Sue Grafton thinks I’m lazy. Yeah. Hard to swallow when I look at how many hours I pour into my writing career each week (and weekend). Hell, it took me ten laborious minutes to put the above graphic together!
The interview with Sue isn’t worth the weight of the electrons it’s comprised of, but I’ll link to it anyway. Here’s the choicest morsel of the piece:
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for young writers?
A: 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.
My problem with this exchange? Why in the world is this interviewer asking a buggy whip expert about picking out a new car? What does Sue Grafton know about publishing in today’s market and with today’s tools? Judging by this response, she knows absolutely nothing. Less than nothing, in fact. What she thinks she knows is harmful to aspiring writers.
This is something I’ve seen elsewhere: people with decades of outdated publishing experience who don’t realize that their knowledge makes them a poor source for writing advice. The world has changed, people. And it isn’t the exceptions; don’t give me that.
One of the standard lines from people like Sue is that the self-publishing success stories are the exception. No shit. The same goes for the traditionally published success stories. 99% of all manuscripts submitted to the traditional machine never even land an agent. 99% of those that do, even if published, end up lost in the shelves with their spines out and nobody looking for them. After a few months, the books are returned. Those same books go out of print, and their authors continue working their day jobs and writing, writing, writing.
Sue thinks being one of the 1% of the 1% is the way to go. I say, if you’re going to win the lottery, why not do it in the state of Self-Pub where you keep 70% of the take instead of 15%? And really, who cares about the outliers? I’m more concerned with the midlisters.
Here as well, I’d rather be self-pubbed. The midlister on the traditional trajectory is the one with a $5,000 advance, a spine-out book in a brick and mortar store that fewer and fewer people frequent, and then an out of print book they can’t get the rights back to. No thanks.
I have friends who aren’t even at mid-list status with their indie books and they are doing better than this. Over the lifetime of their book (which is now forever), they stand to make a lot more than that advance. And rather than suffer the lengthy process of querying, rejection, querying, acceptance, pitching, rejection, pitching, publishing, rejection — all of which can take three or more years from that first query to being returned to the publisher — they can go straight to the source.
And tell me this: why is self-publishing antithetical to “honing one’s craft?” Who ever received writing advice in a rejection letter as sound as the worst 1-star review out there? There’s far more to learn from engaging the market with your product than there is in form letters that tell you not-a-single-frickin’-thing. What’s wrong with testing the waters? Instead of wasting one’s time writing query letters, why not work on that next manuscript instead?
There is no better way to break into traditional publishing than self publishing. Period. End of story. Hell, write fan fiction. Another piece of Twilight fan-fic just got a seven-figure advance on the heels of the success of 50 Shades of Grey. Does this mean it’s the new norm? No. But it does mean that publishers no longer care how you sell books. They don’t care if you self-publish. They don’t even care if you write porn based on YA vampire novels. They just want to give readers whatever the hell they want! And readers don’t want query letters. They don’t want books in slush piles. They want good stories, decently edited, available right now, and as cheap as you please.
When Sue considered trad or self, the latter meant paying for a print run that sat in an author’s garage for the rest of their life. Now it means paying nothing. Sue’s advice to an aspiring video game designer would be to stop making mods and levels for existing games and go to college instead, submit resumes, anything other than proving you can actually do the work. Her advice to a musician would be to send 8-track demos to Nashville. Just don’t upload your work to YouTube for free! That would be lazy.