This issue of validation keeps coming up within the traditional vs. self-publishing debate.
For some time now, I’ve been reading various blog posts and articles discussing the merits of one form of publishing compared to the other, particularly as related to the aspirations of unpublished writers.
This debate is nothing new – indeed, it’s been going for so long now as to be almost institutionalized, complete with its own special vocabulary: “gatekeepers”, “credibility”, “the gauntlet”, “vetting process”, “the old guard”, “the new order”, “the publishing revolution”, “the Big 6, 5, 4, etc.”
However, over the past two weeks, a new vocabulary word has appeared on the scene, predominantly in disparaging reference to writers seeking a deal with a traditional publisher:
Or better put: the desire for acceptance by and praise from the agents and editors of traditional publishing as opposed to the potentially greater monetary rewards of self-publishing.
… Of course, for some people who need validation more than money, tradpub is probably better. In that case selfpubbing and getting money for a shrink to deal with the self esteem issues is my suggestion . . . but whatever. 😉
Comments like these I consider both fallacious and normative. Yes, many self-published authors have achieved anywhere from moderate to exceptional financial success.
But financial success is not every writer’s reason for wanting to be published.
Suffering for one’s art
Some writers write as an artistic practice, and really do seek the validation that comes from traditional publishing – that is to say, from an expert in the industry who truly understands the nature of the work that went into creating an object of said art.
Writing, after all, is utilitarian – hardly a true “art” at all in the eyes of some, particularly genre fiction. Everybody “writes” in one form or another, and unlike with, say, painting or sculpting, most people believe they have a novel in them somewhere.
Some writers want reassurance that their novel is a good one, and they want to hear it from a knowledgeable source, regardless of the odds of actually getting it.
Unless writers themselves, most readers won’t possess a full understanding of what goes into writing a book. This is no different than how, as a non-painter and non-actor, when I go to the art gallery or watch a play, my feedback is restricted to the level of how pretty the colours are, or how creepy the villain is.
This doesn’t mean that traditionally-published/traditionally-seeking writers don’t appreciate readers; it’s merely a recognition that just because many people enjoy something doesn’t mean, from an artistic standpoint, that it’s good. A case in point: B-movies, tabloid magazines, and a certain popular erotic novel that’s outsold both Harry Potter and the Bible.
Writers (indeed, almost all artists) are indoctrinated from an early age with the idea that making big money from their work is unlikely. As a result, most writers get started for more intrinsic reasons: a love of words; a story to tell; writing as therapy, etc. Money, if it comes at all, is less a goal than a bonus, as it were.
Validation takes many forms
Everyone desires validation, be approval-based, or financial, or in some other form. The fourth tier of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, following the most basic needs of physiological stability, personal and material safety, and love and belonging, is esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, and respect by others.
This explains the existence of everything from peer-review journals to sales commissions, from the Academy Awards, to employee-of-the-month programs, to signing bonuses.
And there’s nothing wrong with any of that.
When I have my annual performance review at work, every score of “meets” or “exceeds” I achieve feels good, because it means my boss is recognizing and acknowledging my various efforts, especially the hidden efforts.
Praise from our clients feels good as well, but as outsiders to the process, they’ll never understand all that I do. In some cases, they’ll just be happy if I show up on time and make sure there’s food.
Meanwhile, the fact I could possibly make more money by ditching my boss and going freelance is beside the point. If I’m not motivated by money, or the desire to go it on my own, the freelance life – along with the increased and/or differing work demands associated with such – likely wouldn’t be that satisfying for me. It’s not a perfect analogy for someone wanting the validation of traditional publication, but you get the idea.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being motivated by money or by being in control (or that there’s anything wrong with self-publishing as a whole, because it’s awesome, and it is a publishing revolution); only that not everyone shares these motivations, nor do they have to.
Because no one has the right to dictate what validates another.