Most professions require a rigorous course of study, and then some sort of Big Test to acquire licensure or accreditation. If you’re a lawyer, you had to pass the bar in your state at some point. Doctor or nurse? Board exams. Engineer, teacher, astronaut...

You name it. Practically every vocational pursuit requires validation from an outside source.

Why, then, should writing be any different?

But there’s no Big Test to be a writer, you might say. Anyone with basic communication skills can put pen to paper and in a few months have The Great American Novel in front of them. Writers are artists. Writers don’t need outside sources to validate their competence.

Well, yes and no. If you write primarily for yourself, as a hobby, with mostly friends and family in mind as readers, then no outside source is required. You can send your manuscript to a POD press and in no time be holding a real live book with your very own name on it. Or, you can format it and try to hawk it on Amazon’s Kindle site or something. You might even make some money.

If, however, you want to be a professional writer, what the industry typically recognizes as a published author, then you’re going to need the green light from a traditional house, one recognized by the industry as legitimate.

That’s right. Publication is our Big Test.

Some writers don’t feel as though they need an outside source to tell them they’re good enough, and that’s fine. Good for them. Sometimes I wish I felt that way.

But I need it. I need the sort of validation only a traditional publishing contract can provide, and I’m going to keep working toward that goal until I achieve it.

How about you?

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I'm starting to wonder about this validation thing. I'm pubbed with a tiny POD press. I didn't pay to be published. I actually got a small advance. But my pub is in such disarray, I am often treated as self-pubbed, banned from certain conventions, snubbed by a few bigger authors even. I've been wanting the validation of a big NY house to pick up my series (my agent's still trying), and yet in my two and half years of traveling, meeting other authors, every single one of them seems to want more -- a bigger publisher, bigger sales, more co-op money, a series that lasts. Makes me think NOBODY'S really happy or validated. Even Stephen King wants the critics to like his work better than they do, and Pynchon wants more readers, bigger sales for his literary efforts.
Maybe the grass always looks greener?
The grass IS greener. The validation system is not altogether fair. Neither are readers.
There's nothing wrong with striving for bigger and better, Jack. We should all remember to enjoy the journey, though.
I suppose a comparable validation for a painter would be being invited to show at a gallery. And, since it's all just a crap shoot, I guess there's no reason for any of us to work on improving our craft. Right.
I don't know, Jude, I think sales are the validation. I've been published by one of the biggest publishers (Harcourt) and it was good to get that, but sales were dismal and that erased any validation. There are people who have self-pblished and sold tons more books than I have - that's validation, that's getting people to put down their money for your product.

Publishing confuses me. More and more I'm asked to do all the marketing and promotion myself, often more than a self-published author does. Publishers seem to be bringing less and less to the table and relying on this attitude that they're the only legitimate source for "real books."

I have to admit, St. Martins have been better, but my first book with them won't be out till February, so we'll see then.
Yeah, I think if you're going to compare writing to another profession, retail is more apt than a doctor or a lawyer.
Using some of your examples shows how false the premise of certification can be. I know lawyers who graduated from fine schools but hated lawyering, were ineffective, or both. Certified physicians can be sued for malpractice; they can run unethical businesses or studies. Etcetera. Certification is actually a pretty poor filter for quality. It's the floor, not the ceiling, and that seems to be the theme here. Getting published by a big publisher sets a seemingly solid floor for you, up a few flights from your counterparts, but that floor might also be the down elevator while a self-published author starting on a seemingly lower floor might actually be on the up elevator.

How far up can an author go? As comments here note, the best ones reach for the sky, so they're never satisfied. But I agree with John -- sales are what really matter, both immediately and over time. That's the validation that really moves you upward, no matter which floor you started on.
I am validated in my eyes. It's the big NY publishers who could use the added validation of discovering me.
Atta boy. As artists, I think that's how we should feel. Personally, I fall short. I feel like I'm in the minor leagues and want to move up to The Show. Maybe Dan's on to something with that "tribe" comment.
Eric: You're not serious, are you?
Gate-keepers are, by definition, entities who become very conservative in nature (unless you are the gate-keeper for the avant-garde). If the big publishing houses and the established literary agents are the gate-keepers in the publishing world, what you should expect is a filtering out of writing styles and and a purification process limited to only the styles which guarantee a profit. In other words, what you get is the clone of the clone of the original.

Which, in my opinion, is exactly what we see in the publishing world today. The reason why we are seeing the explosion of new small indie publishers is because there is a shortage of selection.

But here's a question: What if, in needing this 'validation,' an indie publisher was eager to publish your works and help you build a small but dedicated fan base, and you keep saying 'No' in anticipating a New York publishing house is going to pick you up---but that invitation never comes. What do you want as a writer? Fame and fortune--or fans who love what you write and can't get enough of it?
The outlook can get pretty bleak (a loyal following notwithstanding) when you have to worry with every book if the series will be continued, and when it becomes impossible to sell anything else because you've been branded with your sales figures. That business of being "discovered" 30 years later doesn't look all that hopeful then.

And B.R. is right that we need gatekeepers. These days everybody writes, thinking they can produce the next Harry Potter or James Patterson or Dan Brown. Maybe we need better gatekeepers. Readers are not reliable judges.


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