Sunday, 19 August 2012

Indie writers and traditionals - please can we call a truce?

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I was interested to read a few blog posts from self-published writers in response to Sue Grafton's comments in a Louisville, KY, online article last week. When I say "interested", I mean spitting mad. These bloggers, with varying levels of foul language and grammatical errors, have attacked Grafton over her comments.
The offense taken at Ms Grafton's remarks seem to centre around these quotes:

Question: 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," said Ms Grafton.

Lazy? Lazy?! Nobody wants to be called lazy. But what, exactly, did she mean by that? Well, in direct answer to that question (If so, what hard work are indie success stories too lazy to complete?):
"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."

So what has she actually said? She's said that writers should take the time to master their craft. That craft is writing a good story well, "learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue". These are hardly fighting words. They are true.

The fact is that a writer's first book is not as good as her subsequent books will be. Mine wasn't. I'd love to hear from any writer of more than one book who believes her first book was the apex of her ability. If that's the case, it means she hasn't improved as a writer. We all improve with experience, with the day-in, day-out work it takes to write. In my case, my fourth book, Single in the City, was published by Penguin UK. But my next book, which I self-published, was better-written than Single in the City. And each subsequent book has been better-written still. I think Ms Grafton's point is valid - we get better with more experience. That's a wonderful progression that writers (all writers) should be very proud of.

Does that mean that a writer's first book isn't good enough to be published? Absolutely not. I've read debut self-published books that are very good (On The Island comes to mind). So if you think your book is good, do have it professionally edited and publish it. I can think of several writers who've done just that and I'm so happy they did, because they've given me hours of reading pleasure!

There seems to be a real backlash against traditionally published writers, an idea that they (we) don't understand how hard it is to break out in the publishing world, that we've had it easy, sitting on the sofa eating our bonbons and counting our riches while paid staff scurry around making our lives easy. But I've been on both sides and I can tell you that all writers go through the exact same experiences: the years of learning our craft, the rejections from agents or publishers, or feedback from beta readers that make self-doubt sabotage our writing, the worry that our cover or book blurb won't be good enough, the wonderful feeling of finally seeing our books in print or eBook, then the daily marketing on blogs, twitter, facebook, goodreads (in the traditional world, we are the ones who do all that too), the good reviews, the bad reviews, the frustration that our book isn't a best-seller despite our best efforts. It's no easier in the traditional world, believe me, and in some ways it's more frustrating because we don't have complete control over our book's evolution.

So can we please call a truce between traditional writers and self-published writers? We're all trying to achieve the same thing - to be the best writers we can and bring our books to a wide audience of appreciative readers. I'd like us to support each other, not tear one another down.


  1. Excellent post. I read John Locke's self published books. In particular I love the Donovan Creed series, they are hysterically funny and tell great stories. He has been offered publishing deals and prefers to remain independent. I love you books and when you are self published it would seem to me that you would have total control over the finished product. If I were an author that would appeal to me. I also would note that Mz. Grafton is amoung a rising number of "mainstream" authors who's work seem to be on a formula that works for her and her publisher but doesn't take much risk. We will see what happens after she gets to Z.

  2. Thanks Kathy, my new favourite self published writers are Nick Spalding and Talli Roland. Proof positive that you can be a professional self-published writer :-)

    And you're right about having total control - though that's a lot of pressure! I think I'll always do both, since there are advantages on both sides.

  3. Great discussion. I was taken aback by Ms. Grafton's strong sentiments. I appreciate the purist in her and had I not begun to read many self-published works on my Kindle, I would have agreed with her views fully. However, the publishing industry as we all know does not always recognize talent or great stories. There are countless accounts by great authors who did not get a publisher for years if not decades because of being passed up as their book did not have "appeal" or was not what the publisher was looking for at the point in time. I love the concept of self-published books. Yes, there are plenty of self-published authors that need to work on their craft more but we all have read plenty of published writers that need to do that as well and some who are so famous that no one seems to edit their work any more and they have become very self-indulgent. I have enjoyed many new writers because of the self-publishing concept and welcome them. It is not like there is not room for these writers. That is the beauty of this field. The more writers the better.

  4. Thanks Anonymous. You're right, happily there is room for everyone, and lots of great writers to discover!

  5. Dear Ms Gorman,

    While I agree in principle with your sentiments, I do take exception to what Ms Grafton said. I will pull out one anecdote: Susan X Meagher published "I Found My Heart in San Fransisco" in 2002 and it was a pretty good book. but in 2008 she reissued the same book, self-published, with the scenes and ending she had originally wanted, but the publishing company had required her to change. The newer version is better.

    That's not just my opinion, the newer version sold more copies than the earlier one, so by any objective standard it was better.

    Possibly, as you pointed out, the intervening years had sharpened her skills. However, she herself said that the new version was essentially what she had originally written before editors forced changes into it.

    If you are interested in comparing them yourself, the new version is named "Awakening".


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