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This is something I’ve seen elsewhere: people with decades of outdated publishing experience who don’t realize that their knowledge makes them a poor source for writing advice.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 mean 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.

93 Responses to “My Favorite Four Sue Grafton Novels”

  1. EC says:

    My friend, this is one of the most inspiring battle cries I have heard in years ! Thanks for this!

  2. Smabbage says:

    One word comes to mind after reading this…”BOOM!”

  3. Win says:

    *checks scoreboard* I have read 100% of Hugh Howey’s work and 0% of Sue Grafton’s work. *snort*

  4. Leslie says:

    I think she’s still thinking self-publishing is like vanity publishing, which was for people who couldn’t get published any other way. Sure, there is a lot of dreck in self-publishing (one could say the same about traditional publishing, too), but there are also many people who put a lot of work into it and get professional editing, etc, before they publish.

    • Traditional publishing is the new vanity publishing. The best thing you get out of it is how awesome you feel! ;)

      • scottjm says:

        Well said. (That’s my Hugh)

      • may says:

        Clever use of her books lol….total hogwash on her part. I have banned many authors like her from nh reading lists…they think they’re allow that and a bag of chips and could care less about her readers. They get to a level where they don’t care about what their readers think…..they trample on our beloved characters to PROVE TO US readers they are all mighty and will do what they please with our characters. I<3 Indies authors and the past. 1-2 yrs they've received 90% of my business. Have I read crappola in between? You bet….but. ive found lots of jewels like you Sir!

  5. Jason Brant says:

    Hell yeah. Sue Grafton and Scott Turow can kiss my lazy, self-pubbing ass.

  6. RrustyDawg says:

    I wonder what Ms. Graftons total earnings would be if she had charged 1/2 or less of her cover prices and kept 70% of the price? Maybe somebody less lazy could calculate that for her!

  7. Lena Bee says:

    I loved the analogy of “asking a buggy whip expert about picking out a new car.” I’m 57, not ashamed to say it and I work HARD to keep up and while I am pretty technically savvy (laptop, netbook,Android smartphone, Android tablet) I still know that today’s young people have a totally different technological experience than I do, and technology moves at the speed of light and enables people to do much more than a “buggy whip expert” ever dreamed possible. The biggest mistake a person can make is to offer advice from a place of what applied in “their world” without realizing the vast changes that have gone on – without them!

    You are so right on in your response to Sue Grafton’s comment about self-publishing. Is everyone who self-publishes going to be successful? Nope. But hey, it sure opens up avenues to writers who for whatever reason decide to go that route. I personally have enjoyed the heck out of reading novels by self-published authors – you, of course, being at the top of my list!

  8. Lisa says:

    Can’t stop snickering.

    “STFU,” indeed.

  9. Jason Wilhoit says:

    Yes! Been wondering if you were gonna reply to that interview. Well spoken Hugh. By the way, my favorite Sue Grafton novel, is O is for OWNED!

  10. Lara Martin says:

    BWahahahahaha! I had to stare at those titles for a minute before I figured it out. HA! HA! Oh my goodness, I can’t stop laughing. You have a serious bite. Love it!

    Nailed it. I have a good friend who’s got three wonderful manuscripts finished and is now doing the fifth rewrite of the second for an interested publisher. This publisher (and her agent) has been leading her by the nose for over a year and will, most likely, realize the life has been sucked out of her original story and reject it. It broke my heart when I told her she might consider self-publishing and she snapped self-pub was for bitter rejects (according to her agent). Meanwhile, her three wonderful novels are getting rewritten, over and over and over, for publishers that are going to reject them off-hand or take full credit for their existence because, after all, she had to make all of the changes they told her to make… Geez, they want one of them to be more conducive to selling movie rights, so she was told to think “budget” as she re-wrote. Imagine, having to limit your imagination with their imaginary budget for an imaginary movie deal. I could cry. But hopefull, I will end of being able to prove it by example. I tried to point her in your direction but she’s mired into her agent’s BS. Thank the great silo gods you are here to lead us to the fresh air :)

    • That’s sad to hear, Lara. All that time re-writing that she could’ve spent writing more works and getting them to readers. It breaks my heart.

      • Lara Martin says:

        Yeah, and she is a brilliant writer. Holding down a full-time job, battling serious health issues, and carving a beautiful manuscript to suit the tastes of the publishers. The agent recognizes her talent and is trying to stuff her into the publishing meat-grinder for a profit. I think she may eventually see the light but it won’t be because I incessantly nag her… she’ll have to find it on her own. She is truly marvelous. Maybe I’ll send her a copy of “I, Zombie.” She’d get a kick out of it.

    • iratewriter says:

      Lara–your friend is at the mercy of what screenwriter William Goldman calls “writer-killers.” :( Give ‘em apples, they want oranges ’cause they’re hot. Give ‘em oranges, they want kumquats (because kumquats just scored a huge movie deal and went #1 on the NYT list). Give ‘em lime-quats (because maybe you can get ahead of their crazy curve by being original) . . . and they go back to wanting apples with bacon flavoring. Which you can’t do. And think is a bad idea. But you try anyway…and the book sucks. And you get the bad sales, the in-house blame…and nada contracts for new books. :P She should withdraw one of those novels from the agent and self-publish that bad boy under a pen name as an experiment. Hope you can help her see the light–it’s a damn shame she’s being put through this mess.

  11. Kevin McGill says:

    She can come and put in my 12 hour work days self-publishing. We’ll see who’s the lazy one.

  12. Elizabeth Peace says:

    Thank you for spending the 10 minutes on the graphic…It was worth it :D

    And I think if you’re a writer, you want people to read your works, and if that means you need to self-publish to do that, what the fuck is wrong with that?

    Good for you, and I thank you for being a lazy bastard and deciding to self-publish :)

  13. Deb Robbins says:

    Well said, Hugh, all of it. I have to wonder what Ms. Grafton thinks is the “hard work”. A couple hundred query letters, maybe? What nonsense. The actual writing is the hard work. Seems to me an author that writes only for her one established series could be classed as lazy. She’s hardly qualified to give advice to new writers in a rapidly changing industry.

  14. David says:

    “If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid.”

    Three words: John Kennedy Toole.

  15. Bill Hicks says:

    Great take down. That was an incredibly arrogant statement for someone who has spent her whole career writing the same book over and over and over and over and over and….

    • Vicki says:

      Thanks, I was thinking the exact same thing. Her books are beyond boring.

    • Matthew McKinley says:

      I just wonder what she’s going to do when she runs out of letters. She might have to…*gasp*…create something original! Are her publishers going to want to publish it?

  16. Jeanne says:

    I agree with Win. I’m currently barreling through all of your books while I’ve actually never heard of Sue Grafton before this. But her statement is really indicative of the older generation who chose working “harder” over working smarter. They bash things that are new (because change can be scary) when they should take a lesson from Darwin’s finches and adapt. ;) I kinda feel a little sorry for the poor ol’ gal. *sniff*

  17. Jen says:

    Oh, man – whenever I’m not motivated, your blog posts make me feel excited about writing again. I hope Grafton sees your response to her interview ;)

    • You really think Sue has the internets?

      • Ruby says:

        I’m sure someone will get it to her, even if she doesn’t.

      • williamjacques@gmail.com says:

        Don’t know her. Don’t really want to know her except to talk about marketing and who she perhaps is using as “ghosts”. But, I agree with Hugh, she doesn’t give a rat’s *ss what Hugh thinks or what reality is. What really matters is what all the ASPIRING writers here think, and to that extend Hugh has done a very valid solid.

  18. Jonelle says:

    Old people, amirite?

  19. Funny response, Hugh. The old guard still has trouble seeing the bonuses in the new changes, like the “back in my day” stories people tell kids to make them feel inferior. Reminds me of a SF Writers Conference I went to and listened to Alan Rinzler (editor for Hunter S. Thompson, Shirley MacClaine, John Lennon) tell us to just write, and never spend more than an hour online marketing. Sure Alan, if I did that I doubt my Indie books would be paying my mortgage, which they are.

    • Exactly. And congrats on your success, man. That’s awesome to hear. What most people don’t realize is how many writers are paying bills with all the new tools available to us. They think it’s just the Hockings and Lockes, but it isn’t.

      • Absolutely. I make more on my self-published books than my wife did working part-time at a grocery store. My royalties allowed her to quit a job that wasn’t right for her and have now become our second income.

        Sue hasn’t been hungry for so long she no longer knows what it feels like. To act as if she knows what’s best for me is laughable.

        I’m finished with taking advice from people like this. If I did, I’d be writing query letters instead of writing books and living my dream.

  20. Like many other corporate authors, Sue has been in the business long enough for her success to now feel like entitlement. Clearly doing ALL the work yourself (and most times while holding down a full-time job) is anything but lazy. She likely knows this and is just name-calling to get a rise.

    It appears Sue still believes that the gatekeepers know best. And why wouldn’t she believe this? They made her rich beyond her wildest dreams. She owes them.

    The most important take away I see is this: Sue Grafton does not necessarily know what’s best for you. If you want to navigate the perils of New York and do it all the old way then she might have something to offer. If you want to get your work in the hands of readers today, look elsewhere for guidance. And all advice, not just Sue’s, should be tempered with a healthy dose of critical thinking.

  21. As one who has a single self published book out now with another coming in Sept. and a third, hopefully, in Nov. I wouldn’t say I’m lazy. I do my own research. Make sure my grammar, punctuation, spelling and that facts relative to the time period are correct.

    I have read many traditionally published books in which it is obvious that the author and editors don’t seem to care about these things.

    I wanted to begin writing years ago but felt I would never get past the query stage. I love that I have total control over my work from the beginning clear through publication.

    Maybe it’s laziness to turn everything over to someone else. Do you think?

  22. Derek says:

    Have you seen this video reply to Sue Grafton? Pretty awesome.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haZW1v85ZRk

  23. Adam Bolander says:

    You are absolutely right, Mr. Howey. I once got into a debate with Jerry B. Jenkins, author of the Left Behind novels, when he made a similar blog post against self publishing. The post was taken down. But you’re right, traditional publishing is now solely a business- there’s no passion in it anymore. Gone are the days when publishers look for books that will make people think, react, and actually use their imagination. Now their thought process seems to go something like, “Does it have vampires? No? Rejected.” If it doesn’t give the reader an overwhelming sense of deja vu when read, they seem to think it won’t make nearly as much money as a fresh, new voice would. And that’s all they’re after- money.
    As a self published author, I find it incredibly annoying when I tell someone I’m an author, and the first thing they say is, “Oh, have you made a lot of money?” (Happens more than you might think). WHO CARES?! Why would YOU care?! Why not ask me about the freaking BOOK?!
    I tell people that I’m not into writing and publishing for the money or recognition. I just want to entertain people with a story that came from my own heart. I don’t care about cliches, stereotypes, or something being too mainstream. If I want it in there, I put it in there. Thus is the freedom of self publishing. You don’t answer to anyone but yourself and your own imagination. Thanks once again for posting this!

  24. Well said, Hugh. I find what Sue said true of any industry in the midst of a ground shaking flux. Those already in the building will do whatever they must to stop others from entering. But the fact is this: that building of traditional publishing is going away. No longer does Sue have a short list of those that chip into her bottom line, but now has to compete with myriad of authors she didn’t see coming, those that have something new to say and not the same regurgitated novel a hundred times over. Saying that traditional publishing is the “right” way to go is no different than saying paper letters will never be replaced with email. It’s shortsighted and just plain incorrect. Sure, who wouldn’t like to see their book in print? But now the tools exist for far more voices to be heard. Personally, I think that’s great. Sounds like Sue is lashing out in a childish way and giving out bad advice. Just two little cents from one LAZY self-published author.

    Oh, and by the way Sue, what exactly is the “hard” work that one avoids when self publishing? Is it the self editing and long hours of rewriting without a professional editor at your beck and call? Maybe it’s the marketing one has to do by themselves and with their own money without a large publishing house helping? Perhaps it is working a full time day job and writing at night when the kids go to bed or getting up early while house is quiet? How LAZY of us all.

  25. John Thomas says:

    Somewhere among my mementos I have a rather large stack of rejection letters from editors at Amazing, S&SF and several other genre mags. Some of them were actually informative, and I suppose I should accept that as somewhat more than faint praise. In the end though rejection at the starting gate is just rejection. I’m an old dog now and I’m not sure how many new tricks I can absorb – but this self-publishing of ebooks really appeals to me – I’d rather be rejected by an actual reader than by a hundred gate-keepers. Keep up the good work, Hugh. I’m listening and I may get motivated to follow soon enough.

  26. Lindsay says:

    I love it, Hugh! Writers shouldn’t have to fit their pegs into the square holes of the big publishing firms. Give people what they want to read, be creative, and success will be yours no matter how you come by it!

  27. kub says:

    Dear Hugh, you have been very kind to us, an old couple who hope to publish several of our books as ebooks (for instance you put us in touch with Mike the illustrator). Just from the vantage point of many years lived, we want to encourage you always. Miss Grafton is of ‘the old school.’ But she knows for sure that talent trumps everything. Talent, which you have more of than your body can hold, will out… no matter the carriage that talent rides into the world on: print on paper, ebk, multimedia, film, pub by a corp or by following one’s own star. Many of us, after being insulted, realize that it may not be meanness when someone misjudges us or those we care about. It may be that we are so alien to the ‘usual’ the criticizer is used to, that it is only, really, a failure of imagination. Which is sad in a writer, we’d say. Hang in there. We two old dogs are watching over you in spirit. You’re doing just fine and we’re proud of you
    The Kubs

    • I appreciate that. And if it were only the one slip of calling indies lazy, I could look past it. But the entire interview is offensive. Anyone who writes in a coffee shop is being an exhibitionist? What if they need that group energy to write? What if they want to draw character traits from the crowd? What if they get depressed from sitting home alone all day? What if they have a hankering for a scone?

      She also calls some writers wannabes. She comes across as entitled and spoiled, which I’m sure she is. Didn’t she use her father’s publishing contacts to get her foot in the door in the first place? What’s not lazy about that?

      As for her idea that a good book will have the universe come to it, what of A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES? It was rejected by everyone. The author committed suicide (I doubt the publishing universe had everything to do with this). Eleven years later, due to the persistence and un-laziness of his mother, the book was finally accepted by a university press and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

      If Sue Grafton did her research, she would know of such examples and realize that she isn’t just needlessly mean; she is also completely wrong.

      (And thank you for the kind words. Sue could learn a thing or two from writers such as yourself).

  28. David says:

    This reminds me of a quote from a successful author:

    “I think we’d all be well-advised to ignore the opinions of others. There’s always someone who wants to tear you down. … It’s easy to be judgmental and critical…”

    — Sue Grafton (about 15 seconds prior to making her “lazy” comment)

  29. Lauren Brynolf says:

    It may be childish for me to say, “SUCK IT, SUE GRAFTON!”

    … so be it. If she’s going to be five, then I can, too.

  30. Perfect, just perfect. Thank you Hugh!

  31. I must say you make a very strong case for self-pub. I’ve been reading a lot on both paths, and haven’t made up my mind yet. Hopefully by the time I finish editing I’ll be ready to chose. Any thoughts on self-pub for foreign markets?

    • Get an agent for foreign markets. But wait until you’ve had domestic success. You can still do it without an agent, but you won’t get the same terms. Best of luck to you however you decide to go!

  32. A brilliant response. Those are my favorites now, too!

  33. Oh, and I thought you might like to know that @RedTashBooks, the interviewer, is herself an indie author. She did the interview for a paper in SG’s home town–the usual easy questions, then threw in the one on indie publishing. When she got the first tossed-off reply, she decided to push back just a little (Ms. G. apparently didn’t know or care that her interviewer was part of the indie community) and got the longer answer.

    • Yeah, she’s a member over at KB. I didn’t know when I made the reply, but I did enjoy how she pushed back. I didn’t mean to disparage her interview as much as Sue’s responses.

  34. I was thinking, a little earlier today, that the Trad Pub crowd are showing a little hint of desperation in their rhetoric. Now, having read this post, It really seems to me that they are hunkering down in their trenches and calling in artillery on thier own positions. I really find it hard to believe that they think any of this will be taken seriously.

    She really thinks that we’re lazy? Has she ever built NCX code? Has she even tried to write the HTML for a TOC?

    Does she even know what those acronyms mean, or is she currently cranking out a novel that will use the letters for the title?

    New from Sue Grafton – “TOC is for Tottering Old Counter revolutionary”

  35. Preach it, brother! We are the new normal, and anybody that doesn’t like it, well, they know they can kiss. Well said, Hugh.

  36. Dalya Moon says:

    LOL! 10 points for the header alone. You rule.

  37. Red Tash says:

    Hi, Hugh.

    I asked her if she had any advice for young writers because that’s the same question I would ask any successful author. I didn’t ask her about indie publishing, specifically. She just happened to respond about self-publishing.

    I then sat on my follow-up question to her for a couple of weeks, trying to figure out how I could ask it without offending the most famous living writer in my community, while at the same time possibly embedding a little information for her consideration.

    She and I are still conversing on the topic, and I’m going to be posting a follow-up today (hopefully), if the day doesn’t get away from me entirely.

    Congrats to you on all your success. Have heard nothing but glowing reviews of your work.

    • Hey, thanks for following up. A FB friend of mine is a huge fan of hers and fired off an email to Sue. He got a response. It illuminated for me how clueless poor Sue is about today’s publishing climate. It also didn’t mesh with her initial responses, so I think she has realized some damage control is in order.

      I also did a bit of looking into Sue’s publication history. The publisher of A is for Alibi is linked to the house that published her father’s works. I know she did some early stuff and screenplays, but I don’t think she endured the same hardships a writer today would have to overcome. I’d be interested to hear her speak on how her father’s connections helped land the publishing deal that she’s turned into an alphabetically-limited oeuvre.

      Great interview, btw. You did what interviewers are supposed to do: smell the meat of a story and bare your teeth. This thing has blown up (did you see the mention on Forbes this morning?) It’s something to be proud of, as you’ve colored and moved this heated discussion.

    • David says:

      To the extent that Sue Grafton’s comments led in some way to the Forbes article, I’m grateful to her. The Forbes article is a fantastic and thorough summation of the conflicting currents running through the publishing world.

      And Red Tash, in re-reading your interview, I can see that you clearly pushed back — twice! — before wisely moving on. Too bad Sue chose to double down, but you gave her every opportunity. I’m quite interested to see your follow-up (and I’m glad to know you’ve followed up!).

  38. I wondered when an indie author with clout would have the balls to address what Sue “E is for EpicFAIL” Grafton said about indie authors. As one, I don’t consider the insane amount of hours I work “laziness”. All the time I can’t spend with my children because I am working a crazy deadline of at least 2k words per day and if I have to wrap something up, it isn’t unknown for me to write between 7k and 9k in a day. All the work I put in for advertising, doing blog tours, working with my editor, cover artists, learning Photoshop so I can make some of my more simple covers, formatting, uploading to five different venues (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo and ARe/Omnilit), producing paperback copies of each and every novella, novel and omnibus collection I produce…I am making myself exhausted describing my schedule.

    And you know what, I am just now starting to get some recognition after 16 months of very HARD work. Yeah, I’m a lazy b*tch because I don’t want to send out query letters and not hear back from an agent or get the generic “sorry, this isn’t what we are looking for”. Self publishing is the best thing that happened to me and I wouldn’t trade it for a trad-pubbed deal in the world (not unless it was life-changing money and/or Amazon offering it). Thanks for this as it made my day. ;-)

  39. Red Tash says:

    Thanks for your comments. It was not an easy interview. I thought I was writing a fluff piece for a local website about our most famous living hometown author (Hunter S. Thompson not being available for interviews, right?) and it got difficult. My hope is that out of the difficulty, it’s opened the door to realistic conversations across the publishing divide.

    I hope you’ll read the response she sent me to post today. This was after numerous lengthy emails back and forth. She admits to being not technically savvy, and the impression I got (repeatedly) was that she was deeply chagrined. The end result of the comments was very much outside the realm of her experience, and I have to commend her for having the courage to try and correct it, not just let it blow over while we discuss the next news of the day. But that’s just my take on it. I’m sure some readers will still find problems with it–hurt feelings do tend to turn us off!

    http://louisvilleky.com/2012/08/more-from-sue-grafton-on-publishing-indie-writers/

  40. Karin Cox says:

    My experience has also been that self-publishing is much more hard work than trade-publishing, and I’ve tried both. I think poor Sue didn’t realize quite what she was getting herself into. She was looking at self-publishing as akin to the vanity publishing of old, and rather unaware of authors like Hugh, J Carson Black and others who are making a living and fulfilling their dreams by publishing their own work, and delighting legions of fans in the process. Hopefully she will see the error of her ways.

  41. Elle Casey says:

    Huzzah! Huh. Zah.

    Nicely done, Huge. Nicely done.

  42. RD Meyer says:

    It’s the underlying tone in Grafton’s words that are repugnant. She seems aghast that peasants might be soiling the lawn at her country club.

    Further, her implication that it must be good if it got through a traditional publisher is nauseating. Has she seen what’s on shelves(the few shelves that are left) nowadays?

  43. Way out of touch with the realities of publishing……guess she missed those page-turning best-sellers from Snooki and The Situation. Guess my book which deals with life, love, teen-aged, suicide, addictions, and growing up,somehow doesn’t measure up to those literary efforts from the cast of Jersey Shore because I chose to go indie…..Nothing wrong with learning story development, structure, plot, character development, and dialogue, and as writers, we need to constantly work at our craft so we continue putting out stories that readers want to read (and not the same old retreads with cute, catchy alphabetic titles that lost appeal somewhere around “c” or “d”). But the business model Ms Grafton understands died a long time ago and needs to be buried.

  44. Well said, and beautifully written.

    As a mid-lister, I can tell you what you write is spot-on. Publishers have always left out one component: the marketing and promotion of their authors’ books. Seriously, publishing is the only industry that doesn’t do a true marketing plan for every product (yes, a book IS a product) it puts on the shelf.

    When you hold onto 92-88% of the retail price, TRUE promotion and marketing — I mean, above and beyond co-op — should be a given.
    But no. It was saved for a chosen few: the ones a top editor felt would carry a certain genre.

    That is not to say these authors aren’t hard working. They too have been, putting out a book, maybe two, a year. Creative writing is very hard work.

    But let’s face it: traditional publishers would have had a lot more bestsellers on their hands if they’d taken some of the co-op funds (i.e., buying shelf space in a bookstore; SUCH a dirty word in the pub industry) they’ve put toward their Graftons, and had spread it around to the authors who toiled so hard to break out by promoting themselves with their piddly advance money. Unlike the pub houses, we authors can’t directly buy our way onto a bookshelf.

    Well, now we don’t have to.

    As David Vinjamuri’s article in Forbes points out, many mid-listers are using their finely honed guerrilla marketing skills on their reacquired backlists, and nurturing these books into a decent (and in some cases, outstanding) revenue streams. I personally know three authors who have sold a million units of their novels in the past 18 months. Yes, they still do their own promotion — as well as paying for editing (with laid-off editors) professional covers, pre- and post-production on their books, but holding onto 35-70% of the retail price (as opposed to 8-12%) makes it worthwhile, even when the retail price is 1/2 – 1/4 of the print book price.

    I don’t want the whole tail, just a sliver of the long tail.

  45. Hey, Hugh, it appears that frontal assaults by people like you have made an impact.

    I read Sue Grafton’s revised remarks yesterday, and they come across to me as a humble recantation. She acknowledges that she hasn’t been in the loop of anything going on lately in the indie world, and that her comments were made in ignorance.

    Like so many successful trad-published authors, she thinks of self-publishing through the filter of its “vanity press” past. How would she know otherwise? Given her success, she’s had no need to explore the options. Most of these folks simply embrace the self-flattering myth that anyone with talent can and should succeed through the legacy route. Anything else is a short-cut, a desire to avoid “paying your dues” as a writer. To them, the Query-Go-Round is the author’s boot camp, and if you by-pass it, you can’t be the real deal.

    No, she shouldn’t have been so ignorantly dismissive of the indie option; but now she at least seems to be admitting that she was, in fact, ignorantly dismissive. So, I for one will give her points for a graceful recantation. It’s much better for us, I think, if we accept that and move on, now.

    Traditional publishing is a target-rich environment, but our primary targets, IMHO, shouldn’t be super-successful fellow authors who just happen to be clueless about self-publishing. I am glad for their success, and I hope we can encourage more of them to be glad for ours.

  46. Mike Dennis says:

    Great post, Hugh! Sue Grafton has lived far too long in her insular world of “Successful Legacy Author”. It’s a world where everyone is convinced that surmounting the “gatekeeping” process is equivalent to writing a book of stupendously high quality, and where everyone regards self-publishing as the last resort for delusional no-talents.

    I might add, Sue Grafton is not alone in her thinking, as you well know. This train of thought is what’s rotting away at the insides of the legacy world, the smug certainty that they made it while others who couldn’t get past the can’t-be-bothered agents obviously are nothing more than swill machines.

    Every time I read a Grafton-like post, I realize they all hate the fact that other opportunities are opening up for the rest of us, and they can’t bring themselves to admit that they’re missing out on these opportunities themselves by clinging to their outmoded legacy contracts and bottom-of-the-barrel royalty rates.

    Lastly, a big congrats on the Wool series. I only hope my series can do a fraction of what you’ve done.

  47. I heart everything you just said.

    I give Sue kudos for all her work and accomplishment, but it’s like you said…she has NO clue what she’s talking about. She won the lottery as far as publishing goes (yes, due to hard work…but also being lucky as hell). We’re supposed to make nothing and work our ass off for crumbs that publishers give today? Um…no thank you.

    There are some AWESOME writers out there in the trad pub world whose books will never ever see the light of day…not because they aren’t good, but because they don’t fit into the tiny little box that publishers judge all books by. Your series, “Wool” probably never would have seen the light of day in a trad pub world, but it kicks ass. Instead, I’m guessing you’re doing fairly well. Yeah, I think I’ll do it YOUR way. :-D

    I’m all for honing your craft…I just want to keep making money while I do it!

  48. Bryan Montford says:

    I’m sorry to be so uninformed, but who the fruck is Sue, what’s her name? I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of her. Is she a writer or something? Why should I care what she has to say? I’ve never heard of her. In comparison, there’s this guy named Hugh Howey. See, there’s a name I know. A voice I’ve even heard over my phone. Someone who’s books I buy, and will keep buying as long as he’s writing them. Why? Because I know who the hell he is. I like his work and respect him as a fellow human. I don’t know this Sue person, and frankly I couldn’t care less about her and her opinions.

  49. Matt Iden says:

    (Love the graphic, Hugh.)

    Great quote Brad Thor quote from the Forbes’s article:

    “The important role that publishers fill is to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

    How many times do we have to go through this? How many Jodi Picoult moments (http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/jodi-picoult-and-the-myth-of-the-segregated-marketplace/) do we have to rehash?

    Traditional publishing, or a large segment of it, doesn’t care about wheat or chaff; it cares about profits. They lost any claim to literary gatekeeper status before my grandfather was born.

    To paraphrase myself from David G.’s blog, Thor makes a mistake in identifying and linking the lack of professionalism with a category of *writing* rather than where it belongs, with a category of *writer*. This is why anyone–trad, small press, indie–can write a beautiful novel and anyone can write tripe. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from if you don’t care.

  50. J.M. Park says:

    I realize I’m just reiterating what’s been said in the rest of the comments to this post from last year, but after reading it I had to add my own “Bravo Zulu” to your list of admires. Many thanks for articulating new authors’ sentiments so well!

  51. [...] having no book available yet—a kind of loyalty to my chosen means of publication. I’d read Hugh Howey take on Sue Grafton, or see this great article in Forbes and do figurative (ok, literal) fist [...]

  52. [...] having no book available yet—a kind of loyalty to my chosen means of publication. I’d read Hugh Howey take on Sue Grafton, or see this great article in Forbes and do figurative (ok, literal) fist [...]

  53. Chameleon says:

    That was superbly written, Mr. Howey. As I read, I could hear the voices of a million Indie authors crying out for recognition- for a fair shake. The day is coming that people like Sue Grafton will no longer be looking down their noses at people like me, simply because she will have been brought down to “my level”, and be forced to see the self pub market as it really is. I think, for her own sake, she should follow the advice of what her books abbreviate above and just S.T.F.U. :)

  54. iratewriter says:

    “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.”

    Goddamn right (and I say this as someone who’s seen the business from both sides.) Legacy publishing has turned the submission process into an excuse to not take risks/publish, pure and simple. Even worse, it blames new writers for its risk-aversion by claiming they aren’t “good enough” to make an increasingly irrational cut. “Oh, if your work was more marketable/formula and you were more hard-working/talented/determined, maybe we’d give you more than a rejection form letter. Maybe. (Not that we know what marketable means, but, hey, we make the rules, so we get to say whatever we think it is.) And we sure as hell don’t have to behave professionally and give you quick/helpful responses to queries because we’re big, rich, and important–and you aren’t.” This “Our system is a meritocracy, really. Truly.” nonsense has become a protect-the-bottom-line canard that isn’t protecting their declining profits. And for writers the industry puts through it, it wastes a horrible amount of time and talent–especially for writers who have less and less precious spare time to write and produce good work because “day jobs” have become all-consuming.

    As well, the 1% authors like Grafton have one helluva nerve spouting this “best and brightest” crap. Many of them entered publishing when the goalposts weren’t nearly as high and inhumanly-capricious. They had the luxury of making a living mastering their craft while building an audience in a far more stable publishing environment. As well, they’ve made enough money so that they never have to work again, much less worry about paying the rent…or having to give up what they are best at to make a living. So for them to put down self-published writers as lazy or untalented is some insufferable-ass gall. If I were them, I’d look to the fate of their mid-list brethern, because when an industry starts eating its own, it eventually gets around to munching on the cream of the crop.

  55. iratewriter says:

    Oh, and another thing. :) One of the biggest mistakes the industry made was to start pricing books so high–and thinking that the conditions that allowed them to do that would last forever. Even before the ‘net and video games took over, books were going from inexpensive pleasures the average person could pick up several at a time . . .to a purchase taking an increasing bite out of the standard entertainment budget. Once folks had to start crunching the numbers on book purchases instead of being able to impulse-buy cheaply, it was only a matter of time before they would start cutting back. It’s funny–at least two of the Big Six houses owe their current existence/deep pockets to the inexpensive paperbacks they put out during the Depression and WWII. Those books not only created a steady audience of readers for life, they inspired several generations of authors. Amazon is simply updating a very old formula with a tech twist, and it apparently hasn’t lost its effectiveness. ;)

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