In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a war on.
Okay, maybe I shouldn’t use the word ‘war’. It is hyperbole, antagonistic, and divisive when publishing shouldn’t be. (And there really is a war going on.)
Anyway, recently, Hugh Howey responded to an interview of Sue Grafton posted on the LouisvilleKY.com website. For those of you who don’t know these two: Hugh Howey is a science fiction author of recent indie success fame and Sue Grafton is a mystery writer who’s been putting out books since before you were born (or 1967).
The interviewer asked Ms. Grafton a few questions about self-publishing and there’s no doubt that she feels most self-publishers are uncouth rift-raft that need to work on their craft. Mr. Howey thought her advice (to new writers to focus on improving and eschew publishing until they have mastered the art of writing) bogus. He thinks authors have a better chance of improving their writing ability by “testing the waters” and getting feedback directly from readers.
I think they are both wrong. And both right.
Let me explain.
Ms. Grafton notes that most of the self-published books out there today are garbage. If you have ever perused the titles over on Smashwords, you’ll probably come away with that impression, too. Select your favorite genre and read a few sample pages from a smattering of books. Some have typos right out of the gate (mine did!). Some start their tales in the most cliché of manners. While others may be readable, the prose lacks a finesse and smoothness that traditionally published writers obtain – with experience.
Yup, folks, that’s the difference – experience.
There are very few first-time authors that are as good at the craft as someone like Ms. Grafton because, frankly, they just don’t have the experience. The years of hard work she has put into her craft has paid off. Though I haven’t read any of her books (I’m not into crime fiction), I’m sure her prose is smooth as silk, her dialogue witty, and her plot schemes diabolical. Ditto for any other experienced writer – whether they are self-published or traditionally published.
Yes, Ms. Grafton is correct in calling out the authors who self-published their work before it was ready. And Mr. Howey is correct in saying that authors need not wait until they get approval from agents or publishers to reach their audience.
They are both right.
If you plan to go the traditional route, by all means hone your manuscript until it shines brighter than the sun. You are going to need all the sparkle you can muster to gain the attention of swamped agents and editors. It may take you years of toiling away on your computer, hashing out sentences with a writing partner, and tearing at your fingernails until they bleed. Yes, it will take years of experience before you become a traditionally published author.
If you plan to go the self-published route, write the best fiction you can. Hire an editor to fix the most egregious of errors, and fling your work out to the masses. Your work will sink or swim based on the merit of your story-telling ability. In time, after you’ve written book upon book (Mr. Howey wrote seven novels before his big indie break), after you’ve gained some experience, you’ll start to reap the rewards.
I think Ms. Grafton erred when she said self-published writers are lazy. It is a blanket statement meant to color a diverse group of people in mono-chrome gray. And that’s wrong.
Just as the quality of writing in traditionally published books vary, so too with self-published works. Yes, I’m sure you can find self-published authors that fits Ms. Grafton’s idea of a ‘lazy’ writer, but I think most would agree that they would be the exception and not the norm. No one wants to be a bad writer. We all might be delusional about our abilities, but I would hazard to guess that most of us are trying to put our best work out there while allowing the reader to decide whether it is good enough.
And just because you self-publish today, doesn’t mean you won’t sign with an agent or publisher (big or small) tomorrow. Many authors cross the fighting line and come out victorious. There’s no reason for some perceived division between the two routes. They are just two different ways a writer can gain some experience.
Well, that’s what I think.
Until later, stop being so lazy and write your damn book. 😉