Reader Friday: Validation

Had lunch with a writer who says he is not going to self-publish because he doesn’t want to hurt his chances of getting a traditional contract. He said he wants the “validation” that comes from being accepted by a major publishing house.  

All writers look for some metric that tells them their writing matters to someone. So here’s today’s question: What form of validation do you seek? 

18 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Validation

  1. Good question.

    Lately I’ve been fantasizing about agents. I don’t have one, not sure I want one, but then I think of all the acknowledgements and dedications I’ve read from authors to their agents. They love them. Credit these agents for making them better writers with better books. These legendary agents take the time to read your book and work with you, hound you even, to improve every scene, every character, every setting, every plot line.

    I want one of those.

    • Not all agents do edit commentary, but in my experience, they get you through doors that would be normally closed to an unrepresented writer. I prefer having an agent. They can be a great sounding board gor business angles too. Good luck in your search for one.

  2. The validation of reader appreciation. To know that my writing has provided others the pleasure great stories provide me.
    Crass commercial success would be a tolerable bonus πŸ™‚

  3. According to the IRS, until income is generated from one’s creative efforts, one’s efforts are considered a hobby.

    I’ve been a bride’s-maid in script and fiction contests, and yearn for a win for sure, but the income side to me would be a validation. And if it brings an audit, all the better.


    • You might revisit your hobby notion. Before I sold, I deducted all my writing expenses without noteworthy income for 3.5 yrs. I use a CPA. Other writers more experienced expressed the opposite view, that writing is not merely a hobby, and they worked through CPAs who agreed too.

      And yeah, writing is the hard part. Tax audit? Pfffft

  4. We’ve gotten on two different tracks, in my opinion.

    Everyone — self-published or otherwise — should have literary representation (to handle foreign and secondary rights, leveraged negotiations down the road with publishing houses, etc.). Wanting to get into a publishing house should be seen as not necessarily the same thing as wanting to get an agent.

    Also, your writer friend is flat wrong about the idea that self-publishing might be held against him in his pursuit of a traditional-publishing contract. This isn’t 2007. Nowadays, publishers have come to scout the ranks of indie writers as pro baseball teams would scout unaffiliated foreign and minor leagues, as a canny way to curate and develop overlooked talent. If a writer writes a good book, and gets a high volume of good reviews of Amazon and Goodreads, and shows a steady rise up the Amazon author rankings, there’s every chance that they will be approached by an agent or a publisher and offered not only a deal, but a better deal than they could have negotiated before they published. I’ve seen this happen to many of my clients — some have accepted such offers, and others have concluded that they could do better by staying out on their own.

    There is no stigma against disciplined self-publishing any longer. And anyone who insists there is is living in the past, to their detriment.

    Beyond that, it’s deeply disappointing to see authors who don’t see their most essential validation as coming from readers. Wanting to publish as a way of pleasing industry tastemakers is an approach borne of low self-esteem, in my opinion — it smacks of the teen who’s desperate to be accepted into the cliques of the self-appointed elite at school, who thinks he or she is nobody unless they get to party with the cheerleaders and jocks.

    By discounting readers in one’s validation equation, your friend is signaling that he wants to put his writing out into the world for the wrong reasons.

  5. James, I’m with your lunch buddy on wanting the validation of a traditional publisher.

    Another thing: my agent told me that traditional publishers will not look at a book once it’s self published. How does this square with what Jim Thomsen says above? They’re both right. If a self-published book does well on its own, publishers will of course want to cash in. But if the book doesn’t do well, it’s poisoned for publishers. There’s no guarantee of course that my book will do any better with a trad publisher. But at least it will be in book stores (if briefly) and is more likely to get reviewed.

  6. I have to admit I lean toward the traditional side, but mostly because I’m not confident enough in knowing for sure whether my work is ready or not yet. There may come a day when I take that chance self-publishing though and let the readers decide.

  7. What does a true artist consider to be validation of his work? High sales? Critical praise? Public notoriety? All of those things are nice and certainly worthy goals, but if the work is not good, you won’t get much, if anything, in any of those categories. And of course “good” work is in the eye or ear of the beholder. We all know of movies that were critical bombs but big box-office successes, and best-selling novels that were (in our opinion) poorly-written and/or edited. As for me, as others have stated above, validation comes when I have a reader post a good review, or tell me personally that they really liked the book.

  8. My validation has been threefold:

    1. My self-pubbed works have all made more money than any offers I got from presses that made offers (a few of which were pretty decent)

    2. After self-pubbing for several years, I got picked up by and agent, and quickly by a trad publisher, who wants to pub my upcoming work and re-pub all my self-pubbed stuff.

    3. Waking up in the morning next to my beautiful wife, realizing I am not dreaming, and understanding that the assassins have yet again been foiled.

    4. This is an extra affirmation I am putting here just because my fingers weren’t done typing yet.

    5. now we’re done…

  9. I was Published by Penguin for 14 years but beyond the initial novels they didn’t want more books from me and I found that it undermined my confidence as a writer. Is knowing you have earnt 90% for them & 10% or less for you all that validating?
    Is having a few books taken up on contract but none of your other books published validating?
    Is being a best-seller and still not making a living wage validating? I did not find it so.
    Rather than have an agent I would rather have a competent PA/business manager who is paid a wage for work completed and thereby not have my rights compromised by an agency and a publisher all at once.
    I’m so very happy I have all my rights back & can publish any writing I’ve done which I think a reader would like.
    My readers validate me. To delight even one person with my words shows I am a success.
    Lots of writers have the infantile 5yo attitude of ‘I gotta have someone to hold my hand & show me what to do & pat me on the head when I’m good’ Just remember lots of Daddy’s who do that will also take a lot more than you are expecting & you may well feel raped by the experience.
    Gushing praise of an agent may well mean ‘if I’m really nice to him in my book blurb maybe he will pay me the royalties he owes me from the past 3 years.’ Read Kris K Rush’s business blog re the very common dreadful behaviour and terms in publishing contracts & agents if you want more proof for my comments.
    With publishers and agents contracts taking all your rights to your work until 70 yrs past your death, it means you and the family who will inherit your rights are at the mercy of two organisations who do not have your interests at heart – why? Because they have their own interests at heart.
    If the pain of working long hours for nothing much, dreadful contracts, feeling scammed and ripped off, handing over your rights to your work forever validates you, then by all means pursue a traditional publishing company – try Penguin, Random House or Harlequin I know they will achieve these feelings for almost every author without even trying.
    Some people simply have to learn the hard way.
    I did and now I have choices I cannot tell you how incredibly validating every deposit into my bank account monthly from Amazon is.

  10. Validation= writing a novel I feel is as good as I can make it (within reason, of course), is recognized by some sort of impartial reader as being of similar quality as other authors recognized as having produced a quality book, and is a book I’ll be proud to have written when I’m on my death bed.


  11. Your agent is the first person outside your immediate family who really believes in you, who’s willing to take a chance on you. And sometimes you suspect your mom is just being nice.

  12. “But if the book doesn’t do well, it’s poisoned for publishers.”

    John Manchester, this is true of any author, regardless of how they’re published. Many of my clients (I’m a line editor, BTW) came to me after their publishing contracts were canceled because their Bookscan numbers came in a little below the expectations of publishing-house bean-counters. They’re now self-publishing or writing novels on spec in hopes of landing with a small press — barring a massive comeback through massive indie sales, the big leagues are closed to them.

    You gotta sell, no matter how you’re published. Whether or not you self-published has nothing to do with that immutable reality.

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