Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jodi Picoult: Out of Touch with Reality

With more and more of us earning a living through self-publishing, it’s kind of amusing when you hear someone as out of touch with reality as Jodi Picoult chime in about what a writer should and should not be doing with his career.

In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Picoult gave the following advice to aspiring authors: “Take a workshop course. You need to learn to give and get criticism and to write on demand. (Me: Agreed.) And DO NOT SELF PUBLISH.”

Great advice if this was 2005.

What we have here is a New York Times Bestselling Author giving career advice to a different kind of professional, whose platform she doesn’t even remotely understand. It’s like a lottery winner telling you to spend all your money on tickets instead of investing in a 401K or IRA.

Picoult was lucky enough to win the New York lottery. Yes, she pounded the pavement tracking down the lotto tickets until she found the winning numbers, but in the end, luck rewarded her hard work and unwillingness to give up. Same as any indie author making it on their own terms.

And there are several.

Of course, what’s really happening here is Picoult is defending the platform, which made her a success: traditional publishing. She’s doing so because she’s a star in brick-and-mortar bookstores, which are quickly cutting hours or disappearing altogether.

An endorsement of an alternative system threatening the one, which made her a success, is bad for business. When eBook sales are the majority of the market, and more bookstores are closed, it won’t be as easy for her to make those bestseller lists the way she does now.

So of course she’s going to say something stupid and short-sighted like “And DO NOT SELF PUBLISH.”

She’s going to say that because she has a skewed impression of what success at self publishing actually means.

She doesn’t realize successful indie authors are making it on their own terms because they know how to seek and accept criticism. They know how to respond. They know how to keep at it until the book is as polished and well-formatted as anything New York puts out.

Yes, there are tons of horrible indie authors, who aren’t doing any of the things they need to do for success, and yes, they give the rest of us a bad name. But the market and these writers’ own continued failures will eventually sort them out.

Picoult’s blanket condemnation shows no respect for those of us, who do get it. Those of us who are looking at our own work with an unflinching eye. Those of us who are seeking the help of professional editors and proofreaders. Those of us who are investing in top-notch covers. Those of us who are willing to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite again, however many times it takes to get the work to professional quality.

She assumes we are amateurs even when we’ve moved over 1,000 copies of our book in a short time period and out-earned the typical traditional publishing advance of $5,000 in less than a year.

Picoult assumes much, and I’ll just let the familiar cliche about assumptions stand on its own without spelling it out for you.

After all, I'm going to assume you do get it, even if you're one of us stupid, misguided indie authors Picoult bites her thumb at.


  1. I agree. The advice would have been valid in 2005. As a publishing professional with three decades insider experience of the industry, I would have agreed with in her in 2005. I, too, used to advise authors against self-publishing fiction.

    But the publishing world has changed. It has changed so drastically and so fast, it makes heads spin. Of course, it's difficult for people to adjust to change. Many of my former colleagues in the publishing industry still dispensing out-of-date advice... and those are the same people who wonder where their jobs have gone.

    Perhaps it is forgiveable if Jodi Picoult doesn't see publishing reality yet. After all, she doesn't need to. For her, the situation is largely unchanged. Her books are selling well, including print books in brick&mortar shops. She doesn't need to adapt to the new realities, at least not in a big way.

    Most authors are less fortunate. Their publishers closed, their sales dried up, their new books don't get published. These authors - and they're the majority - need to understand new publishing reality and adapt to it. Some do, some don't.

    As a publishing pro I've changed my advice from "Don't self-publish fiction" to "Make sure your book is as good as you can make it before you self-publish. Be the best writer you can be, and be the best publisher you can be."

    Jodi Picoult? She reminds me of a Beatles fan who doesn't need to believe the Famous Four have disbanded, because she can still hear them play on CD.

  2. You're so right about that new advice, Rayne. While not all the self-pubbed writers out there understand what that advice entails, I think far more of them do than legacy gives them credit for. They seem to understand the value of beta readers, an outside editor, and not releasing the book until it is as readable as possible. At least in my experience with them. I've discovered some really good books that would have never seen the light of day under the old system. And yes, a few bad ones. But the bad ones were definitely worth the good ones I found. Thanks for dropping by, and for the great comment.