Sue Grafton, Ewan Morrison and the latest indie publishing uproars

Mystery author Sue Grafton caused a minor uproar in indie publishing land, when she called self-publishing “the lazy option” in an interview with the Louisville Gazette, her hometown paper. The original interview is here and here is the relevant quote:

Do you have any words of wisdom for young writers?

Quit worrying about publication and master your craft. If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid. Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.

The interviewer, like any good journalist should, tackled the subject again and specifically asked Ms. Grafton about indie success stories like Jon Locke’s who’s also from Louisville apparently. Ms. Grafton replied as follows:

If so, what hard work are indie success stories too lazy to complete?

Is it possible that indie publishing is more effective than querying agents & publishers, for the new writer? More and more agents and publishers seem to be treating indie books as the new slush pile.

Good questions. Obviously, I’m not talking about the rare few writers who manage to break out. The indie success stories aren’t the rule. They’re the exception. The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. 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. Don’t get me started. Oops…you already did.

SF writer Hugh Howey, who is one of the big indie success stories, responds to Sue Grafton on his blog. For a good laugh, check out his four favourite Sue Grafton novels.

Apparently, Sue Grafton was somewhat overwhelmed by having the full fury of the indie publishing movement directed at her and so she offered a follow-up/retraction at the Louisville Gazette a few days later.

The Sue Grafton uproar as well as Hugh Howey’s response are also addressed in this surprisingly good and balanced article about the indie versus traditional publishing debate at Forbes with some background information on the developments in the US publishing industry in the past twenty to thirty years. Found via Robert Bidinotto.

Finally, the New York Times offers an overview about self-publishing services and tools. Oddly enough they forgot Kindle Direct Publishing a.k.a. KDP, though they do mention Createspace.

Finally, our friend Ewan Morrison is at it again. I already skewered his predilection for articles about the end of literature and western culture as we know it here, here, here and here. Now Mr. Morrison has aimed his critical gaze at fanfiction – and considering that he considers indie publishing the end of culture and literature as we know it, one cannot help but wonder what he will think of fanfic, provided the really disturbingly kinky slash doesn’t burn out his brain first.

The Guardian article starts out as one might have imagine:

If you were to lock a group of pop culture junkies and TV addicts in a bunker, tell them that the end of the world had arrived and that they had to preserve culture for posterity by writing books, what they would produce would be fan fiction (fanfic). This is actually the plot of a piece of fanfic from the 1950s, in which sci-fi fans survive Armageddon and rebuild civilisation in their own image. It may seem like a joke, but for many the rise of fanfic is “the end of the world”. Fanfic is seen as the lowest point we’ve reached in the history of culture – it’s crass, sycophantic, celebrity-obsessed, naive, badly written, derivative, consumerist, unoriginal – anti-original. From this perspective it’s a disaster when a work of fanfic becomes the world’s number one bestseller and kickstarts a global trend.

However, once the comment bait is out of the way, Morrison actually provides a pretty decent overview over the history of fanfic. He does have some silly things to say about the popularity of slash in all its variations:

There is a dark sexual undercurrent to the majority of fanfic, as if on a subconscious level the fan actually resents the control that their idol or idealised character has over their life. Through the act of writing fanfic, and subjecting characters to compulsive or vengeful love, sex, S&M or rape, the fan then regains control.

And of course, Mr Morrison can’t quite resist his usual doom and gloom predictions:

So what happens to culture when fanfic becomes the dominant economic model in publishing and the leader in cultural values – is that even possible? Surely derivative works have to be derived from something “original”. With Fifty Shades this ceases to be the case, and, as we have seen, fanfic offers many tools for recycling (AU, crossover, mashup, self-insert, Mary Sue, the 12 varieties of slash etc) which takes the recombination of texts into the exponential. It is possible that with the enchanted duplication systems of fan-based epub, we might have arrived at a point in history where we’ve accumulated enough cultural material from the past for fans to remix indefinitely, and as they can now sell this content to each other this becomes a boom industry where none existed before. However, the point where fans become the creators, and a derivative work becomes the new original is also the point at which the culture industries stop needing to create anything new. Fanfic begets fanfic, which then in turn becomes mainstream which then begets further fanfic and so on. When we reach that point our future will not be fifty, but fifty thousand, shades of grey.

Still, compared to Ewan Morrison’s previous articles, this one is surprisingly measured.

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2 Responses to Sue Grafton, Ewan Morrison and the latest indie publishing uproars

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