Sue Grafton, Indie Authors And Stupid Comments

By now most of you have probably read something about Sue Grafton and her comments sue grafton and indie authorsabout self-publishing and indie authors (I is for Ignorant: How Sue Grafton Hates Indie Writers – love that title).  I read the original interview of Sue Grafton as well, and felt a mix of emotions as I read it and as I read some other blogs and comments about Sue Grafton.  Yes, Grafton really stuck her foot in her mouth.  She showed an incredible amount of ignorance (or stupidity) when it comes to indie authors and the new age of publishing.  However, I think there’s more to this.  I do think Grafton had one good point.  And I also see indie authors making some pretty stupid comments as well.  Here are some things that I think indie authors need to step back and think about before trying to use them as an argument to support self-publishing.

Indie Authors – I Can’t Afford Editing, A Graphic Artist, Etc.

Yes, I’ve heard this…a lot.  If this is you, it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re really ready for self-publishing.  This is a business and it should be treated with the same professionalism as you would with your job.  You want to tell me that indie authors who make these kinds of comments are publishing quality material when they don’t take their craft seriously enough to, at minimum, get their novel edited by a professional?  Yes, a few people skip these steps and still succeed.  But the vast majority don’t.

Indie Authors – Do You Know Your Craft?

As indie authors rip on Sue Grafton, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.  Grafton makes a good point about knowing your craft:

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.

Yes, the comment about the universe and being lazy are dumb.  But it’s perfectly okay to say that an author should master his/her craft.  J.A. Konrath talks about it taking 10,000 hours to master something.  Read On Writing by Stephen King and look how long it took him to crank out something worthy of publication.  Too many indie authors write one book and think they’re the next ____ (fill in the blank).  Most aren’t.  But try telling them that.  Which brings me to my next point…

Indie Authors – Don’t Criticize Me

Sadly, too many indie authors can’t take the criticism.  I’ve had many authors ask me to read their works and when I give them some feedback, many just say oh, that’s your opinion and dismiss it.  And in some cases, we’re talking really poor writing.  If you can’t take some criticism and you don’t want to improve your writing, maybe, as Grafton says, you haven’t learned your craft yet.  And maybe you shouldn’t publish.  And before you rant on me about how terrible I am for saying this, there’s actually a very good reason why you don’t want to publish too soon.  If you do and your readers hate what you wrote, they won’t come back.  You’ve just lost potential sales – do you really want that?

And I have to laugh when I read indie authors who are criticizing the likes of Grafton and others, but these indie authors don’t know the difference between your and you’re, their and there, it’s and its…and you want me to think that you know how to write.  Hm, I don’t think so.

Indie Authors – But There Are Bad Mainstream Published Novels Too

Ugh – can we please put this argument to rest, once and for all?  So what!  It doesn’t matter!  If you’ve heard this comment, raise your hand: two wrongs don’t make a right.  Now, all of you, put your hands down.

First, when most indie authors that I see make this comment, they inevitable mention or are thinking about books by King, Grisham, Evanovich, Koontz and other bestselling authors.  Guess what?  Those are poor examples and here’s why: of course those books aren’t edited that well.  What publisher is going to tell Stephen King or any of the others to change their novel?  Publishers won’t because they don’t want to lose their cash-cow authors to other publishing houses.  And like it or not, it’s those big names that keep the publishing houses running.

If you want a better comparison, pick up a mainstream-published book by a first-time author and compare it to what indie authors are publishing.  Those mainstream-published books are likely to be very tight, compact, well-written stories.  They have to be or those authors would likely have not gotten an agent in the first place, and thus the book never would’ve been published.

Furthermore, if the vast majority of books being published by indie authors were good (let alone great), we wouldn’t be having this argument.  Yes, there are gems being published by indie authors, so please don’t blast me in a comment saying that I said all the books being published by indie authors are crap.  But let’s face it, there is a lot of crap out there.  Do you really think that if you bought a hundred books by unknown authors at Barnes & Noble and a hundred by unknown indie authors that the vast majority that are mainstream-published are bad and the vast majority by indie authors are good?  I doubt it.  And yes, I’ve read a lot by indie authors and for the most part, it hasn’t been very good.  If you think yours sticks out, feel free to send me a copy and I’ll read it.  But I, like many readers I know, have read some bad stuff and it makes me leery of self-published work.  Again, not all of it, but certainly a lot of it (Grafton makes a comment that a lot of what she reads by indie authors is bad – it’s her opinion and she’s entitled to it).

And finally, and this is the most important point, because there are mainstream-published books that are bad, does this somehow make the bad writing by indie authors good?  Of course not, so quit using the argument and focus on publishing the best possible book that you can.  As I said in Indie Authors Miss Golden Opportunity, indie authors should be challenging themselves to go over and above what is mainstream-published.

Indie Authors – Before You Rip On Me

When I write stuff like this, inevitably somebody wants to blast me about how I’m elitist or I don’t support indie authors (one guy even thought I wasn’t an indie author – for the record, I am).  Let me be clear: I’m not doing this because I don’t support indie authors.  Far from it.  I interview indie authors.  I write this blog to help indie authors with writing and marketing.   I teach a class about self-publishing at a community college.  I freelance with indie authors, assisting with various tasks related to self-publishing.  I want to see indies succeed.  Also, take the time to read the comments in this post.  Many agree with some of Grafton’s points, just like I do.

indie authors earn moneyHere’s the point about criticizing indie authors who haven’t mastered their craft before publishing.  As I stated above, you want to publish the best possible books possible – if you don’t, you’ve lost readers and potential sales.  Why would you want to do this?  I certainly don’t.

It’s also too bad that we indie authors can’t say hey, there’s bad writing out there without being criticized for it.  Believe me, when I wrote Indie Authors Are Killing Great Writing, there were plenty of indie authors who agreed with me.  We all recognize that there is great indie writing – it would be nice if it gets to the point where the great indie writing is the norm and not the exception.

Indie Authors – One More Thing About Sue Grafton

As I stated before, Sue Grafton made some stupid comments.  But I’ve met her on more than one occasion and I can say that, at least at that time, she was wonderful.  I talked with her at length about writing and publishing, and she was very helpful and encouraging.  I doubt she said what she did out of malice – ignorance, yes, but not malice.  And female mystery writers should keep this in mind.  Grafton and Sara Paretsky are credited with paving the way for female mystery writers.  They got books into the mainstream and opened doors for future authors.  Grafton deserves to be remembered for this as well, not just her comments on self-publishing.

About Renée Pawlish

Award-winning author Renée Pawlish writes the bestselling horror book, Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the Reed Ferguson mystery series, short stories and non-fiction ghost stories.
This entry was posted in Indie Author Handbook and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Sue Grafton, Indie Authors And Stupid Comments

  1. Alana Woods says:

    Hi Renee, I agree totally. My comment when I read the Sue Grafton comments, particularly the ‘lazy’ in relation to self publishing is that she very probably winced very quickly afterwards for voicing it.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      It was unfortunate on her part, no doubt. She is taking a lot of heat for the comments she made. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I didn’t read Sue Grafton’s article, but I totally agree with your article.

  3. Damyanti says:

    I haven’t read Grafton’s article (maybe I will now) — but I agree with every point you make. I’ve done some Indie pubbing, and some trad, and I think your points are very well made.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      It was an interesting read, and clearly showed that Grafton does not know about what’s going on now in publishing. Some seem to think she does know and has a chip on her shoulder, but having talked to her numerous times, I doubt that’s the issue (but who knows). Thanks for your comment.

  4. Deborah Jay says:

    Hi Renee, I haven’t read Sue Grafton’s comments either, but I totally agree with your blog: I have only recently started reading Indie published novels and have been really annoyed by several. One in particular raved in her intro about how liberating it was to be able to ignore the constraints of such things as the strict puncutation rules of the big publishing houses. Guess what? Her punctuation was so juvenile it made me bin the book!
    I utterly endorse the main drive of your comments: that a writer must learn their craft prior to publishing. I have been a magazine feature writer for more than ten years, had two non-fiction books published, and writtten four novels, the last of which gained me an agent. Sadly it still didn’t sell, so having now discovered the world of Indie publishing I’m planning to self-publish. I think (hope) my writing is good enough, but when I look back at my earlier work and see how my writing has matured, I’m so glad this option wasn’t available when I started, so I didn’t jump right on in there and make one of the biggest mistakes of my career.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thank you. I’m like you: when I look back on my early writings, I can clearly see where I needed to improve. I suspect that many indie authors who stick with it will see the same, many who may right now be disagreeing with me :). Thanks for your comment and good luck with your book.

  5. Caleb Pirtle says:

    You do a great job supporting, promoting, advising, and encouraging indie authors. It’s up to indie authors to be professionals and produce professional books. So many do. So many don’t. Those who don’t deserve whatever wrath Sue Grafton wants to rain down upon them.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thank you for your comments about me. As for the comment about Grafton, well-put and I wish I’d said it like that :).

  6. I agree on most all of these points. My first being editing and a good cover, and putting money back into your business. It irritates me so that the New Indie is all about getting his or her book out there in the hands of readers, but they don’t want to spend a good amount of time learning their craft, or getting a good cover. Everyone these days thinks they can make a cover, hey I’ve got editing software why not make my own cover. There are a hundred reasons why, but I’ll save that for another blog.

    One thing I’m not sure I agree with is the fact that she regretted what she said. I compare her to some of the buggy drivers back when the motorized car came on the scene. She’s sitting in her old buggy, saying hey this old way of doing things is just fine, my buggy has carried me everywhere I’ve needed to go.

    Sue’s never stepped out of her TP buggy. She has no idea how this new Indie Car drives or how easily it handles when the owner has prepped the car correctly. It’s easy for her to call us lazy, she doesn’t see what it’s like to be out there under the hood of our Indie Car, tinkering for hours, making sure every cylinder is popping. She just sees us out there running around, some of us passing her by, and is jumping to conclusions that she may never understand.

    Samantha Fury
    Author of the Street Justice Series.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Just to clarify, I didn’t say I thought she regretted her comment, just that I doubt it was with malice :). I suspect, if it’s true that her sales have been hurt, that she regrets the comments now…but who knows. As you state with the TP buggy analogy (very funny btw), Grafton clearly has no clue what’s going on with indie publishing and she made a huge mistake with what she said. I feel bad for her because she is a nice lady.
      And you are so right as well about editing, etc. Maybe someday those indie writers will begin to take this business more seriously.
      Thanks for your comment and good luck with your writing.

  7. Renee, this is a great post. I read the interview with Grafton (and grimaced). I also read the apology and the reactions by some authors.
    Just because anyone can write “a book” and throw it up on Amazon (unedited, unformatted) doesn’t mean they should! I spent a good deal of money having my debut novel edited and formatted, because my thought was, even if only my friends read it, I still don’t want it to suck. It’s my name attached to it. They pay for it. (And so far, the reviews have been great, from friends and strangers.)
    Thanks for making some excellent points.

  8. XerXes Xu says:

    I did read Sue Grafton’s article. It was only an opinion; couldn’t hurt anyone. I shrugged and moved on. It seems to me that the digital revolution has simply sneaked passed her unnoticed; her misfortune that harm’s no-one else. But the emotive response indicates it touched many people where they’re sensitive. Why would they be so sensitive to another’s misconception? If one doesn’t agree with her, the calm and simple statement, “I disagree,” is a complete response.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Nice points, no doubt. My own take on the emotive responses is that many are sensitive to the issues she brings up because they know (somewhere in the back of their minds, maybe?) that they just might be the authors she is talking about, but they don’t want to admit it.
      Thanks for the comment.

  9. Renée, thanks for the great post. I went back and read what Sue actually said so I wouldn’t get spun up over hearsay. While I agree that her initial comment about equating self-publishing with laziness was ham-handed, I agree with the overall point she is making. The fact that self-publishing is so easy now has resulted in there being a lot of crap out there.

    Where I think Sue if off is her thinking that self-publishing is responsible for bad writing. Self-publishing is neither good nor bad. It’s simply a set of tools and processes that allows writers to control their own destiny rather than rely on the whims of big publishing. That doesn’t mean a person should just throw any old thing out there. If anything, self-publishing requires more discipline. The writing must be solid but so must the editing, book design and cover art.

    I hope that in future interviews Sue modifies her view to be a little more balanced.

  10. Tough love! And I thank you for it.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      It can be hard to turn the mirror on ourselves (me included, boy, if you could read my first unpublished book or two), but it’s meant in kindness. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Jenny Q says:

    Great post. Your comments on indie authors who are unable to take criticism highlights what I think is one of the biggest problems in the self-publishing world. Authors who bash reviewers and call their buddies to jump on the bandwagon by flogging reviews they don’t agree with and purposely attempting to skew review numbers in their favor are really giving the industry a bad name. (Sadly, this is also going on with some traditionally published authors, too.) Whatever happened to writers who want to learn from their mistakes? Who want to earn the trust and goodwill of readers rather than alienate them? Who want to grow and polish and hone their craft? Because that’s what writing is. A craft that has to constantly be practiced to achieve quality results. Writers who are dedicated to their craft will pay attention to problems pointed out by readers and work even harder to make their next novel better. The arrogance I’m seeing displayed by some of these “authors” is truly mind-boggling. They’re ruining the game for self-publishers who are putting their heart and soul into their work and taking the time to make sure they’re putting out the best product they can. Keep these kinds of posts coming! I keep hoping that if more and more people take a stand against inferior writing and bad behavior, the self-publishing industry will become a better place to be!

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      It’s really tough because it can be difficult to eye your own work with a critical eye, and to take criticism from others. And too many indie authors aren’t there yet. You bring up some good points. Hopefully we indies will all grow and get better. Thanks for your comment.

  12. Thank you Renee for presenting some very valid points. As an Indie writer I’m ashamed to associate myself with some other Indie authors who , as you say, still need to master their craft (as do I).
    I only wish I could talk to Sue just to say I understand her points. I would be forever indebted to you if you could somehow pass that message on to her :-)

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thank you for your comment. I don’t have a connection with Sue but if I ever see her again, I would love to chat with her about all this (and I’ll pass along your thoughts).

  13. Cyd Madsen says:

    Well, don’t I feel stupid for never having found this blog before. And don’t I feel relieved for finding it now. This post is one of the most balanced, rational, and reasonable fulcrums I’ve come across at the center of the indie-trad debate. You’ve made excellent points about Grafton’s statements, and done so without malice. It’s a relief to find a response that is informative and helpful in so many ways. Thank you for your thoughts and blunt honesty.

    A very important element that’s being left out of this debate is something you’ve touched on–trad editors letting their cash cows work slip by without editing. That’s balanced on the indie side with so many positive reviews of bad books, made by friends in social media networks. It can be said that those comments are the equivalent of not wanting to tick of their cash cows (future positive reviews for their work), and lowering the perceived standard of writing by indie authors. My love of reading, and my willingness to join the indie party as a writer, have been deflated by the many horrid books I’ve read in good faith because of excellent reviews. A little bit of research usually shows those reviews are coming from friends in their network, and the favors are being repaid. I’ve even come across multiple reviews by the same person, reviewing under the same name, for the same book. Just as we have to encourage ourselves and each other to write the best work we possibly can, we should be encouraging our “friends” to be as honest as possible in their reviews. As long as indie writing is written for other indie writers, it’s not going to break through the barriers in place between writers and readers who want a good experience during their leisure time. Without those readers-who-don’t-write buying our books, enjoying them, and giving honest reviews, we run the risk of crashing this wonderful opportunity we have. I hope as a community we tighten up our ethics or establish some code that puts an end to this childish game.

    Thanks again for such a refreshing response to Grafton’s comments. I’ll be back often so I can follow one of the strongest voices in this business.

    (Web and blog sites left out intentionally. I already have too many followers for the quality of what I’m putting up there, and I care more about developing my craft than my audience at this point. I hope you understand.)

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thanks for your comments about the blog, I appreciate it. And yes, you make important points about reviews and how some indies scam the system. I’m sure if I write a post about that I’d be blasted but good :). Good luck with your own writing.

  14. Bob Stewart says:

    What insightful comments. I do have two questions:
    1. Define Indie publishing. Is it the work published by someone who oversaw the .complete production or is it a work published by one of many small epublishing companies such as Solstice or Novel Concepts that help the author revise, edit, spell check and take responsibility for the cover and the eprinting. The only difference between them and a mainline publisher (I’ve done both) is one is print and the other is epublish. You may want to consider the term “indie.” Perhaps it shouldn’t include such professional work as done by an independent epublisher who has a slush pile, etc. I’m find too often that these professionals are included with the “wannabes” who are willing to cough up the money to self-publish. Please consider that the term “indie” should not be applied to these professional companies.
    2. I take you up on your challenge. I have published a couple of books through epublishers that were vetted and edited by pros. I would love to send you copies since you asked for them.
    Finally, your thoughts were excellent and well written.
    Bob Stewart

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      I define “indie” as authors who don’t have any publisher at all, they are doing it all themselves. But there is a lot of debate about who is an “indie”. Thanks for weighing in on this and sharing your thoughts. I wish you the best of luck and I will contact you about your books :).

  15. Renee – I absolutely agree with your post. I’m an indie author planning to launch my first book in January 2013. In preparation, I’ve scoured the Amazon “free” offerings in my genre (romantic suspense) and have found quite a bit of disappointment with regarding the plot, pacing, and even simple grammar. I still fear that my work won’t be good enough to play with the big boys and girls, but I’ll certainly make sure that I’ve done all I can to make it as good as it can be.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thanks for the compliment, and yes, you make great points about what’s wrong with many indie books. Good luck to you with your book.

  16. I have been away from the mainstream of late, but did read Sue Grafton’s comments (and she is a favored author). As an Indie, I resented some things, but the truth is there is truth in her words.
    I was lucky. I wrote my first series while my husband was dying and wanted him to see the ‘published’ books. I was green as grass.
    An editor emailed me and asked if I had considered hiring an editor. I had, and hired him for my next book. It was considerably more polished. I wouldn’t consider publishing without a copy edit now. It is worth the money.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Yes, I think she hit the mark on some things, but unfortunately her seeming ignorance of where publishing is at overshadowed anything else. And I agree on the need for editors; I cringe when indie authors skip this, as it really is so beneficial to one’s writing.
      Thanks for your comment.

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