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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Excellent last point here, BR. After a couple of NY rejections, my agent took me to this tiny POD place for exactly the reasons you state. Do a couple for them, then move, was our plan. Though small, I do have a fan base, and those letters and emails have been a great validation. Nothing better than people enjoying your work and taking the time to contact you. That's exactly why I'd like to move up to a NY publisher -- with better distribution, widespread acceptance by retailers, I hope to get a lot more nice emails!

But whether I have enough of a fan base -- and that dreaded "platform" -- remains to be seen.
My manuscript might play into it as well. :-)
There's a lot I could say. I could commiserate with Jack, because my first publisher was similar and I was an outcast as well (and even now many places refuse to label me as an author, and that with my fourth book out this December, and only the first one was pod - the rest have been with a respected NY publisher).

But I'm going to sidestep all the talk of sales, co-op money, respect from reviewers, etc. and reference something Ian Rankin once told me. That no matter how successful, how many awards, how many readers, how many wonderful reviews, what keeps driving you is the desire to write the perfect novel. Because no matter how great any of our works are, they're never perfect, and it's striving for that perfection that drives the most successful authors to keep writing, despite having millions in the bank.

I think ultimately, that's what will keep me going. Just focusing on the writing. I don't have much control over the rest anyway.
I very much doubt that authors with millions in the bank keep writing in hopes of having a perfect novel. I think they keep writing to put more millions in the bank.
I agree, Sandra. We should focus on the writing, and everything else will come of its own accord. Or not. But still, the writing, the craft, is the only thing we have any real control over.

How do we know if have what it takes? I feel somewhat validated since a reputable literary agent agreed to represent me, but I won't feel fully validated until one of my books sells to a legitimate traditional press.
Getting a literary agent is huge. Often harder than getting the publisher. It doesn't always happen with the first manuscript, but with a good agent, it will happen.

And honestly, I think writers who achieve a certain level of success would do well to stop writing at a certain point, because they're more heavily criticized. I know Ian, for example, has had a lot of critics tell him not to quit his day job when he wrote an Operetta (or whatever they call it). People are very quick to compare every new project to what he was most successful at. But then, if he was really just interested in money in the bank, why did he retire Rebus when nothing else he's done has ever matched that level of success? Why wouldn't JK Rowling keep Potter going?

For a long time there's been a history of authors ditching popular characters (ie: Sherlock Holmes) and trying to break free of the constraints of writing one thing that's been very popular. If they're just writing for money why would they do that?
And remember what happened to Conan Doyle and his Holmes. The public wouldn't let him kill off the greatest detective ever. I would be surprised to hear Rowling isn't getting huge amounts of fan mail pleading with her to continue with the Potter series.

Many writers write to make money. Just as many write because they want to tell a good story. Both should have the opportunity (and the markets) to be successful.
I don't have a problem with writers writing to make money. I mean, if our books are published we should get paid for them. I don't see why writers should be expected to give everything away for free.

But my point is that what drives people after incredible success is not simply money. If it was, JK Rowling would have stretching things out and made the Harry Potter series a few books longer and pocketed all the extra money - not just for the books but for the movie rights and the toys and all that stuff. So why pull the plug when she had a sure thing going? Obviously, that decision wasn't about money.

The reality is, sooner or later you hit your high water mark, and from there your popularity will decrease somewhat. A few years ago, I believe it was James Patterson's UK publisher who decided to pass on keeping him so that they could invest that money in newer talent. There's an assumption that these people will keep making the same amount of money, but the reality is, in the publishing industry, if you don't sell through, you risk being dropped, and the more money they throw at you the greater the chance you won't sell through. Rankin could have pocketed millions more by agreeing to do another Rebus book, and he didn't, so I think accusing them of simply being motivated by money (as some have, though not you B.R.) is short-sighted, at best.

I think the reality is, eventually you look for validation in other ways.
I think that's true. Colin Dexter comes to mind. It is, of course, possible that one outgrows a series. I can think of a number that should have been stopped years ago. If nothing fresh can be done with the character, then it's time to move on.

As for posthumous fame (Dan's observation), I certainly don't want that. That would be the final irony. The sudden success of authors who die after struggling for years for some sort of recognition is obscene.
I think sales are kind of a slippery measure, too--a look at the MM best-seller list should tell you all you need to know about the relationship (such as it is) between quality and sales. What validates me? Well, obviously the answer's a little different four books in than it might have been fifteen years ago, when I was fresh out of grad school. Now it's three things: writing well, good reviews from actual professional reviewers, and a decent advance for the next book. So far I've gotten two out of three, and as Jack Nicholson said, that ain't bad.
I thought Meatloaf said that.
God, Meatloaf! There's a blast from the past. And a much better reference than mine, you're right.


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