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.