Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My response to "that" Sue Grafton quote, and self-pub philosophy in general.

So, I'm a little late on this topic, but I feel it's time that I sat down and assembled my philosophy of self-publishing in wordage. And the topic/quote is a springboard for just that.

So, bestselling author Sue Grafton made a lot of independent and self-published authors angry when she basically called self-publishers lazy wannabes. I originally saw the quote in this Forbes article by David Vinjamuri, and soon after on writer's blogs. Grafton has since issued some damage control and explanations about her quote, but the embers still burn.

Here is the quote, I found here:

"The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. 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. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project. 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."

So, here we go.

Honestly, getting mad about "wannabe" writers is the third in the Big Three, as I like to call them, of Things Every New Writer Thinks. One is needing to put a © symbol on everything they submit/don't submit for fear of having their work stolen. Two is honestly believing that their book's themes are universal themes, so everyone will want to read it. Third, I reiterate, "Omg, I bleed ink better/harder/longer that that guy. I'm mad now." (And I'm speaking from experience as well as observation.)

I ran into the same thing in college. I was a lit major, and I took lit classes. I had peers who never read the books assigned. (That's all lit classes are. Reading books. And they didn't. Why. No idea.) Or the scope of their literary criticism/critical thinking was, "Yeah, I didn't really like that book. That wasn't a good book." Well, guess what. I loathed "Cry, the Beloved Country" but that thing is underlined and noted on every other page, and I learned a lot from reading it. At the end of the day, it didn't really matter that they just read Sparknotes and got C's or B's, when I stayed up every night reading 300 pages and got A's. We graduated with the same degree. And since it doesn't really matter if you can list Dante's circles of hell when applying for jobs in telecommunications or customer service, I guess everyone wins. (I mentioned writing literary criticism as a hobby at my interview for the grocery store. Express cashier, baby.)

But it's everywhere. In every job I've had, in every hobby I've seen, there are people standing around lamenting over the wannabes. Fearing they may be thought of as a wannabe. Pointing the finger at the wannabe, haha, wannabe! But let's not dwell on the wannabes. Wannabe's gonna wan..na.

The main point that has ruffled so many feathers is "Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts." Like many of the angered self-pubbers out there, I do not see self-publishing as a shortcut. I have spent hours (Blood! Tears!) teaching myself formatting. I have honed my skills as an editor, because, honestly, good editors are very hard to find. I've read graphic design and art books to learn about cover design and have actively been trying to sharpen my skills in photography. Not to mention that I spend hours in between my three jobs reading fiction, non-fiction, blogs and articles. I take notebooks with me everywhere I go. I write on napkins, in texts, on my breaks, late at night. And many self-publishers do that. They work diligently to polish their product and get better at their craft. But it doesn't matter to anyone else that I'm sitting at my patio feverishly trying to get a page written before I have to go to work. No one's life is changed by me staying up too late again to write this blog post. We're all doing our own thing, to cope, to live, to survive, to escape, to whatever. And we get great books out of it all, that we all enjoy and share. We also get bad books.

Because, yes. The stereotypes can be true. Self-publishing can be a shortcut. Authors are people and people come up with a million annoying marketing schemes and will always feel entitlement for attention and praise. Many out there believe their 30,000-word piece can change souls and minds and make them rich without even taking off their slippers. And some don't edit. I read a self-published book… where the narrator kept making… dramatic… pauses. And one ellipses… had 14 periods. Fourteen. Not, "Oh, typo, there's four," or even "Um, didn't anyone tell you five dots is too many?" Fourteen. It begged to question if the author had ever even read a book, let alone why this person thought s/he had the qualifications to write one.

But that's not to mean a junky self-published book was put together hastily under visions of grandeur. I worked as a tutor in lit when I was in college and I worked with some students who loved literature, wanted to write and critique. But they had a hard time. Even when they read and read and discussed and we went over themes and symbols and everything, on tests they were lucky to pull B's and their writing took several rounds of editing to get to something workable. But they were bleeding more ink into it than students who easily read something once and wrote decent essays. So even if you do work really hard for years and years, your execution might be off, or you just might not be able to tell a story in a way that readers can palate. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm on the brink of taking the plunge with my first book, and could very well not have executed the way seven years of work should have. But I'll publish again. And again. Which, in my world is exactly "taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time."

I want to rally around good self-published books, because I like them, because they're well done, and because I respect the work it takes. But I will be honest, I don't want to give 5-star reviews to books I think are badly written, and don't want to review books in a positive light just because they're self-published. I want to read good books. And that starts with us, as writers.

I think self-publishers have to be on their best game to do well, or even all right. Because traditional publishers have a whole team of people and ideas crafting a product, not to mention money and resources that will far overshadow the capabilities of a softcover POD book as far as physical product goes. But with ebook and even better print technology, it still comes down to what's inside the book.

A wannabe is always going to shine through. Annoying people with self-centered selling strategies are only going to get so far. So, let's be honest. The fact that 50 Shades has allegedly sold more copies than the Harry Potter series makes me want to drink mustard and milk mixed together to induce vomiting. (A guy did that in my high school biology class once. It worked.) Not because of the sex (I want a sociology degree. I have many a sex book.) Nor because I don't think she didn't spend hours working on the book. I think she did. I just think it has the structure of a malformed plastic sack at the bottom of the stack we throw away at the grocery. But that's my opinion. It's a book. Let's look at books and quit worrying over who bleeds more, or who needs to fill a void in their life for whatever reason by writing books. I'm sure we all have one, deep and dark.

If you think a book is bad, say it's bad. If you're a self-pubbed author, for everything lovely and nice, don't solicit reviews or try guerilla tactics by shoving your book/business card in someone's face just because they're in a library. Don't try to force readers to be into something they just aren't interested in.

If you think a book is good, say it's good. Does it irk me that I stay up until 2 a.m. formatting an ebook and someone else is all, "Yeah, I paid my computer friend to format my ebook, she'll get it back to me next week and I'll be published!" Yes. It does. But if it's a good book, well-written and fresh, I will gladly say so.

So, this is where I stand. Research the writing world, but don't get too caught up in it. Work hard, read books, write, and edit every day. A pot always fills one drop at time.

1 comment:

  1. This makes me feel better about my own books, The Maze's Amulet and Poisoned Romance. Given that they are not popular works, I've at least had time to read through The Maze's Amulet and make corrections to stuff my editor(s) (And even myself) missed before anyone even discovered them. Self-releasing my own novella has taught me some hard lessons of checking mechanics before releasing buuuut...yeah, lesson learned.

    I also get tired of people leaving five star reviews of how the book is somehow "awesome" even if the actual work is crap. The one four star review one of my editors wrote for me glowed a little too bright...but it was a four star. I also wrote a four star for that editor's book, even detailing that person's book's faults. But then it goes over the top when people pay people to write good reviews...I mean, where is the integrity in that?

    For the record, I might look into Sue Grafton's work to see if her traditionally published work is up to snuff.