Sunday, August 19, 2012

Stepping in a Big Pile of Poop

I’ve written before about the divisiveness between some traditionally published and self-published authors. It’s resulted in verbal wars, negative 1-star reviews, and even threats. For various reasons, the approach to publishing is highly personal and emotionally charged for some. So, when a well-known author comes along and tells people not to self-publish because “that’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work” you can imagine the backlash.

This is exactly what happened to Sue Grafton, whose highly praised, alphabet mysteries have earned her millions of fans over the last twenty years. A recent interview in, however, clearly showed that she’s not been keeping up with the self-publishing and ebook revolution, which was disappointing. In essence she said that self-publishing was a shortcut and she doesn’t believe in taking shortcuts when it comes to art.

But here’s the thing. In my opinion, not everything Grafton said was wrong. She was quite right when she said that only a few succeed (if  making enough money to live on is your definition of success). In an earlier blog I wrote, one survey showed that most authors sell less than 500 ebooks. Grafton also said that she’s read a number of self-published ebooks and found them amateurish. So have I.

But I’ve also found some beautifully written books, and this is where Grafton went off track. She painted self-publishers with the same brush when in truth they run the whole gamut, from amateurs who bash out a couple of drafts with little editing to those who’ve spent years writing and rewriting and going through professional editing. She doesn’t seem to understand that more successful traditionally published authors are choosing to self-publish because contracts are stingier than ever.

Discussions about her interview have sprung up on a couple of forums I belong to, and probably many more, and not much appears to favor Grafton, although I'm sure there are some. Once the backlash got rolling, she has apparently apologized on Facebook (I haven’t looked for it), indicating she didn’t have a clear picture of what self-publishing is today, and thought it was more of the vanity press days when a so-called publisher charged authors big bucks to see their work in print. If you want to read a little more of the interview, you can go to

A blog by Hugh Howey offers an interesting example of the type of response to Grafton’s remarks. I've read similar comments on other forums. You can find it at

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this.


KT Wagner said...

I think Forbes takes a balanced look at the subject -

To my mind (as a reader, not a writer) reliable systems to sort through Indie books are badly needed. Some of the review sites are doing a good job, but they cannot keep up with the avalanche of books.

I envision a new industry, complete with professional ethic codes, to help rank books.

Right now, I can't separate marketing efforts from honest opinion and I know I'm not alone.


Susan Flett Swiderski said...

My opinion of self-publishing used to be pretty similar to Grafton's. I read some horrible books that served only to inflate the egos of writers who were nowhere ready for publication. But my opinion has certainly changed. There are a LOT of excellent self-pubbed books out, now, and incidentally, there are some pretty lousy books that have gotten published through traditional channels. The means to publication is no longer an indication of a work's merit.

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Thanks for your thoughtful posts Kathryn and Susan. I also think Indie books are getting better, but as Kathryn notes, finding them isn't easy. It's not always enough for readers to buy a book based on a sample, or a review by someone they don't know. Word of mouth has always sold books. It still does. If people we know like an Indie book, then readers are more likely to buy.