Traditional publishing versus self-publishing: the arguments go on, and not always politely. The latest established author to put her foot in her mouth is Sue Grafton, who condemned self-publishers as “being too lazy to do the hard work.”
The uproar in response to the popular mystery writer’s accusation has been heard wherever writers hang out on the web. More justifiably, she noted that self-published books are “often amateurish,” a fact that no honest and informed self-published author would deny. In fact, many a blog post mourns the existence of so many books that should never have seen the light of day. Worse, as Grafton’s diatribe proves, all indie publishers wind up being smeared with the same brush. The bad examples, and there are plenty of them, are often taken as proof that self-publishing is an abomination, and all self-publishers are simply narcissistic amateurs who Grafton compares 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.”
In the face of indignant rebuttals, some of them by successful writers like Adam Croft, a British self-publisher of thrillers, and by traditionally published writers who’ve gone indie, Grafton backed off and apologized, saying that she “meant absolutely no disrespect for e-publishing and indie authors and that she was "uninitiated when it comes to this new format.”
Like so many apologies by people who are given a public platform to speak their minds, this one isn’t totally acceptable. Accusing self-publishers of being lazy is disrespectful. And if she’s “uninitiated,” (think “ignorant”) about self-publishing, then she has no justification for offering an opinion.
Of course, Grafton isn’t the only traditionally published author spouting nonsense about an aspect of publishing that’s changing so fast even those who have reason to keep up with it are having problems. On being asked by an interviewer what advice she’d give to an aspiring author, novelist Jodi Picoult said “DO NOT SELF-PUBLISH.” And yes, it was in caps. She didn’t bother to explain why she thought an aspiring author shouldn’t self-publish, but the actual advice: “Take a workshop course. You need to learn to give and get criticism and to write on demand,” implies that self-publishers aren’t going to bother learning their craft.
On the positive side, uninformed opinions by popular writers generate enough discussion (unfortunately, some of it very acrimonious) that they become aware of their own ignorance and use the opportunity to learn more about the industry from which they make their living. To Grafton’s credit, her apology was gracious, and she willingly took responsibility for her words. “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.”
Maybe other traditionally published authors will take her as a model and make sure they know what they’re talking about before they speak out.
Orna Ross, director and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, recently formed to support the new generation of writers, said, "Certainly, self-publishers need to guard against the temptation to press the 'publish' button too soon. One of the core objectives of the Alliance of Independent Authors is to foster excellence in the self-publishing sector. We encourage writers to perfect their craft and hire good editors before publishing. Humility, hard work, craft skills, creative development – and their opposite – are found in both the self- and trade publishing sectors. It is impossible to pre-judge an individual writer, or work, on the basis of how they are published."
Publishing is in a state of rapid transition, and much more than economics is involved. Publishers and traditionally published authors can feel as if they’re under siege, the publishers by new marketing methods such as those used so successfully by Amazon, and authors by hordes of new writers who often do rush to publication before their work is ready. Despite the predictions that traditional publishing and print books are doomed, and that readers will be drowned in a vast pool of dreck while talented writers will remain forever undiscovered, publishers are adapting, and new talent is still being discovered. Even more important, thousands of writers are finding that hard work and talent can pay off outside the creaking and unwieldy structure of old-school publishing.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com