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Jane Devin Headshot

Dear Sue Grafton, You're Hopelessly Out of Touch

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David Vinjamuri recently wrote this article on Forbes.com, discussing the broken state of traditional publishing and the growth of independent authors. He included a quote from popular mystery author, Sue Grafton.

"To me, it seems disrespectful... that a 'wannabe' assumes it's all so easy s/he can put out a 'published novel' without bothering to read, study, or do the research... Self-publishing is a short cut and I don't believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing 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."

I found Grafton's comment both ignorant and elitist, but I understand that she's from a different era and that her background was one of privilege. Grafton, it appears, is suffering from the Fat and Happy syndrome: She got hers, it pumped up her ego, and now she apparently places herself on a literary pedestal, while rejecting the talents of others. The truth is, Grafton never had to compete in a market driven by celebrity, pop culture, and social media connections. I doubt that, if submitted under a pseudonym, her initial works would be met with the same reception today. Unfortunately, Grafton's warped and old-school view is one that is shared by others, who fail to understand that it's no longer enough to write well or tell a good story. My comment on the Forbes piece was as follows:

I enjoy the argument that traditional publishing separates the wheat from the chaff, because it's one I always win. It's just too easy to point to the number of literary and cultural flops put out by the legacy publishers.

The market today is not driven by talent, but by platform -- something an author from Grafton's era doesn't understand. It is why books ghostwritten for "Snooki" and other reality TV characters are lining the shelves, while other books get rejected. A hundred thousand Twitter followers or more goes a long way, and a TV audience is even better. Let's not forget that Kathryn Stockett's The Help was rejected over 60 times, and that her eventual deal only came together with the assistance of a Hollywood director and a screenplay. That hardly speaks to the integrity of publishing when it comes to works of merit.

My own book was rejected several times, not for issues of quality or content, but because I lacked a substantial platform. When I finally did get an offer, it was so low that I ended up turning it down. Writing has, in fact, become so devalued that publishers aren't willing to pay a decent advance to a relatively unknown author, and the public is getting to the point where they think the fair price for an e-book is $2.99.

I ended up self-publishing and don't regret my decision. While I may not have made it to catalogs, libraries, and B&N, I did sell over 30K copies of my book and made about four times what the publisher was offering as an advance. I needed that money to be able to work on a second book full-time.

However, when my second book is done, I will again try the traditional route first. Being an Indie (or self-pubbed author as some insist) is not as easy as uploading a manuscript if done properly. It's an investment in editors, artwork, design, and marketing. It's a different skill set and process. I'd be willing to do it again, but I truly hope my platform is now large enough to make me a contender.

Finally, as far as reviews go, I disagree. While "20 or 30" people known to the author may leave reviews on sites like Amazon, most of us who are building a fan base online don't personally know the reviewers, and I don't think it's unnatural that someone who has been a fan of a writer's blog would also like their book. My own presently has 155 reviews and of these, about 15 came from fans of my blog. That does not necessarily make them a "personal friend," especially when one considers that people that hate an author's blog, or the author personally, can also leave revenge reviews. In the end, I think it all balances out with enough readership. Between the glowing and the burning, there's a place of warm truth.

Yes, there is a lot of dreck being published, but it's hardly limited to the Indie market. As far as any objective quality of writing, editing, or finished product is concerned, I'd gladly pit my book against those in the same genre published by legacy publishers in the past few years. No, it's not perfect, and like most writers there are things I'd go back and change, but it's not dreck -- it is a story that, whether hated or loved by readers, deserved to be told --  and after spending most of my life writing, I am not a "wannabe."  I am a writer, and thousands of other self-published authors are writers, even if dinosaurs like Sue Grafton would like to believe otherwise.