Last week, Rachelle Gardner asked her readers this question: Why are you pursuing traditional publishing? While self-publishing gets a lot of press these days, I found it refreshing to hear authors champion traditional publishing. And boy did they fill it up! At this writing, Rachelle’s post has 200+ comments, most extolling the virtues of traditional publishing.
In perusing those comments, one of the most common reasons authors gave for seeking traditional publishing was validation.
Mary: “I want the validation from trained professionals that what I write is good.”
Heather: “I want validation. I want someone other than myself, my writing mentor, my crit partners saying, ‘This is good!’ All those people have some kind of personal investment in me. I want to hear from a totally non-biased professional.”
Marla: “I want the validation of a traditional publisher. Someone thought my book was awesome enough to invest thousands of dollars in.”
Jessie: “For me, it has to do with validation. I have a story that I believe should be told. I want someone else to believe that too. Someone who will believe in it so much they will fight for it.”
Amy: “I want the validation. To know that someone besides my husband and my mom thinks I should write books.”
While I agree with many of these sentiments, there’s a big fat caveat to the “traditional publishing for validation” credo. You see, even though I value traditional publishing, pursued it, and feel validated by it, seeking validation from traditional publishing can be a dangerous thing.
A writer’s self-worth, motivation, professionalism, work ethic, and craft, should not require recognition from peers or professionals.
I am not saying we shouldn’t seek professional validation and celebrate its acquisition. I’m saying, If you require professional validation in order to continue writing, then you should stop right now.
Writers can be extremely insecure people. Having your book published only compounds that insecurity. Readers will now begin to scrutinize you, your story, and your talent in ways you never imagined. Are you really ready for this? If a writer lacks confidence and personal self-worth, traditional publishing will only intensify their insecurities. Just wait till your editor requests rewrites and the bad reviews start rolling in. It’s the equivalent of a literary strip search. No amount of external validity can make up for internal fragility. The writer with self-esteem, inferiority issues, cannot be cured by traditional publishing.
Validation should work on another level, a professional level rather than a personal level. The writer who seeks traditional publishing as a means to bolster their self-worth is asking for trouble. Instead, we should approach publishing as an affirmation of what we already know.
The validation one gets from traditional publishing is best spent on authors who don’t require such validation. In other words, they are self-starters, hard workers, attentive to detail, humble, receptive to critique, determined, resilient, flexible, and pretty damn sure they are a good writer, whether or not the establishment says so.
Yes, external validation is important for an author. However, internal motivation will sustain an author long after the accolades wane.
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Question: Do you agree that a writer’s self-worth and motivation should NOT require recognition from peers and professionals? In what ways can traditional publishing make a writer’s insecurities even worse? What’s the difference between “professional validation” and “personal validation”?