Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Road to Validation

A question posed on a LinkedIn writers group thread asked: “Did you feel validated when published by a royalty-paying publisher?” It was a thought-provoking query for sure that unleashed a flurry of responses. Not surprisingly, the consensus answer was “yes.” However, the word “validation," to express the feeling of leaping over an important and very high hurdle in a mercurial business, seemed an interesting choice.

Nearly ten years ago, a business entity was willing to pay me real money to write a book. I didn’t have a say in the title, nor a say in the book's layout or design. It was all about writing—and that was fine and dandy. Once upon a time, this sort of thing meant a whole lot to me. For one brief shining moment after I got the job, I was on cloud nine. I was soaring like a Canada goose when my author copies arrived in the mail several months later. I believe I checked out every Manhattan Barnes & Noble store on foot to first see if The Everything Collectibles Book was available and then counted how many copies were on display. The Union Square location had six—and face out to boot. When the same publisher asked me back for another go-around and a new title, I felt uber-validated. For this meant the powers-that-be not only approved of what I had done, but that I wasn’t destined to be a one-hit wonder, either.

But such pure and innocent feelings of validation—that wondrous first time—faded with the passage of time. In fact, very, very quickly. I know now that validation must be frequently renewed and, also, that the validation bar keeps getting higher and higher.

Courtesy of today’s technology, increasing numbers of people are bypassing traditional publishers, along with the so-called validation that comes with it, and self-publishing their works instead. The self-published book versus the real book debate gets a bit contentious at times. Many published writers—validated, as it were—resent the tsunami-like inundation of materials that flood the marketplace and often blur the distinction between the legitimate and illegitimate. It seems that every time I visit my sister out on suburban Long Island, she shows me a novel penned by one of her professional friends or friends’ husbands—self-published, of course—with this distinction unmentioned.

But that aside, there are plenty of excellent self-published books in print and in the offing. And if a self-published author sells a couple of thousand or more books, a royalty-paying publisher is going to take note—you can go to the bank on that. Selling books via any avenue, traditional or nontraditional, is validation. I’d gladly swap my validation résumé for a self-published book selling hundreds of thousands of copies.

There's an unquenchable thirst for this elusive validation. From most writers’ perspectives, passing through a gauntlet of men and women much more inclined to say no than yes, and making it to the other side, is a crowning achievement. But once you’ve been there and done that, it feels more like a pat on the head than a blessing from on high. And so I continue searching for the next chapter and verse in my validation story.

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