And while my wife (who also writes and edits professionally) is my editor, I guarantee you she is harder on me than Grafton’s editor is on her. There is not a scene or line of dialogue that we have not discussed how to improve. So I get pretty upset when Grafton essentially tells me that I don’t “read, study or do research.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity Amazon and other ebook publishers have given me. My novel has been downloaded tens of thousands of times—a thought that makes me giddy just thinking about it. But don’t for a moment assume it was easy.
And I’m just one many. There are thousands of indie authors out there working as hard as I am, if not harder, to find their readership. I see them all the time—on Twitter, Facebook, blog posts. The vast majority of writers I come across are pouring their heart and soul into it, trying to find a way to rise above the noise and get noticed.
Yet Sue Grafton dismissed all of us out of hand. We are, to her mind, beneath her.
In her apology, she says, “I am not arrogant or indifferent to the challenges we all face.”
Yet that is exactly what she seems to be. As noted in this Forbes piece and in the comments on this stellar Indie Reader take on the same subject, you don’t normally see other industries attacking each other in this way. Does James Cameron take time out of his day to slam indie directors? Does Green Day stop to criticize any band that made a demo in their basement? Of course not.
Yet Grafton and her ilk seem to think it’s okay to spit all over us.
What she doesn’t realize—but perhaps understands now—is that indie authors really are the wave of the future. The ebook revolution is the cosmos’ way of evening the score, of letting readers decide what is worth reading rather than a handful of large publishers.
We’ve got good stories to tell and finally the Universe—in the form of Amazon, Smashwords and others—has come to our aid.