Friday, June 15, 2012

Before You Can Bask in Acclaim, You Have to Earn It

by R.C. Lewis

I've blogged before about the difference between accomplishment and prestige, as well as where we as writers look for validation. More recently, I blogged about the problems of ungrounded "self-esteem". Today, I'm going to try to tie all that together.

And yes, it involves discussing both traditional publishing and self-publishing.

I'm all for being supportive and encouraging to people at every stage and on every path. It's critical. Tearing each other down? Not helpful. But that's not what this is about.

Recently, a fellow writer bemoaned the fact that self-published authors don't get the same respect and regard as traditionally published authors. I will concede that the moment the debut novel from either becomes available for purchase, this is true. More importantly, I'm going to claim that this is as it should be.

Here's why: It is dirt simple these days to self-publish. I could self-publish my old college essays right now, and it'd take me about ten minutes. The act of self-publishing in and of itself is not an impressive accomplishment.

Self-publishing successfully is NOT dirt simple. Those who succeed more than likely spent some time learning how to craft a story, edited and revised carefully (often investing in a professional edit), got a solid cover design, and educated themselves on effective marketing and publicity.

Half of the key is my ninth grade English teacher's favorite word. WORK.

The other half is evidence of that work being apparent for the world to see. That's where I see the key distinction between traditional and self-published authors.

While I firmly believe the best of self-published novels are on par with the top shelf of traditionally published, I'm just as convinced that the worst of self-publishing is far, far below the most dire novels released by the Big Six. (I know you think you've seen some truly awful books from the Big Six on the shelves. Trust me, they cannot possibly be as bad as some of the dregs I've had the misfortune of stumbling across in the world of self-publishing.) It's a wider range for the self-published, so when it shows up on the virtual shelves, it could be anything.

The moment a self-published book makes its debut is the moment it begins proving itself. A traditionally published book (in particular by a well-established house) has generally already proven itself to an agent, at least one editor, and an entire acquisitions team.

That doesn't make the book or author better by default. It doesn't make them 100% proven, either. I'd say it makes them halfway proven, and the rest is left to the reactions of readers and critics.

When a writer gets a traditional publishing deal, yes, I find it worthy of acclaim. Not just anyone can do it, so it is impressive.

Likewise, when a self-published author climbs the rankings and earns more than pocket change, I find that worthy of acclaim, too.

Many things are accomplishments—completing a novel is one of them, regardless of the path you choose to take. Some, however, are more prestigious than others. (See my earlier post.) As writers, we need to be mindful of when and where we seek our validation. And we need to remember that validation within ourselves is more important and more lasting than any external praise.

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. You can find her at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).


Richard said...

I think you're correct.

JeffO said...

Great post, R.C.

I think the biggest key is patience. You have to have the patience to publish, no matter how you do it. You're either waiting on the seemingly-glacial timeline of agents and editors and publishing houses, or you SHOULD be waiting to make sure your book is as good as it could be before hitting that 'publish' button.

I suspect a lot of self-publishing authors forget most books go through at least one more editing stage than you think. Most agents seem to have authors revise their work before they start shopping it to publishers. That's another level of polishing. Patience!

Jean Oram said...

Huh. Our ninth grade English teacher's favourite expression was "Shut up." Our second ninth grade English teacher's favourite expression was "You haven't learned this yet?" Yeah, I grew up in the boonies where taking down English teachers was a sport. It's a wonder I learned what a verb is and how to use it.

Anyway, the actual topic of your post makes some great points. And yes, validation from within is a winner, baby! ;) As well, surrounding yourself with people who challenge and support you is good too.

Stephen L. Duncan said...

Yes, yes, yes. I love this so hard. Great stuff, RC!

Sophie Perinot said...

Jeff, you are DEAD right -- haste is the enemy of quality especially for new writers. Gosh *blushes* I remember thinking my first manuscript was "done" when it wasn't.

RC you make a good point -- just because people can make an easy "end run" around the tranditional gatekeepers these days DOES NOT mean gatekeeping is without value. It isn't EVERYTHING these days but it isn't NOTHING either!

Jemi Fraser said...

You're always so sane and sensible, RC - love it! You've said this so very well! :)

Rosalind Adam said...

This is a really thorny issue right now. A member of my writing group has decided to self-publish a novel she's written because it's in a completely different genre from her other novels and because she wants to see if it's possible to make money that way. The rest of the group, me included, are waiting and watching and holding our breath! Is this the way it's going to go for the future?