Monday, April 18, 2011

More Thoughts on eSP vs Traditional Publication - Validation

I blogged some days ago about the post and comments on Rachelle Gardner's blog concerning reasons why readers of her blog continue to seek traditional publishing when self-publishing has become an easy and relatively inexpensive option. By far the most common reason was VALIDATION. Here's a couple of examples.
I'm pursuing traditional publishing because I want the affirmation from publishing professionals that my novel is good.
...traditional publishing is an acknowledgment that you have actually crafted something worth reading.
The validation, for lack of a better term, from professionals in the industry. The stamp of approval from people who have given that same stamp to others I respect....
As a fiction writer with sights set on a writing career, I want the legitimacy of acceptance into the traditional publishing industry.
That's enough. Through over two hundred comments this theme was most often repeated. To have your book printed by one of the big six publishers, or even the next dozen publishers, in both the general and Christian markets, you need to pass muster with the gatekeeper. Actually, several gatekeepers, in sequence. Since these large houses are closed to direct submissions, you first need an agent to accept your work. Then you need an acquisitions editor to be willing to present your proposal to a committee; call it the acceptance committee if you like. If the acceptance committee likes it, you are mostly home free. Although, your book can still fall through if: the economy tanks and the publisher decides to cut back; if your story is later judged not up to par; if after editing the book simply isn't good enough for the editing gatekeepers.

I admit it. I would love to have the validation of traditional publishing. However, that must be weighed against the lottery of the acceptance process. The gatekeepers pass up good books all the time. A book is not always rejected because it isn't of the required minimum quality. Books are often reject—perhaps as often rejected—because the gatekeepers don't think it will sell. They are trying to project a point in time two years away (or even three years away at the agent level) and guess what the book-reading public will be buying. That's a long time to look into the future.

So, for various reasons, the mainstream publishers reject good books. Writers feel un-validated, and keep plugging away on the query-go-round, looking for other publishers or other agents, writing new books and looking for agents, all in search of validation. Eventually they begin taking chances with smaller, independent presses, the ones you can submit to without an agent. Still searching for validation.

Self-publishing, however, can provide another type of validation, provided by the last gatekeeper in the sequence: the book-buying public. Everyone says that self-published books are awful; the quality of writing and production are poor. Yet, the public does buy self-published books. It's difficult to get your book noticed, but it does happen. In the era of search engines, it's perhaps easier than ever before. In the era of e-reading devices, the eSP book can be less expensive than the traditinally published book, giving the eSP book an advantage: the book buyer still considers price before they buy.

Sales are a form of validation. The two sales of "Mom's Letter" to people I don't know are validation. When Documenting America appears either later this month of in May, any sales I make will be validation. Will it be equal to the validation that would come from having a book accepted and published by the Big Six or the Medium Twelve? I guess I'll find out.


Gary said...

So it comes down to the reason you write - for compensation or for artistic expression. Are you being practical or idealistic? Do you need approval of others or only yourself?

David A. Todd said...

Ah, yes, the reason I write. That has changed over the years, from simply wanting to tell a story to wanting to tell something—many things—to the world. Maybe this will be the subject of my next post.