A couple weeks ago, author Sue Grafton (she who writes the alphabet mystery series, beginning with “A” is for Alibi) stepped on a landmine while doing an interview with her local newspaper. When asked what advice she had for aspiring authors, she said (in part) that self-publishing is “as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.” When the interviewer mentioned the success of John Locke, who also lives in the Louisville area, she doubled down:
The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. … 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.As you can imagine, the indie/self-published world launched a thermonuclear strike. One author suggested the opposite is true: “Self-publishing means finding your own proofreader, finding your own editor, finding your own cover designer (or designing your own), doing all your own marketing and sales work, etc. Having a publisher is lazy as all you need to do is write a half-acceptable book and allow your publisher's editor to make it sales-worthy.” Along with the vitriol, several indies took the time to educate Ms. Grafton on the new paradigm.
And, instead of locking herself in an ivory tower, Ms. Grafton took the time to listen. She had a look at what’s really going on outside the traditional publishing world. Then, instead of issuing a “sorry that offended you” non-apology, she gave us a real one. I’m quoting at length below, but go read the whole thing.
[It] wasn’t my intention to tar anyone, if the truth be known. … I am uninitiated when it comes to this new format. I had no idea how wide-spread it was, nor did I see it as developing as a response to the current state of traditional publishing, which is sales driven and therefore limited in its scope. I understand that e-publishing has stepped into the gap, allowing a greater number of authors to enter the marketplace. This, I applaud. I don’t mean to sound defensive here…though of course I do.Talk about grace under fire—this lady (and I don’t use the word lightly) has it! Personally, I wasn’t much offended by the original comments; I simply dismissed them as the griping of someone too lost in (or too tied to) the old paradigm to see how the landscape was changing right under her feet. I was pleasantly shocked to see her take a look around and adjust her footing. I can only hope I’m that nimble when the next change comes around.
I don’t understand the mechanics of e-publishing and I still don’t understand how you can earn money thereby but I realize now that many indie writers are doing well financially and netting themselves greater visibility than I had any reason to believe.
My remark about self-publishing was meant as a caution, which I think some of you finally understood when we exchanged notes on the subject. When I’m asked for advice I warn many writers about the charlatans lurking out there. … It’s clear to me now that indie writers have taken more than their fair share of hard knocks and that you are actually changing the face of publishing. Who knew?! This is a whole new thrust for publication that apparently everyone has been aware of except yours truly. I still don’t understand how it works, but I can see that a hole has been blasted in the wall, allowing writers to be heard in a new way and on a number of new fronts.
I will take responsibility for my gaffe and I hope you will understand the spirit in which it was meant. I have always championed both aspiring writers and working professionals. I have been insulated, I grant you, but I am not arrogant or indifferent to the challenges we all face. I am still learning and I hope to keep on learning for as long as I write.
So while “A” may be for Apology, it’s also for Awesome Author. Perhaps the traditional publishing industry has currently veered into the weeds, but there are still lessons that we can learn from it. One is to accept bad reviews, whether for our novels or newspaper interviews, fix what we did wrong to the best of our ability, and get back to writing.