Author Vs Author - Can't we all just get along?

Howdy, all!  Sorry for the blog silence, but I had a busy weekend that involved 40 middle school students and their first ever visit to a college campus.  We took our group of students to the city of Austin to visit the University of Texas, one of the most progressive (I shan't use the word 'liberal') university/city combos in the nation.  Such a cool experience for students who still view a college education as something akin to climbing Everest.  It was great fun, but exhausting all the same.  I've been struggling with trying to get caught up ...

At any rate, I have a bit of fun news to share.   Have you ever wondered what motivates my tiny brain to write?  (You haven't, but just play along.)  Here's a hint: It has a soundtrack!  I did my first ever 'guest post' on Chris Phillips' blog to the 'tune' of naming three musical selections that inspire my writing.  (See what I did there?)   Head over and we can talk tunes!  You can check it--AND Chris' excellent blog--HERE.

Now to the meat and taters ...

Those who've followed my blog for any length of time know that one of my favorite topics is that of ePublishing and the general impact that technology is having on the publishing industry.  As an aspiring author, history tutor and a student of human nature I find it endlessly fascinating on multiple levels.

To be perfectly clear, as of yet I have no horse in this race.  I've not published anything (outside of grants) traditionally, nor have I have joined the Indie Army and uploaded my work to Amazon, et al.  I've definitely expressed that I support the ePub trend, but in general I like to think that I'm a neutral observer.  A scientist, if you will, who is simply going to allow nature to run its course and document my findings.  I've generally had the attitude of:

If the hyaenas eat the lion cub, I'm just going to point my camera in the general direction and try not to get all queazy on my new Timberlands.  

Still, as the topic has now grown into a full-sized bull elephant that has taken up residence in the one bedroom efficiency apartment that is publishing, I've come to realize that I cannot claim complete neutrality.  I do have a side.  Specifically, I have two sides.  I'm for authors, and I'm for readers.  I think that's why I'm so disturbed by what I've been reading ...

I'm seeing a lot of discourse between traditionally published authors, and authors who have gone the indie route.  In fact, I recently took part in a two week debate on a fairly prominent writing forum that had both sides practically tearing at each other's throats.  At one point, a pro-traditional publishing person referred to all self-published writing as "crap".

See, that's kind of where I draw a line.

Writing is art.  (Yes, even those vampire stories!)  As such, it will always be the domaine of subjectivity.  We can't label the creative expressions of others as unfit, because it's like saying a color is ugly or that a number is unlucky.  Maybe to you it is, but there might be 50 other people who disagree.  Or perhaps  only two other people, but that still doesn't change the fact that your opinion is just that, an opinion.  It governs you and no one else.

Do you know how many people I know think Picasso is crap?  TONS.  Does everybody dig the Beatles?  NO.  Was Twilight for everyone?  NOT HARDLY.  Does that change the scope or importance of the work?  Not in the slightest.

Don't get me wrong, there are certainly levels of refinement involved, and there is certainly a 'style' factor.  But that variance is precisely what makes all writing unique.  Furthermore, we're talking about something (DIY publishing) that allows consumers complete control over the value.  If the writing isn't polished to a degree and skillfully done, people aren't going to buy it.  No one is getting hoodwinked.

So why then is there suddenly a need to label one type of writing versus another, particularly among those who are creating it?

As a fan of YA material, I can tell you that YA authors have faced similar attacks on their credibility over the years.  Many think writing for children is a 'dumbing down' of literature.  That serious writers wouldn't think of doing it.  Don't believe me?  Recently lit fiction author, Martin Amis, said that only, "If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book--I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than I can write."  

I bring this up, because I view the criticism slanted at indie authors as a pebble in the same pond, so to speak.  As such, I was really disheartened to read one of my favorite YA authors take negative stance against his fellow writers.  Rick Riordan, of Percy Jackson fame, posted the following on his blog:

"I don’t talk about books that I didn’t like, but I must mention that I read a very hyped e-book on my Kindle – or tried to read it. About a hundred pages in, I started wondering why it seemed so poorly written. How did this get past an editor? Then I looked at the Kindle site and realized it was published straight to e-book. Ah, it didn’t get past an editor because apparently it never had one. I will be more careful in the future to check the provenance of e-books. Don’t get me wrong. While I still buy a huge quantity of physical books, I love my Kindle and my iPad, too. They are great for travel especially. But publishers and editors do serve a vital role in shaping manuscripts and making sure they are ready for prime time. It’s possible to circumvent this process with the advent of e-reading, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for readers. Caveat emptor."  

There are several flaws to Mr. Riordan's line of thought, most notably the fact that he has--through gross generalization--thrown thousands of authors into a one-size-fits-all bag.  Not all indie books are poorly written, and many of the authors are hiring independent editors.  That brings me to the second thing I'd have to disagree with, which is the presumption that only publishers (and the editors who work for them) are capable of creating a "consumer worthy" book.  Lots of English majors in the world, and lots of people with the composition chops to put together a solid read, and they don't all work for Random House.  The final area of my disagreement is the idea that every book that graces the shelf of your local Barnes & Noble has somehow passed a gold standard test of quality assurance.  Have you ever purchased a paper/traditionally published book with typos, plot holes, one dimensional characters, etc.?  I sure have.  Is there a greater likelihood of finding poorly written indie books?  I just don't have the numbers to say one way or the other.  (Alas, I don't read one indie for every traditional book, nor have I even touched the surface of reading a small majority of all books that have been traditionally or indie published.  When I do, I'll check back in. :-)

I guess I was so upset by Riordan's comment because as an author who has made his fortune writing in an area that so many people ignore, disregard or otherwise downgrade, I think he should know better.  Pigeonholing is for marketing gurus, media and fools--not artists.  Anyone who enjoys the freedom of expression, not to mention survives off of it, should avoid this kind of broad evaluation.  

Authors have to get away from tearing each other down.  If a writer can self-publish and make a living doing it, support that.  Furthermore, don't denigrate their desire to get their writing in front of readers simply because they're trying a different path.  Traditional publishing cannot logistically make certain that all worthwhile stories get published.

Conversely, don't hate J.K. Rowling or Steph Meyer for being successful, even if you don't enjoy their writing.  In fact, if you're an indie, you should go out of your way to support traditional folks.  Their popularity and presence are essential to fueling reader awareness for every type of writing.  

The bottom line: Now more than ever we need champions of literature at every level, and we're not going to get it by destroying each other.    



  1. E.J. this is a very thoughtful post. As far as I've observed, writers have always torn each other down. In my opinion, it boils down to emotions of jealousy and feelings of entitlement. I actually do believe in my heart that everyone is equal and that goes for the likes of Prince William on down to me. But there are plenty of people that disagree with that notion. They look for reasons to say, "I'm better than you." And they use money, the ability to get a mate, popularity, and any other number of reasons to justify why they are better than me. I try not to take any of it personally. The problem with writers is that as writers...we advertise...we put it out there for people to read. Every author is so arrogant that he assumes what he thinks should be read by someone, hence, the reason for putting it down. I think that's where the problem stems from. People don't have any humility...they are just looking for a reason to call someone unattractive, stupid, or unworthy of recognition.

  2. wow...
    You said it all my friend. You said it all...

  3. Well said, EJ. I am glad you posted your link with #amwriting so I could find you today. My opinion on self-publishing has evolved toward more open over the years, especially as there are more and more books to choose from. I believe a good book will find its readers, no matter how its published. I shared my thoughts about self-pub a while back after a discussion on the "need for agents" as if they were "the Man" and other gatekeepers, and I still feel that there will always be a gatekeeper, whether an agent, an editor, a book blogger, or a friend whose reading advice you follow.

  4. I'm considering self-publishing if I don't have any luck the traditional route. The problem with self-publishing is that some people think of it as bypassing the traditional publishing house ("I just finished my NaNo novel, now it's time to upload to Smashwords."), but you can't bypass the work they do; you have to do it yourself.

    If I self-publish, it'll only be after a professional edit (or two), and after I've gotten as much industry-level feedback as people are willing to give me.

    The thing with traditional publishing is that it serves as a filter. Yeah, a lot of crap gets through, but I'm sure a heck of a lot more doesn't. There are writers that can be honest with themselves and not publish until their works go through a vigorous editing process, but there are also those (in any field, not just writing) that allow themselves to think their work is the Next Great Thing when they can't even comprehend basic sentence structure.

    Right now, there's no way for potential readers to distinguish between the two before actual buying the eBook. Hopefully that will change somehow, because I'd like to think I'm the former and not the latter.

  5. To add: I disagree with the first comment above about the arrogance of writers. Just like Mr. Amis's unfortunate statement as well as Mr. Reardon's, I feel that statements made to cover everyone in a field are a mistake. Not all writers are arrogant. Not all writers tear other writers down. Not all self-pub is crap, nor does self-pub equal unedited. How about we all hug and take a look individual entities before making assumptions?


  6. To bring in another song reference to the debate: People are people so why should it be that you and I should get along so awfully (Depeche Mode).

    I actually have quite a bit to say on this topic and have so far stayed silent because I don't want the fact that I have epublished short stories (under a pen name) to get in the way of finding an agent for my YA novel. If I could be honest about my epublishing, I could do a much better job of marketing, but I don't want an agent to turn me down just because I have published online. Which is just sad.

    My short stories were edited by my epublisher. We had lots of back and forth and even arguments about certain aspects of the stories. The publisher has expressed interest in my YA novel, but I'm not ready to go there yet.

    But you are absolutely right - not every worthwhile story will be traditionally published. Just yesterday an agent told me that while she loves my premise and my writing is beautiful she doesn't think she'll be able to sell my book, because YA literary fiction is a tough market.

    And let's not forget that published writing involves a market. That means that the consumers are in control (despite the gatekeepers). The cream will always rise to the top, and the market defines the cream. (Twilight is a perfect case in point. Did I think it was well-written? Hardly. Could I put it down? Not at all. Whatever else you want to say, Ms. Meyer did something right.)

    Okay, I'm done ranting. Thanks for your post, EJ. The bottom line is that we have enough pushing against us as writers, without fighting against each other, too.

    Peace, love and free artistic expression for all!

  7. Well said! Thanks for the quotes and your take on them~ I agree with you all the way...and even if I didn't, I'd be on your side (the side of writing, period) simply because of the Potato Remix. Nice.

  8. Very well said, EJ. I have a unique perspective on this because I pursued traditional publishing for several years, landed an offer, and turned it down in favor of self-publishing. Why? Because if I take all the emotion out of it, it's a better business decision. I'm betting that my book will sell no matter which publishing model I pursue. Considering the distinct lack of marketing traditional publishers are offering anyone but bestsellers these days, I believe I have just as good a chance of making my book sell as they do. Maybe better, because I have more maneuverability. So, betting that my book will sell, would I rather make 70% of royalties or 17.5%?

    One could argue that traditional publishers offer some marketing plus all the design, uploading, and editing. As a computer-savvy small business owner, I'm completely capable of all this, and what I can't handle myself I can hire a freelancer to do. And yes, I have hired an editor, though frankly according to what I've been seeing on blogs and hearing from writers, a lot of books going through New York don't get that much editing, anyway. Many editors and agents expect books to come to them almost perfect, unless the plot is high concept.

    Within five years I predict that there will be a lot of authors in my position, and that businesses will spring up to help authors who would like to self-publish but lack the computer skills. Many already exist, you just have to be careful about what you're getting and giving up.

  9. Great points, all!

    @ Vicki: See, that's what I hate about all of this. You should be able to publish what you want, and speak your mind about the process without fear of repercussions. I guess I don't see why this needs to be an 'us or them' issue for agents, etc.

    I say this now, but when I'm banned from attending writing conferences, I may think otherwise! ;-)

  10. @ Lisa: Totally agree. I just think it's a different way of doing business. That's all.

  11. Wonderful post. You said it all. As writers, we should be helping to build each other, not tear each other down.

  12. Awesome post. I couldn't agree more. It doesn't matter which path you take, both are hard work and require full dedication. The only difference in actual quality is probably those indie's who didn't have their work edited. But you know, what a trained eye notices and John Q. Public notices are totally different. Peeps just want a great story, and they'll find it one way or another. Self-pub is one heckuva quicker way to get stories to readers, that's for sure. Nothing wrong with that. They ain't all grammer teachers out there reading stories anyway.

  13. E.J. I love this post and I think you have entered a higher plane....Congratulations. I hope everyone reads this.

  14. Nice post. I didn't take Riordan's comment the same way you did, though... it seemed more like he was stressing the importance of editing before you put your work out there. Even self-pubbed/indie authors can benefit from working with an outside editor before publishing their work, to help create a stronger finished story. I don't think he was lumping all non-traditional published authors into the same pot... rather emphasizing that you really need to make sure the work is ready before putting it out there.

  15. @ Faith: Don't get me wrong, I don't think Riordan is anti-author or anything. In fact, anyone who has dedicated as much time and energy as he has to speaking with kids about reading/writing (he has done LOADS of school visits, etc.) is anything but. Plus, I think the man is a brilliant writer, and seems like a nice guy (from what I hear around town).

    However, I think his point was clear: consumers/readers should avoid self-published works due to a latent 'quality' issue. I don't think he distinguished between professionally edited self-pubbers and non-edited at all. Had he simply said something to the effect of, "Readers should use caution, because SOME self-published books aren't of the highest quality." I'd probably have found little fault with his remark. If he HAD said that, however, I think it would have further validated my point of relativity amongst the types of publishing. After all, there are SOME traditionally published books that aren't of the highest quality.

    In the end, I completely agree with you. If you're going to charge money for your writing, you need to have it professionally edited in almost every case. You owe it to the consumer.

  16. I couldn't count on both hands and feet the number of traditionally published books that I thought were awful, some of them huge bestsellers! I think "publishers as gatekeepers of quality" is a myth that needs to go away. Also the idea of "professionally" equaling better quality. Just because you've managed to get paid to do something doesn't mean you're better at it than anyone else. Ebooks and the self publishing phenomenon give readers the chance to be the gatekeepers like never before. I think that's a GOOD thing. The cream will float to the top. In the meantime, people like Riordan should learn to read samples.

  17. Nice moderating post. Though I think [from reading segments] that many [most?] self-publishers should consider hiring some editing.

  18. Great argument and wonderful prose. How can we all meet in the middle?

  19. Loved your polite honesty. More than likely, I'll publish my first novel myself. However, its not ready and I know its not. Time Lapses. Plot holes. Loose connections. Even grammar errors.

    But its true, we writers need to polish our work before we release it on the public. Right now, I'm running mine through a critique group for about the fourth time. After I consider and make corrections, I'll send it off to a professional editor.

    Writing is work and we should always put our best foot forward in everything. Being polite, too.

  20. I have a horse in this race as I have several books on Amazon Kindle and the one also on Smashwords. It's true that not all self-published books are terrible, but enough are to give it a bad rep.

    Personally I charge just 99c for mine, so if someone doesn't like it they're not out a whole lot.

  21. Interesting thoughts on the whole epublishing phenomenon. And interesting post on Chris's blog. :) Found you on Margo Berendsen's blog.

  22. I want to think that whether via traditional sources or via e-books...the proverbial cream will rise to the top.

  23. This post is such a necessity. I really think it is true that writers should not bash each other. I think everyone should be supportive no matter the medium in which it presents itself. I read all so I support all. I have also found mistakes in all formats and have wondered how it happened but remember that everyone is human as well. Great post.

  24. I have nothing to add to this, except: wonderful post. *cheers*

  25. I think the battle stems from-as most battles do-fear. A lot of people are afraid of what the success are of self-published writers might do to the industry. A lot of people are also jealous of the media sensations that YA novels can become. (Twilight and Harry Potter are the first two that come to mind, despite that I'm not a fan of the former.) Because people often just want to make sure they can still do what they do and keep (or start) making money, they tend to insult any flaw in the competition. I don't see why any type or genre of writing or publishing should be attacked though. We're all writers. We're all fighting for the same things. Great stories, even better readers, and to be heard.

    <3 Gina Blechman

  26. Hey E.J., I just found your blog yesterday and I'm catching up on old posts, but I've been really impressed with what I've seen so far.

    And since we're on the subject of author relationships (and the supportive nature of the writer community), I wanted to point out that the reason I came here to check out your blog was because I was impressed with the note of congratulations that you left on TH Mafi's blog when she announced her book deal. I decided that someone who would take the time to post something that thoughtful and sincere was someone worth getting to know better.

    That's my take on author relationships; if we're cooperative instead of cut-throat, in the long run we produce better work and everyone wins.

  27. Thanks everyone! I think you've renewed a little of my faith in my fellow writers. Really awesome responses!


  28. That was very interesting to read.

    Also, I'm passing the Stylish Blogger Award your way. You can check out the details here.

  29. EJ looks like you hit a nerve, great observations on the changing (or not) nature of the publishing industry!

    I think some of the controversy is just reflective of the fact that self-publishing is an up-and-coming, revolutionary idea driven by a generation of people who grew up tweeting and facebooking and blogging and whatevering their every mood change. This is great but not everyone grasps it, particularly those who have not embraced the revolution and learned to use an iPad or Kindle.

    Self-publishing is most likely going to go the route of Arriana Huffington's Huff Post--wildly successful and highly reliant on social media networks and input from fans. Ms. Huffington has single-handedly changed the face of news media as we know it, creating a "citizen journalist" approach that allows everyone to have their say.

    As with any new and controversial topic, the key is to stay flexible and open-minded. Hey, if it makes you money or earns you fans, what's not to like??

  30. You've definitely given real food for thought!

    As a writer, I don't care which route people take to get their book published, so long as they've released a book worthy of publishing.

    As a reader, I'll admit that I will almost never buy an indie pubbed book, because unfortunately there are far too many people who go that route that SHOULDN'T and my reading time is too valuable and precious to sort through for the gems.

  31. I think you've said all of this very well, and I REALLY want to support all writers all the time. I completely agree that there is NO REASON a book that self publishes can't be great. Unfortunately, my experience with self-published have more often than not disappointed me. The thing that bothers me is they are often GREAT stories, but they are not 'done yet'. That is not to say some traditionally published books don't get through that way (Twilight could have used about 4 more iterations, IMHO).

    I think the problem is NOT that agents and publishers pick better books, it is that they don't let them out (90% of the time) until they are done (and the UNDONE, USUALLY are from established authors--they really ARE just trying to make money and if the name will sell, I don't believe the same effort goes in to polish it). The problem is we are all too eager, too excited, too ready, and we jump before the product is done. A professional editor (or 2 or 3) is GREAT, but ultimately they work for us. They will agree with us that when they have done their thing, it is DONE.

    You know what I'd like to see? A... Quality Control Commission... guild or a club where authors submit their works to other authors, anonymously, for honest feedback on 'is this reader ready'. Because at the MOMENT, I think only about 25% of self-published books ARE ready (the others may be great, just not cooked yet), where traditionally it is closer to 90% that are ready.

    Having been on this 'attempt to publish' road about 2 years now, I can SEE former me not believing I wasn't ready. it's who we are. We have to believe in and love our stories. I might one day self-publish... if I have an off-market story... and I would love it if, by then, there was an external reality check for whether my books were done.

  32. Agreed, agreed, agreed, EJ! Really great post. Lots of food for thought. A great book is a great book is a great book, no matter WHERE is comes from.

  33. @ Hart: Interesting ideas. I think the idea of some kind of 'quality council' to give the stamp of approval to self-published books is intriguing, especially on the basis of initial anonymity. I'm imagining a virtual sticker that says, "... APPROVED!"

    Unfortunately, the logistics would be a nightmare. Who chooses who sits on the committee? It would have to be divided by genres, etc. Most problematic is that it gets back to the crux of this issue: outside of grammar, it's going to be a subjective opinion about story/writing quality.

    I'm not a fan of % statements, because unless you've read most of everything you really can't estimate. Even if you go the scientific route and take a fair random sample, you'd have to read several hundred, if not thousands, self-published books at the least.

    I suppose I tend to think authors should be responsible for making the final decision about the readiness of their story. (at every level of publication game) They are also responsible for educating themselves in the craft to the point that they can sufficiently make that decision. Most authors will say that their stories are never 100% complete, but that there is most definitely a threshold of readiness.

    Thanks for stopping by, I truly appreciate the thoughtful comment. (That applies to everyone who has commented ... I'm really blown away by the responses!)


  34. Excellent point about Rick Riordan lumping all self-publishers together! And to those who look down at children's lit, I love this quote:

    "You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."
    — Madeleine L'Engle

    (Not to mention that it's the books we read as kids/teenagers that stick with us the most through the rest of our lives)

    Anyhooo! There are tons of great editors out there that offer services to self-publishers. Yeah, it's expensive. I've heard a really good editor for an entire novel can be over $1000. But if you want to produce a quality product to sell, I think that's a small investment!

    But people can quickly figure out which are the quality self-pubs versus the not-quality ones (e.g. no editing) by taking a couple minutes to read reviews. So shame, Mr Riordan, shame!!! yay to the e-pub revolution!

  35. This was an excellent way of saying "Don't hate the playa, hate the Game."

    That's pretty much how I view everything.
    While I hate what Twilight has done to my beloved vampires I definitely respect Ms. Meyers. She knows who her audience is and can reach them well. She definitely has a good idea of what she's doing.

  36. I think people are just upside down. Anytime things change dramatically and quickly - it shakes the human mind. People start to panic or become indignant, etc.

    My own opinion - I am still trying to figure out what's going on! I have read some self-pubbed work that has "made it big" and nearly fell off my chair at how poorly it is written. But it's selling like hotcakes, so I guess it doesn't matter.

    I also sampled some of JA Konrath's work today and I WILL be buying his books. And he's self-pubbed.

    So who knows. I think as writers, all we CAN do is waive the white flag, write to the best of our abilities and pick a route. (followed by some finger crossing!)

    Great post.


  37. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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