So, on the HWA forum a little while ago, an author reflecting on why there was little demonstrable interest in their work from authors posed a question. Should they get a freebie story or stories out to the masses to gain a following? The reasoning being was that if a readership would happily snap up the freebies, potential publishers may see said work as a viable commodity. To which one wit answered:
"Exposure is either something you either die from or get arrested for."
I do find that one quotable.
Let's ruminate on this for a minute. If publishers are not keen to snap up your work, does that mean your work isn't any good? Not necessarily. You could be crafting the eeriest tales of hauntings, unnatural predators and the like, where what you see is just as terrifying as what you don't see. Etc. etc. etc. But if the publisher you seek out wants bizarro fiction, you're gonna come up short. Likewise if said publisher wants splatterpunk and you give them bizarro fiction. From experience, though, there are publishers for most, if not all, types of horror.
Now let's assume you've found the right publisher for your story, or perhaps a publisher who you feel you could craft the right story for. When said story is finished, do you know if it's good enough to submit? How do you know? There's an engaging, albeit lengthy, discussion on the role of beta readers or critical readers here, at Ginger Nuts Of Horror. Me, I'm of the mind that a good story cannot be written and polished in isolation. I'm blessed to have a team of beta readers who are keen, dedicated and thorough - sound qualities to have. For me, they're an important part of the process, since, in writing a story, you the author may be too close to the work to see the flaws and mistakes. Or the weaknesses. You might not see the wood for the trees.
And even when your story is finished and critiqued by others, how to weigh their critique against your vision? Do you adopt all of their criticism, their recommendations? That's down to you as an author to make that call - and be true to your vision of the story. I can only speak for myself here, but I've written some stories which weren't as tight as others. I've not shopped everything I've written. But what I can safely say is the stuff I have shopped is what I'll proudly put my name to. And even if a publisher turns it down, I'm confident that it's still good enough to put my name to. My team help see to that. Can you say honestly, hand on heart, that your work is good? Good enough for someone to buy?
I'm reminded of a quote from the Joker in The Dark Knight: "If you're good at something, never do it for free." Now exposure of your work to the audience may be good, but I'd question doing it without earning any money from it. For the first piece I had published, my payment was exposure. Definitely gratifying to see an acceptance letter. Good experience in dealing with the business side of writing too: contracts and such. All future pieces going forward were paid - the most recent one for both an inital payment as it were, followed by royalties. Let's be clear here: I have no doubt that my work is good enough to be published and paid for. I also have no doubt that there is room for improvement, and I will continue to hone my craft and reward my audience. I've worked to elevate my craft to that level, but I'm not stopping there.
To put this in a more harsh light, the first critique of my first novel was a scathing affair. The second review was a more balanced critique in that it not only highlighted a wealth of flaws but reassured me that the tenacity and talent were there. I never had any doubt that I had good stories in me, but this level of support spurred me on. Hey, it's good to have those kind of people in your corner. As such, when I'm knocking out product, I want it to ensnare and thrill the hell outta the reader, regardless of whether they're friends, beta readers, fellow authors, publishers, etc. I'm aiming to thrill the money out of them. That's the kind of exposure I'm after.