More from Sue Grafton on Publishing & Indie Writers

Dear Readers,

Chances are good that if you’re not from the Louisville area and you’re following this blog, you already know about the uproar Louisville author Sue Grafton provoked a few days ago.   If you’re a regular reader who isn’t interested in books, it’s possible you didn’t even notice.  Maybe you just read a nice interview with famous author who happens to be a local lady, and moved on to something else entirely.

Well, authors did notice.  I’ve personally seen the interview discussed at length on websites across the blogosphere and the Twitterverse to the point it became overwhelming to look.  Publishing is in a state of grand flux right now, and Grafton’s comments from the interview in question were quoted at to perhaps the widest audience thus far–the business community-at-large.

Sue Grafton
Sue Grafton

Ms. Grafton approached me for advice about responding to the ire, and what followed was a lengthy back-and-forth via email.  I hope that if you were one of the many authors who took offense to her remarks you will read her clarification, which follows:

I’d appreciate a chance to clarify the remark I made in the recent interview you posted.  I meant absolutely no disrespect for e-publishing and indie authors.  I came into the business in the 1960’s with the publication of Keziah Dane…1967 and The Lolly-Madonna War in 1969.   In those days, a writer’s only hope for a writing career was to be accepted by a traditional New York publisher.  I wrote three novels that were routinely rejected before I stuck them in a drawer.  The fourth full-length novel I wrote, I submitted to what was then called The Anglo-American Book Award contest, which I did not win.  I did receive an offer from a British  publisher for 375 pounds (roughly 375 dollars in those days) pounds for the publication of Keziah Dane.  On the advice of an old war Horse screen writer in Santa Barbara, I used that offer to acquire an American agent who then found me an American publisher.  The subsequent novel I wrote was deemed too violent for American audiences and it was published in England only.  The sixth and seventh full-length novels I wrote were never published and the eighth was ‘A’ IS FOR ALIBI.

I report this in some detail because as a result I have five unpublished novels still packed away in cardboard boxes, assuming I could lay hands on them which I’m not sure I can.  In the ’60’s and 70’s, self-publishing was done through vanity presses which were not highly thought of.  Like mystery novels, self-publishing was dismissed as second rate…a non-starter if you were serious about a so-called literary career.  It was in this context that I tossed out that ill-fated comment about self-publishing being as good as admitting a writer was ‘too lazy to do the hard work.’
The responses to that quote ranged from irate to savage to the downright nasty.  Indie writers felt I was discounting their efforts and that I was tarring too many with the same brush.  I wasn’t my intention to tar anyone, if the truth be known.  Several writers took the time to educate me on the state of e-publishing and the nature of self-publishing as it now stands.  I am uninitiated when it comes to this new format.  I had no idea how wide-spread it was, nor did I see it as developing as a response to the current state of traditional publishing, which is sales driven and therefore limited in its scope.  I understand that e-publishing has stepped into the gap, allowing a greater number of authors to enter the marketplace.  This, I applaud.  I don’t mean to sound defensive here…though of course I do.
I don’t understand the mechanics of e-publishing and I still don’t understand how you can earn money thereby but I realize now that many indie writers are doing well financially and netting themselves greater visibility than I had any reason to believe. 
My remark about self-publishing was meant as a caution, which I think some of you finally understood when we exchanged notes on the subject.  When I’m asked for advice I warn many writers about the charlatans lurking out there.  I warn about the risk of being taken in by those who promise more than they actually deliver and do so at a writers expense.  My other point, which I didn’t delineate in that interview, was that the struggle is what teaches us.  Learning to be resilient, learning to have courage, learning to take rejection in stride…these are some of the ways the system schools us as painful as it is.  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.
I will take responsibility for my gaffe and I hope you will understand the spirit in which it was meant.  I have always championed both aspiring writers and working professionals.  I have been insulated, I grant you, but I am not arrogant or indifferent to the challenges we all face.  I am still learning and I hope to keep on learning for as long as I write.      

Hi.  Leslea again, here.  This is a blog, so don’t mind me while I get personal for a moment.

It occurred to me in the course of this week that being asked the same questions by those who are working their way up in your field must become repetitive, over time.  With every book launch comes another bevy of features writers asking the same questions.  Sure, it’s a small price to pay for great commercial success, but no one’s perfect, either.  A fellow writer sent me the following link to an interview on indie author Diane Capri’s site completed in 2003, in which Ms. Grafton gives more involved answers & writerly advice.  I recommend you check it out if you are a young writer, or an old writer trying your hand at fiction and not yet finding the success you want.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the earlier interview, and thanks to Sue Grafton, a true inspiration to writers everywhere.

To quote fellow Hoosier author Cheryl Shireman:

“The bottom line is we are all writers. We all dreamed the same dream. We all labor over words – agonizing when the writing is not going well and rejoicing when the words are flowing. I used to love and respect traditionally published writers. I still do. In fact, I love all writers. No matter how published.”

Readers, if you know an author who deserves to shine in the Local Author Spotlight, please get in touch.  Either side of the river is fine–we speak Southern Indianaese, too!  Books about relevant local subject matter are encouraged, as well.  Email and please put “ Author Spotlight” in your email subject.  Thanks!

Stay tuned for more local author news.  I hope you’re discovering some fantastic new reads, from names new and old on the literary scene.  If you learned a little bit this week about publishing, that’s awesome, as well.

Leslea Tash is a Southern Indiana journalist-turned-novelist.  Formerly a freelancer best known for Guerilla Mothering, she now writes dark fantasy, horror, fairy tales, and other fun stuff including the 5 star Young Adult Adventure fantasy Troll Or Derby under the pen name Red Tash.  She always welcomes your feedback on this column on the site, on Facebook, on her websites or twitter.  Just about anywhere works.  Get in touch!