In my post on The Thriving Creative website, I wrote that publication cannot give you validation. That’s not entirely true. What I meant, is that there is a delicate balance between self-belief and the respect of others. To have a publisher wave their magical publishing wand over you is only to tell you two things: they like what you wrote or they think you can make money. Usually, both.
I know writers who spend all their time worrying about whether or not other people like their work. These are usually in the beginning of their career, before being shot down or attacked in writing workshops beats it out of you. Some go the other way, and become so defensive of their masterpiece that they don’t think they need feedback. They know their story, and your opinion (if negative) is void. If it’s positive it just reinforces that they know better.
This is not the writer’s fault- they have responded to the pressure of their work, and unless you can find a balance, it’s hard not to become a dickhead. The problem is that validation becomes both impossible and necessary. ‘I’ve got a book deal’ can be waved in the face of anyone who ever criticised. But a book deal hardly defines quality anymore. It just defines whether something might have a chance of selling.
So what happens to that validation when we can just buy it? If we can afford to self-publish, surely we need no-one’s validation but our own. And yet, that is why self-publishing is still looked down on. If you didn’t think your work was good, you wouldn’t put it out there. If it’s affordable to ‘make’ yourself an author, then why not? Do self-published authors feel they are missing a vital element, do they feel looked down upon in literary society? Or is it the only way for them to ensure a pure vision and retain control?
I am currently working in a studio/gallery where we are considering how we put on exhibitions. Until now, artists have come to us, requested an exhibition, rented the space and done it. But is that how real galleries are run? If you are an artist, hoping to be picked for an exhibition, hoping for that validation of a confirmation, how can you get that by forking over money and just doing it yourself?
I suppose what I’m asking is ‘How do we know we’re any good, if we can buy that belief?’ Does ‘good’ always rely on other people? Or is ‘good’ more about marketing, branding, audience, timing?
To sell your validation (as a printer or a gallery space) is a dangerous thing. People enjoy throwing your name around as if you christened them a genius, and yet, all you’ve done is let them pay to have their own one-horn parade, really. So are you helping or hurting?
I haven’t got any answers here, I’m just assuming that a shortlist exists for a reason, and that rejection makes character, and that something earned instead of bought, will reap more rewards. What do you think?