by Hannah R. Goodman
While emotional release and creative expression are the reasons why I write, I have spent almost two decades seeking validation for my writing through the act of publishing.
Unfortunately (and despite all my knowledge about good mental health) my personal Hell with seeking validation through publication can be summed up in this terrible (anti) mantra that used to constantly float through my mind: If I write something and no one reads it, did I really write it at all?
Which is why for years (almost two decades) I desperately chased the dream of becoming the next Judy Blume. Around year four of this quest, and after countless submissions and rejections, I self-published not once, not twice, not three times but six times! Each of those books either won awards or gave me some level of notoriety locally and even at one point internationally! These are all clear indications of some level of validation, right?
Wrong, at least to me.
During the years I self-published (from 2004-2014), I lived two lives. One as an author attending signings, conferences, speaking engagements, and events and being interviewed with the local media. The other was as a writer continuing submit to publishers and agents, seeking that elusive book contract. I did land an agent not once but twice and each of those times I thought would be the sling shot to success. When neither didn’t propel me to the next level, I lost all hope for success at landing a book deal, which of course made me very depressed.
The problem was that in my mind, the only validation that felt real to me was one where I was declared the next Judy Blume. One where I sat across from Oprah while she read excerpts of my brilliant book. One where I signed on the dotted line with Random House and Netflix requested to make my books into a series. One where the (statistically) impossible was achieved: *Approximately one percent of all manuscripts submitted to publishers actually get a “yes”. Numbers don’t lie, and I couldn’t deny the reality.
I finally began to realize how burnt out I was at seeking all this (impossible) validation not to mention my mental health was really taking a beating at this point. My new year’s resolution in 2016 was to stop trying. To give up the dream of being the next Judy Blume. Instead, I focused on writing for creative expression and emotional release; my goal now was just improving my mental health. I submitted some of those pieces to online publications but not for validation that my writing mattered. Rather, I was seeking connections to others who were suffering from stress, burn out, and anxiety. Ironically, in 2017 four of those pieces were accepted by a few different publications (and I even got paid for some of them!). By the end of the year, three more were slated for release in 2018!
In early January of 2018 an email popped into my inbox from Black Rose Writing, a publisher I had submitted to because a writer friend of mine had done so. Submitting to BRW was my hail Mary pass, so-to-speak—I never anticipated success at all. However, as I said at the time, hell must have frozen over that day because after almost 20 years of chasing the most elusive of all dreams, I could stop running. BRW wanted to publish my book, Till It Stops Beating.
Though I no longer had my self-worth tethered to obtaining the elusive book deal, this email tugged on the part of me that still wanted that validation that I was a real and true author.
All I had to do was say YES. Then, validation unlocked. Right?!
Though I did say “yes” and sign on the dotted line with BRW, what would eventually happen over the next year did not unlock any validation what-so-ever.
Once you do get that book contract, there becomes the never-ending quest for validation in the form of your rank on Amazon, how many books you sell at a signing, how many orders you get on your website, how many 5-stars reviews you get on Goodreads, how many “likes” you get on a post…And on and on…
*If the average traditionally published book sells 250-500 books in the first year and 3,000 in its lifetime and two percent of all books published sell more than 5,000 copies, then basing a novel’s worth on numbers is not realistic. Seeking validation this way is an endless black hole sucking you into its oblivion.
Ironically, I have kept track of all those numbers since my book came out in July of 2018 and statistically speaking, I’m doing just fine. I suppose if I wanted to base some sort of validation on that, then (I guess) validation is unlocked!
What I realize now is that true and meaningful validation for my published work has to come from within, from a much more solid place, a place that isn’t contingent upon Amazon’s algorithms or attempting to do something that is statistically impossible. This is the place of personal values, which are defined by ME and not by anyone else. My personal values around publishing are no longer tied up in sales numbers, but instead are about the act of putting my work out there with the intention to connect with others.
I now have a new mantra: If I publish, they will come.
As long as my reasons for writing and publishing remain within my personal values, that’s all the validation I really need.
*Statistics and numbers came from the following articles below: