Traditional versus Self-publishing: Why the Furor?

Traditionally published (many times over) author Sue Grafton created a furor in an interview on August 7 in which she disparaged self-publishing and called self-pubbed authors lazy. I think perhaps Miss Manners might have cleared her throat, stepped in with an “A-hem,” and suggested that Sue pause and reconsider. Too bad she didn’t.

The words are out, in print, and we know what that means. Maybe the mike wasn’t turned on, but it might as well have been. And now Sue’s words are creating a lot of hate and discontent. I’m sorry about that.


It seems so unnecessary. You know?

I work for a small, traditional press, and my first book will be published by another small, traditional press. I’m trusting the editor at that house will take as great a care of my words as I do for the authors we contract. But I’d like to say that my recent purchases of books from some big, traditional houses have not given me much respect for the care their editors showed before shoving those stories out the door. Good stories, sloppy editing.

No, I’m not a perfect editor. Fortunately for our authors, I have folk who come behind me in the process and have my back. But I’d like to suggest to Sue (and to anyone else who declares that a professional work can only come via traditional publishing) that perhaps she ought to take a step back and reconsider. There are some excellent freelance editors out there (I don’t freelance, just so you know), and many self-publishing authors use them.

Yes, there are some who are so eager to get their work in print or in an e-book format that they rush the process and imagine they can see their own mistakes. They can’t. No one can. They’re the ones who give self-published authors a bad name.

But let’s not tar all self-pubbed authors with that same brush. If we do, we’ll have to talk about the egregious errors that crop up in books from major publishing houses–all the time. Have I quit buying books by authors I enjoy because their publisher used a novice editor (or at least a careless editor) on their work? Of course not. I squirm a bit when I read these adjectives pretending to be adverbs or pronouns in the wrong case, but I read on–because the story is worth it. And I don’t hold the author responsible for the editor’s mistake. Now, if he or she had self-published and left in those mistakes? Well, I suppose I’d want to write a nice, friendly letter suggesting an editor for the next go round. A good editor.



6 Replies to “Traditional versus Self-publishing: Why the Furor?”

  1. Yes! I agree with you–I thought that Sue Grafton (an author whose success I admire) came across as totally snobbish and out of touch with the reality of self-publishing. Perhaps if this interview had come out a few years ago, I may have agreed with her, but I think that by not encouraging writers, she’s done a huge disservice to writers everywhere.

    1. Jeannine, thank you for stopping by with your comment. I think most writers long to be traditionally published, probably for the validation factor, don’t you think? That extra set of eyes, that extra nod of approval, helps us feel as if we’ve accomplished something on that ladder. But there are others among us, more courageous perhaps, more self-assured, who don’t need that and who have the talent or the coterie of helpers to breathe life into their dream.

      I would never want to say that one person’s choice is better than mine, that what is right for one becomes universally right.

  2. Sue Grafton has been one of my favourite authors for some time. While I’m still following her Alphabet Books on the Private Detective Kinsey Milhone I hope my reading won’t be coloured by the lack of respect I now feel for the author herself.
    Her remarks were uncalled for and I can’t help but wonder if she’d just been starting her writing career now if she’d still be able to find an agent and a publishing house before having to start considering self publishing herself. Many people will say the agent and publisher are out there if you’re good enough. But, some authors have self published after being rejected by publishers and then been picked up from the self-pub ranks by a publisher. There aren’t as many opportunities, as many agents nor as many publishers as there once were.
    Before you can present a book to a traditional publisher these days it needs to have been through a proof-reading process and editing which can be quite expensive. Some think if I’ve already paid for this why not just self-publish and recoup some of the money spent. Even those books that do undergo the process may be kicked back by a publisher as they accept fewer manuscripts these days, and those that are lucky enough to be selected are not automatically promoted as books once were. Nowadays the author has a much greater responsibility in the promotion and advertising of their work.
    Of course some books will be self published without ever being submitted to a proof reader, editor, agent or publisher and those books may be of poor quality which will create a bad reputation for self publishers in general. Some of those authors will be lazy and unprofessional. Others will have done so because they know their work is polished and don’t have time for the traditional route.
    My point is that Ms. Grafton was wrong to generalise and be so disparaging since she has a contract with a publisher from a time when having something published was easier than today where the advent of self publishing has caused the closure of many publishers. He early books may not have been deemed good enough to get a contract these days, and she could be going down the same road as many of us find ourselves taking these days.

    1. Ah, David, an expert among us. You have certainly had some success with your delightful stories–or you should have!

      It’s always fun to have you stop by and share your thoughts.

      I’m afraid I know of another, highly successful author whose attitude toward the unpublished–and those he considers lesser mortals–has prejudiced me against his work. That’s too bad, really. I ought to be able to look past the man to the stories. But isn’t this salutary? It goes back to our need to remain kind, never seeing ourselves as better than another, always putting the other person first–and speaking all things in love instead of in judgment. True, we’re human and maintaining kindness and lack of judgment takes work (unless you happen to be my sweet mother, who is always kind, always sweet, and always makes excuses for bad behavior in others), but we can aspire to that, can’t we?

  3. Great post! Perhaps Ms Grafton was having an off day, or she’s been so insulated and has her head buried deep in the ground that she doesn’t realize she not only insulted many writers who work hard at their craft, by calling them lazy, she also insulted people who coordinate and belong to book clubs.

    I would think that someone of her stature and experience would encourage new writers, and not throw negativity toward them.

    I was a fan of her books, but now feel that perhaps my money for her books could be better spent on other books. This is the danger when authors want to grandstand and start pitting one way of publishing against another.

    Today’s publishing climate is all about choice for the author. There are best sellers which are badly edited and badly written, best sellers which are treasures to read and re-read, same goes for small press books, mid-list books and indie books. I’ve found great reads in all those arenas.

    I agree with David, I wonder if Ms Grafton was starting out today, what doors would be shut and how many times and if she would take the self-publishing route?

    I wish her all the best in her future works, but she has lost a loyal reader in me.

    1. Selena, I think perhaps you are right. She must have been having an off day. So, we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, shall we?

      If we use this entire exercise to improve our own work, to strive to be the best we can be–whether traditionally published or self-published–then we will be able to thank her for stirring the pot a bit. Let this be a call to each of us to check the editing on our work. And for those self-publishing, I’d love to see each one find an expert editor/cover artist/book designer (see the huge success of self-published author Torre deRoche with her beautifully designed and well-edited Swept, which is about to be re-released by Hyperion Books in a new form) so that there will be absolutely no difference in the finished product between traditionally published and self-pubbed–except for the percentage of royalties sliding into their pocket.

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