An Explanation from Sue Grafton

Poor Sue Grafton. She’s been taking a beating the past week after accidentally revealing her loathing of self-published authors in an interview with Leslea Tash. I commented on Leslea’s interview with Sue a few days ago, and I failed to adequately praise the reporting from this indie author. Leslea recognized a key moment and pushed for clarification. It was a bold move, a kick to a smoldering log that threw up quite a few sparks.

Ever since Sue mistakenly answered some questions with regretful candor, she has been performing damage control. A Facebook friend of mine e-mailed Sue and received a reply that made no sense whatsoever. Sue claimed in this response to have been worried about charlatans and swindlers. Funny. She never mentions them in the original interview. Indie authors are lazy; we are wannabes; we are exhibitionists. But she’s just looking out for us as a mother might. She loves us and hates these bogeymen that she never brings up.

The reason I’m beating a dead horse here with yet another post is because Sue has come forward with an explanation. You can read it here. I call it an explanation, because nowhere does she apologize. Like a politician, she shows regret for causing harm to herself but nothing like a true mea culpa. Instead, she admits to making a “gaffe.” She needs to “clarify her remarks.” She meant no “disrespect” to us wannabes.

In fact, it was our responses to her insults that were egregious! According to Sue, they ranged from “irate” to “downright nasty.” Meaning, none of them were thoughtful rebuttals at all. Not a single one of our replies contained merit, humor, or insight. Just anger and rudeness. We offended her.

How fucking dare this woman? She calls indies lazy, and when the writing community points out that the opposite is true, she calls us mean. No apology. More accusations. No concept that some of us worked for a full ten minutes on humorous graphics for our blogs over this.

Here is my favorite part of her disingenuous backpedaling:

When I’m asked for advice I warn many writers about the charlatans lurking out there.  I warn about the risk of being taken in by those who promise more than they actually deliver and do so at a writers expense. 

Sue? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were talking about traditional publishers. Promise more than they deliver? Self-publishing makes no promises. You work your butt off with nothing but your own hopes and dreams. Every success startles. The empty promises I’ve seen made have come from major publishers, who have graciously offered to take my hard work and pay me less money and less frequently while they profit handily. Who are the charlatans? Look around, Sue. They’ve been milking you for years.

Make no mistake, there is a revolution afoot. A technological revolution. A societal revolution. A revolution of artists. It has already hit every major sector of the entertainment industry: music, film, television, comedy, photography. And now the tools of self publishing are slicing through the publishing world like a gleaming guillotine slamming down on a steaming pile of bullshit.

Sue Grafton stated in the original interview that if you write a great work, the universe will come to your aid. If you want to understand the outcry this remark engendered, know that we have just had our Marie Antoinette moment. A beloved queen of the old order has leaned out over the ramparts, peered down at the huddled masses, the beleaguered and starving artists, and has admonished us with: “Eat your fucking cake.”

Again, because I spent ten minutes on the damn thing:

42 responses to “An Explanation from Sue Grafton”

  1. Thanks for the follow-up post, Hugh. It boggles my mind how quickly people seem to want to jump on the “poor Sue – she misspoke, all’s forgiven and forgotten” bandwagon. I’m more of your mind on the subject – her “clarification” is little more than backpedaling and damage control.

    1. Let’s refresh people’s memories before they attempt to wave away her initial disgust at my kind:

      “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. already did.”

      “Home project.” How is that a vanity press? She knows what she’s talking about.

      “assumes it’s all so easy” This is a snide remark aimed at the writer, not the vanity presses of old. What Sue does is art (she uses the term explicitly a sentence or two later). How dare unpracticed plebes attempt what she has finely honed over years of writing the same book over and over?

      “see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to.” This is why her interview incited such reaction. Her bitchiness bleeds through in every single sentence.

      And look at how she ends the rant: by admitting it was a rant. This is not her being protective of aspiring writers; this is her telling us that we’re no good. And the apologists who want this to slide reveal why her books sell so well: no reading comprehension.

  2. She sounds very confused. She states that “I still don’t understand how you can earn money [through e-publishing]” and elsewhere she draws a contrast by saying that traditional publishing is “sales based”. (Unlike…?) On a couple of occasions she comes out and says that she still doesn’t understand how e-publishing works.

    So, let’s be generous and accept those comments at face value: let’s believe that she really doesn’t understand. Sue, someone could explain it to you in about 5 minutes. Don’t you think you might want to do this simple research before rambling through a confused, uninformed “apology”? If you sincerely listened to the blowback from the earlier interview, wouldn’t you even be just a little bit curious and WANT to find out what this new revolution in YOUR INDUSTRY is all about? Or were you just too reflexively dismissive (“lazy?”) to invest the five minutes?

    After all, Hugh spent TEN MINUTES on that silly graphic, goddammit. Let’s not forget that’s the real tragedy here! :)

    1. Didn’t Sue stress the importance of “research” in her first interview? I’m confused. And too lazy to go back and check.

  3. Bah… she’s just continuing to live by the traditional publishing watchwords: silly, stupid, and shortsighted. Clearly, she’s a plankholder member in the Tactical Women’s Alert Team (with regrets to Cheech & Chong).

  4. I’ll admit I only skimmed the interview and I’ve never read (nor heard of until this point) her stuff, but she honestly sounds a little jealous. Indie authors are starting to have the same or even greater success than those who publish traditionally, and they’re jumping through less hoops to get there. She seems to be trying to maintain the elitist nature of published authors that I’ve run into in the past, where they all praise themselves for “making it” but won’t let anyone in on their secret.

    Newsflash, Sue: The secret’s out.

    PS: Her book titles sound like kindergarten lessons.

    1. I couldn’t agree more Mary. I think she also wants every other author to have to go through the same abuse of dealing with traditional publishers and being ripped off financially.

    2. Don’t worry, by not reading her mystery novels, you haven’t missed much except spending too much money. I’ve been reading on a budget for awhile now, and the self- published stuff far surpasses her work. Perhaps there is the source of her vitriol erm, concern for the self publisher’s welfare?

  5. One more thing: If Sue still doesn’t have a clue how today’s self-publishing works, how can her apology be sincere? At best, she’s saying:

    “Based on my experience, self-pubbed authors really are lazy, untalented, entitled, exhibitionist hacks. However, I’m told that I may be misinformed about the current state of self-publishing. I haven’t investigated that claim, and so without any new information to influence me, it’s impossible that I’ve sincerely re-evaluated my position. Nevertheless, I will graciously admit that I could be wrong. Simultaneously, I won’t even bother to find out whether or not I am.”

    1. That seems to sum it up.

      Though if she writes “Z Is For Zombie,” we’ll know where she’s headed.

      1. If she does that, I’ll reeeeaaaalllly be heated, because that’s my domain. :D

  6. Great follow-up, Hugh.

    Look, I know I’m a nitpicker, I really do, but my fingers are TWITCHING to edit what she wrote. She needs a proofreader, as she’s clearly too lazy to do the hard work of writing on her own. Sigh. I guess that’s one service the traditional publishers typically provide her?

    I have spent my life in the book industry, one way or another, and I appreciate all that traditional publishing has brought us through the years. I appreciate Kinsey Milhone and other characters and stories of Ms. Grafton’s creation. But she is WAY out of her element, and out of line. A clear and concise apology is in order.

  7. So, if I read this correctly, she made an ‘ill-fated’ remark about being ‘too lazy to do the hard work.’

    But she admits she has no clue what she’s talking about and won’t do any research on it. And what she really meant by ‘too lazy to do the hard work’ was that she’s really just worried about everyone, and wants to make sure no one takes advantage of any aspiring authors.

    And yet, this comes from someone who makes a living at picking words to convey ideas. I’d suggest that the burden would be on her to pick the right ones to get her point across, not on the reader to understand that “too lazy to do the hard work” was really meant to convey concern and warning.

    Of course, she picked the words she intended the first time, she just doesn’t like how the whiny amateurs responded.

    1. Exactly. I’m shocked anyone is buying her bullshit the second time around. Absolutely shocked. Should we hold her to a lower standard because she’s old? A woman? That’s not what my wife wants.

      (Sorry, sweetheart!)

  8. “Eat your fucking cake.”

    I’m grateful to Sue Grafton for making Hugh make me laugh more than once at her expense. Thank you, Sue, and STFU!

  9. I think you should cut her some slack, Hugh! The woman is 72 years old. It’s completely plausible that she doesn’t understand what self-publishing is. And if she’s not especially web-savvy, it might be nearly impossible for her to understand. From her comments, I’d guess she was thinking of vanity presses, where a person pays to have a load of books printed and then stores them in the attic for the rest of their life – certainly something to be wary of. She definitely should have focussed more on the apology part of her apology, though. She came across as more than a little indifferent. Then again, when I break 70, I fully intend to become a cantakerous old fool who never apologizes, too. (No, even more than I am now!)

    1. She called indie authors “lazy.” Called aspiring authors “wannabes.” Accused people who write in public of attempting to get attention. She even ended her rant by admitting it was a rant, and nowhere in that rant were publishers mentioned, just writers.

      I don’t think Sue is as dumb as she’s pretending to be. But I do think she is just as entitled and rude as she came across the first time.

      1. No doubt. A stuck-up, elitist insulting…

  10. Call me lazy and amateurish, but I’d never even heard of Sue Grafton before she stuck her Manolo-shad foot in her unfortunately quotable mouth.

    Unlike good ol’ Party Trick Grafton (an alphabet series? really?), I take nothing for granted, least of all readers and certainly not other writers.

    I’m not ashamed to say that I f’ing celebrate EVERY single sale — yes, that’s singular, but I’m still relatively new. And I sincerely appreciate the small handful of people who’ve taken a chance on me, despite my being an unknown, lazy exhibitionist who’s hungry for fame and fortune and who, in a fit of boredom, evidently, and with no research, put three books out as a home project and has never EVER had his work rejected.

    Did I mention my work is set 1,000 years before Christ? Nope, no research there, Miss Grafton.

    Now I’m off to work on my next book, “I is for Traditionally Published Idiot”.

    Grrrrrrrrrr …

    1. You must be a young pup, because at the time that Grafton started her alphabet series, we all got high off the fumes of something brand new and loved Kinsey Milhone. Unfortunately for Kinsey, we’re now coming to the end of the alphabet, and she’s still stuck in the ’80s and hasn’t yet managed a successful romantic relationship.

      Understand, I’m not defending Sue Grafton (surely her senior living complex can do that–YES, I know, an obligatory dig at her age…couldn’t help myself), but I do hope that younger readers will recognize that there was a time that mystery fans found the alphabet series to be obligatory reading.

      1. I enjoyed the first few, but quickly tired of the same formula. If you want to read a great new mystery writer, check out Tana French. Even though she did take the lazy route of traditional publishing. :)

      2. Young writer, but not sure I’m a young pup. Then again, I did graduate high school in ’87 and my math has always sucked, so …

        I can’t help but think, alphabet series aside, that Miss Grafton herself seems to be stuck in the ’80s.

        Then again, there is that bubble she lives in.

        Quite frankly, whether she was obligatory reading at some point or not doesn’t excuse her condescending, dismissive tone.

        Thankfully, my life was fine without Miss Grafton’s sage advice (do I need a sarcasm alert for this?) before I knew who she was and it’ll be fine the moment I get back to, you know, being lazy and not doing research on my next book.


  11. As I just commented in your previous post on this, Hugh, I think her recantation speaks louder than her original insult. And it WAS insulting. It pissed me off.

    But the psychology of mea culpas are that they are usually delivered by degrees: small admissions of fault at first, then more as time goes on. She acknowledged — however hesitantly — that her first comments were made in complete ignorance of what’s going on in indie publishing. That’s a big admission, fatal to her initial claims, actually. I don’t think she’ll be blathering such insulting nonsense about all this in the future. I think we should turn our attention now to other worthies: As I wrote in the other post, legacy publishing is a target-rich environment.

  12. Hugh said “disingenuous.”


  13. Hello there Hugh. You are accurate. And, as ‘old folks’ very near Sue’s age, we find that most elders we know, including us, are more readily, not less so, interested in learning and being kind if we can as we pack on the years… (reserving ‘curmudgeonliness with a twinke in one’s eye’ for grandkids– and without the twinkle for people who are insluting right out of the box and afterward say ‘sorry YOU had hurt feelings.” Gads, gives us old people a bad name.
    re Sue Grafton’s wandering ‘sorta mea culpa, not really….’ THis seems to say alot by one who actually read the text AND subtest of Grafton’s retort/response:

    [from passive voice site] “BUT: Given the world today, it begs credulity that a ‘long time author’ doesnt know the score in all manner of publishing opptys. That one [Grafton] attacked self-pub WRITERS in the interview, NOT the Vanity Publishers. Sorry, but the creds just are not there for [her] ‘not knowing.’…

    “’Old authors’ who are hoping the new world will go away, are living in X-land, for x’ed out of the running. I know of no profession, racing, tennis, building, florists, or doctors where those who pride themselves as being ‘the top of the top,’ do not make the time daily to be aware of what is new, what controversies prevail, what tools are effective, and especially, who/what is gaining ground and going to outrun them, not in talent, but in technology. The ‘old authors’ work /sideline as I see it is to praise the authors who strive, and to dunn those, by name, who take advantage of the hopeful and/or inexperienced. That did not happen in the interview. Not even close.”

    The thing is Hugh about insult, it is clarifies sometimes what our values really are, and also how we hope to NEVER treat others. Something we all knew beforehand, but now underlined.
    The Kubs

    1. Fantastic points. I exchanged emails with someone about all this and came to the conclusion that it isn’t Sue we are directing our ire toward, it’s those who would agree with her and those who do not yet have an opinion on the subject. Nothing will change Sue’s mind, I don’t think. She equates self publishing with horrible writing and laziness. She is an “artist,” and everyone else is a pretender. I imagine Sue will go to her grave believing these things.

      But when someone espouses incorrect and harmful advice to the next generation of writers, it’s a wonderful opportunity to set things straight. In the shadow of Sue’s ignorance, we can shine a light. She won’t be able to see what’s going on behind her, but others will.

  14. Hugh, if you’re a wannabe, than you’re my favorite wannabe ever. Keep doing what you do and success will follow. Much respect.

  15. Ironically, I’ve never read any of Sue Grafton’s work. I’ve always just seen it as drugstore pulp fiction crap. Maybe I’ve been guilty of prejudice, but the “Letter is for Word” titles always struck me as (again, very ironically) lazy.

    I’ve read every one of your published works, Hugh. I’m a huge fan, and you weren’t hard to find. Amazon and similar services are making it really easy and affordable to find great new talent. Modern tools like website suggested (based on massively complex code that Sue has never contemplated) are a huge asset to readers. It’s easier than ever now to find new authors based on what we’ve already read. The digital revolution is cutting out the middle man, connecting artists with consumers. As a consumer, I couldn’t be happy!

    Also, for the record, I’ve purchased all your digital books at least once. I have the entire WOOL series as individual books, AS WELL as the Omnibus edition. I’ve also ordered signed copies of all of your printed works (except for the one that I won!). When I find a talent like you’re I’m MORE than happy to open my wallet. I’m SO MUCH MORE happy because I know that with the self publishing model, most of my money goes to you, not some blood sucking middle man with no reason for being other than to count my money that you’re making for him :/

    Also, I love this: “The empty promises I’ve seen made have come from major publishers, who have graciously offered to take my hard work and pay me less money and less frequently while they profit handily. Who are the charlatans? Look around, Sue. They’ve been milking you for years.” :D

    1. I should really proof read my replies before posting them! :D Sorry for all the poor grammar and typos :D

      1. DOH! “proofread”. Sorry, Lisa!

  16. that’s a good ‘move on insight’ Hugh. You wrote: “when someone espouses incorrect and harmful advice to the next generation of writers, it’s a wonderful opportunity to set things straight.”

    That’s exactly right. That’s a class attitude. Keep going. All is well and will be well. You’re on the right track.

    The Kubs

  17. Wow, I’m not really into the “Author” circle, but it seems to me that just because you are “published” doesn’t mean you can write worth a crap. I’ve paid good money for top 10 books before and been “highly” disappointed. A lot of them got there because Oprah said so…..or huge advertising campaign…whatever.
    I happen to love the self published authors, some are good, some are bad and a few are really great (I include you in that one Hugh). I think it really comes down to the buyer. If it’s crap, we wont keep reading it. If it’s good, it will develop a following…….pretty simple to me. I cant think why someone would diss another artist just because they took another path to their dream. It’s just pure silliness.
    I would think it would be even harder to get a following when you dont have big ad money to throw at what you create….seems pretty simple to me. I like to know that when I choose a self published book, it’s because I want to give it a shot, not because big brother said it is “the” thing to be reading.

    1. I love this Comment. It really does encapsulate the beauty of the changing industry we’re in.

      Miss Grafton was lucky enough to have the support of a publisher in the pursuit of her dream. I’m lucky enough to have the balls to throw myself out there and work my tail off in the pursuit of mine.

      At the end of the day, though, our differences aside, she and I have the same goal: to write books people will want to read and, hopefully, enjoy.

      How we got there really isn’t the point.

      Again, loved your Comment.

      1. Thanks, I’m a recent convert to self published works, my kindle has opened a whole new world of books to me that would not have been available in my pre-kindle world.
        To me, reading is like art appreciation (by the way, I barely passed that class in college). It really comes down to what the reader can relate to, a blend of writing that the reader can keep up with and become involved. In today’s world of mass marketing, it is nice to have the ability to choose something off the beaten path and enjoy the written word by what it means to me, not what the masses say it should mean to me.

  18. OMG, I loved this post even more than your original one about Sue’s comments. Not much more to add, except…

    “…let them eat cake.”

    Bwaaaahahahah! Priceless, and an accurate depiction of her position.

  19. p.s. ….and that was ten minutes well-spent, my friend!

  20. “And now the tools of self publishing are slicing through the publishing world like a gleaming guillotine slamming down on a steaming pile of bullshit.”

    So many great descriptive chunks in here.
    I don’t think indie publishing is for everyone, but I certainly do think it’s a lot of hard work. Personally, I think if you put time in EITHER way, you will get attention eventually. I chose the indie route because I’m a control freak who can’t stand the idea of someone telling me what to do with my own stuff. (Or owning the rights to it) Still, after a certain amount of reviews and readers, I’ve been contacted by both agents and publishers. If I WANTED to go the traditional route, I could.
    I could point out half a dozen good writer friends who have had the same thing happen to them. But then again, they put the time in, too.

    Just because I chose differently than some authors, it doesn’t make my experience without merit. It seems like some might have me believe otherwise.

    1. Kate: I think those of you who are being approached and are having to think twice about jumping into the traditional fold are the ones who will effect great change in this industry. Congrats on your success. And all the best, wherever your journey takes you.

  21. Well said Hugh. And love the graphic.

    Unbelievable the sheer audacity of Grafton (among others).

    They all remind me of the musicians playing along as the Titanic sunk around them, except the musicians had much more class and dignity.

    Proud to be an indie!


  22. […] rant a few years ago was met with indie outrage; even the leaders among the indie movement like Hugh Howey declared his disdain for the interview she gave in which she described this indie movement as author […]

  23. I like Kinsey Milhone better than Sue Grafton.

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