Monday, August 1, 2011

Validation: Forbidding Mourning

By Steve Weddle

Joelle's post this weekend -- VALIDATION -- opens up some great lines of discussion.

I completely agree with Joelle that some folks feel validated from a book contract.

I also agree that writers need validation, otherwise they'd never put ink to paper, pixels to pad.

Though Joelle hasn't argued that a Big Six Contract is the only form of validation, others have -- implicitly, if not explicitly.

I think this is horrifically myopic.

First of all, you have validation of the marketplace.

Let's say you get a great from a Big Six Publisher. Super cool. Twitter congrats all around. You might get great reviews and sellout your first six printings.


You might not sell too well, despite good reviews. Heck, maybe they printed up 20,000 copies of the first and it only sold 10,000. Which, you know, holy crap. 10,000 is a boatload. Not an aircraft-carrier load, of course, but still. Then when you turn in the second manuscript to your editor, maybe the publisher doesn't spend too much money promoting you. So you have a debut book that sold poorly and a second book that sold even fewer copies. So then you're an author whose sales are tracking downward. As Mike Dexter says to Amanada Beckett in CAN'T HARDLY WAIT: "Who's gonna want you now?" Good luck selling your third book to someone.


Everyone loves your first book. I know this guy whose first book sold out in its first printing. Hot damn. So he goes to the local chain store wondering why they won't stock his book. Or more than one copy of his book. Or put him on one of those cardboard kiosks in the middle of the store. They tell him, "You only sold 5,000 copies of your first book." He says, "I know. That's all they printed. I sold out." And the store tells him, "You only sold 5,000 copies." And he says, "I sold out." And on and on. He didn't get on the cardboard kiosks or premium placement elsewhere. He did manage to get them to buy more copies as he kept going in on Tuesdays and buying his own book.


Your book sells to a Big Six Publisher and the editor leaves, your book is orphaned, and you don't get the promotion, the love you signed on for.


On and on and on.

Cards on the table for a second. Joelle has quite a few book deals right now. Right now she and John Hornor Jacobs are collecting book deals like those orange kids on that Jersey show are collecting STDs. I don't have a book contract and I don't have a manuscript making the rounds right.

I'm not about to argue that a book deal doesn't offer validation. But you know what else offers validation? Sales.

Yeah, you've got a great shot once a publisher takes on your great book, but you don't need a deal with a New York City Publisher to sell your book. What's changed? Plenty, but the main thing: distribution.

You don't need an editor to sell your book to a committee that sells your book to the publisher that sells your book to a sales team that sells your book to a book store manager who sells your book to a reader. Now you can sell your book to the reader. And make more money per sale when you do it.

You aren't validated by a contract that comes in the mail. You're validated by a fracking check that comes in the mail.

Selling your book to a committee at a publisher is great. That means a group of people thinks they can make money off your book. Heck, it could also mean that they really love your book.

Usually, if they love your book but don't think they can make money off of it, they're not going to make you an offer. Why would they? Publishers make money when they sell books, not when they love them. Sometimes the two are one and the same, but it doesn't matter to sales.

But now with the ability for you to distribute your own book to thousands at a time, readers can still read your book.

This isn't for everyone, of course. Some folks want/need that Big Six Deal. And then you've got folks who would rather have a deal with a small press. More attention, people who seem to really love your book. You've got tons of options if you want A Deal. Heck, some small presses run manuscript contests with a guaranteed deal. Some of them want submissions directly from authors instead of from agents.

So you can still get validated by a publisher even if that publisher isn't in New York City.

Of course, you've always go the validation of writing something that kicks ass.

You know that feeling that you get when you Figure It Out? That thing that was bugging you. You catch that epiphany while you're staring out the window at your idiot neighbor's dumb fence? Yeah. That's validation.

Or when you send your manuscript out to your beta readers and they love it.

Or when you give a reading and the twenty-seven people in attendance give you a standing ovation.

Or when someone tweets that she just read a story of yours on the web and everyone needs to read it.?

Or when Purple Mountain Review Quarterly Journal decides to send you $300 for your story.

Or when you win the Clive J. Wigley Award for Best Debut Fiction.

Or the folks in Michigan decide to give you a writing grant from the arts council.

Or you get a scholarship to that writers' retreat in the hills of Vermont.

I dunno, but it seems to me you can get your writing validated by many ways these days and you no longer have to rely on what a committee in New York City thinks.

Is there a hierarchy of validation? How does we organize that? A small press deal, a Big Six deal, a top ten ranking on Amazon, a quarterly check from Nook for $3,000, a webstory retweet?

Maybe you're writing because you like to build worlds. Maybe you're writing because you like to tell stories. Maybe you want money. Maybe you want sales. Maybe you want readers. Maybe you want validation.

But just as a contract with The Big Six is no longer the only way to get published, no longer the only way to distribute your book, and no longer the only way to make money on that book, I'd argue that a contract with The Big Six is no longer the only way to validate your writing.

If you want to win the pinewood derby race, then look at what cars are winning and build one like that. If you want to be published, then look at what's being published and write that. If that's what validates you, then you don't want to write a book that was too "cutting edge" for mainstream. Of course, you can always spend a few years getting rejected by The Big Six and then put the book out on Kindle and Nook and sell it as "too cutting edge" if you want. Folks do that all the time. It doesn't really have to be cutting edge. (These pills are TOO CUTTING EDGE for the FDA's approval, so I'm selling them to you out of the back of my van for the low, low price of $4.99 a bottle.)

But if you're writing because you love to write, because it's What You Do, then find whatever validation makes you keep writing. See, whether it's love from The Big Six (and by "love," of course, I mean that they have voted in favor of your current project being able to turn a profit) or a small press or blog hits or online publication or whatever -- the important reason to get your writing validated is to keep you writing.

It doesn't have to be The Big Deal from a NYC publisher.

It doesn't have to be a mantle of awards or Kindle sales.

But the validation you aim for has to work for you -- and it has to keep you working at 5 a.m. when you're wondering why the hell you set the alarm clock and then you remember that you wanted to get up and have a fresh look at that motel room scene because you were so tired last night but it's the only time the house is quiet and the only time you can write and so what if you went through seven cups of coffee yesterday because it's not like seven cups of coffee has ever killed anyone but damn it to all hell you're really going to have to get up if you want to rework that scene because it's almost there and it's so close and you think you know what it needs because while you slept your brain told you That Thing that you needed but now you're starting to forget what it is so you'll get up and you'll run downstairs and you'll start typing because that's what you do after all because it doesn't matter if you get an email from a publisher or a call from your agent because what you do is you get up at frackin five damn o'clock in the morning because this isn't about anyone else it's about you and your story and then you start writing and it flows and the pieces fall together and hot damn now we're going to town and how fantastic and glorious is it when all the pieces start falling together and everything starts to fit and make sense because that is why we do this. Because that is your validation. That is all you need.


Nigel Bird said...

great word, myopic.
right now i'm collecting rabbits, my kids have turned into grass collectors so we can have hay.
and it's all you need. bang on.

Dana King said...

If I can get good, honest comments from people I trust and respect, I'm good.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You need to become a motivational speaker. I feel much better now.

Dave White said...

Stop validating Steve's post everyone!!

Jeff Shelby said...

This post is made of awesome. It should be required reading for anyone taking a writing a class or submitting a query or uploading a manuscript or, you know, writing.

Screedster said...

Does "validation" come with some kind of documentation? Will I need to go down and get my fucking picture taken at Kinko's like I do for a passport? Will I be able to get a loan without proper validation? Will I be able to vote?

This is a damn good piece, but you left out the part about how there's not one single asshole in the world who can validate you--except yourself. So you sell 50,000 books; does that make you less of an asshole? If you don't sell one book, are you just a miserable Troglyte like on that Star Trek episode? Kafka didn't sell shit and asked to have all his writing burned; now that he's "validated," should we go dig up his carcass so he can celebrate? Likewise, there are people who have thousands and thousands of books published by major publishers, and their writing sucks and will always suck.

You're right about the money part. It's good to have money. It lets you buy stuff. Of course, if money is validation, then unless you're one of those aforementioned superstars, your check from Farrar or wherever the fuck, however big it might be in the writing world, likely pales in comparison to the annual salary of the plumber next door. So all you writing types dying for "validation" remember that when you see him backing his boat out of his three-car garage for a weekend on the lake. You can't fish with validation. You need a license.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. Thanks, man.

Rob Kitchin said...

Great piece, Steve. Good to be reminded why I get up at 8am to bash at the keyboard - nothing gets me up at 5am other than having to catch an early flight.

Steve Weddle said...

Nigel, Thanks. I'm beginning to wonder what kind of grass.

Dana, Right. When I finish something I'm proud of, first thing I want to do is let my wife read it.

Patti, Excellent. Now go write some more awesome.

Dave, Pfft.

Jeff, Thanks.

Screedster, Lovely.

Court Merrigan, Thanks.

Rob, I'm usually up that early because I have to pee anyway.

Don Lafferty said...

You're right on the money in that Validation is a very personal matter - often a moving target too, as a writer's career progresses.

But there's one thing always validates a writer's work - readers who like it. Readers who take a moment from their hectic lives to tell us that they liked what we wrote.

Sometimes even that can feel like a hollow victory when agents and publishers pass on our work, but for those who write because they're compelled, and NOT for the money, it's pretty fucking sweet.

Nigel Bird said...

it's grass of the real kind. my days of other kinds were put behind me a few years ago, which coincided with a marked improvement in the quantity and quality of my writing (though fewer ideas).
it's a great post and a shot in the arm to us all (or should be)and maybe a gentle kick in the pants, too.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Hey - I NEVER said a big six contract was the only validation out there. Nope. Never EVER said it. As to the rest - um yeah!

Steve Weddle said...

Don, Money tends to validate pretty well.

Nigel, Ah. Clears that up.

Joelle, Right. Thought I'd made that clear. Plenty of validations out there.

Thomas Pluck said...

I feed on the appreciation of my peers, and the blood of baby unicorns.

I still go to bookstores, I'd like to see my book in my local one. Even if I put it there, in the bathroom. I was always fond of small press editions. I like what Akashic is doing, but so does everyone else. Maybe it'll catch on.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

I love Do Some Damage's Point/Counterpoint. I was validated a few moments ago while sitting in my car, waiting for my husband and writing away that I never heard him approach.

I was happily lost and engaged in my fiction, the rest of the world disappeared. That's all the validation I need to write. If I get paid, and people like it, that's pretty cool, too. But if you're only doing this for the money, you could do something else for a lot less rejection and heartache.

Great posts DSD.

Anonymous said...

I used to need validation, but then I got published in NEEDLE. Now I am the shits.

Unknown said...

Dude I loved that post so much! Thanks for those words.

Steve Weddle said...

Thomas, I can't keep all the unicorn hair out of the blood when I drink it. I bought one of those strainers like the forum said, but still somehow there's always a couple of unicorn hairs in there. Annoying as hell.

Donnell, Thanks. Getting lost in the writing (or the reading) is fantastic.

Dan, Must have been a great story.

Ellie, Much thanks.

carolyndonovan said...

Great post. Thanks for taking precious writing time to...write more!