Friday, April 20, 2012

Why Authors Love Gatekeepers

Today is a lovely dark rainy day, perfect for curling up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book -- a fact which I will be using to full advantage very soon.  But first, I wanted to attempt to blog about something that's been weighing on my mind for a little while now. 

I've been reading a ton of author, agent, editor etc. blogs lately.  I love following the industry news, even if I'm only tangentially involved.  I'm sort of like the kid who joins his favorite industry by taking a job cleaning the toilets, listening in on every conversation he can. 

Anyway, there's a lot of buzz out there (especially among the unpublished) about the self-publishing vs traditional publishing debate.  And trust me,I get it.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't struggle with doubt.  "Should I send this to an agent?  What if it's too weird?  What if nobody understands what I'm trying to do?  Ahh this is taking so long!  I can't believe it will be years before anybody can read this!" etc. etc. etc. Trust me, when you're twiddling your thumbs waiting for rejection letters to come in. self-publishing starts to look reeeeeeallly attractive. 

But here's the thing that I think all writers need to understand.  Maybe they can tape it to their bathroom mirror.  Or maybe have it tattooed into their forearms. 

Self-published authors still get rejected. 

It's a hard pill to swallow, isn't it?  You'd like to think that the publishers out there are big bullies, that they're gatekeepers trying to stomp all over your genius.  That their risk-averse nature makes them unwilling to pick up your glowing book of awesomeness.  You start to think that if you could just get your book out there...into the hands of readers...that the readers will speak and your genius will shine through! 

And sometimes that happens. 

More often, though, what happens is the reader picks up your book and says, "Hm, this was....ok, I guess.  I mean, I only spent 99 cents on it so I can't be REALLY mean, but, uh, yeah.  It kind of sucked, it felt a little amateurish.  But ok-ish for a quick read." 

Or a reader who's feeling less charitable will pick up the book and say, "Yeah, this is horseshit." 

Either way, friend, you've just been rejected.

Not to say that traditionally published books don't get rejected by readers.  Even extremely popular books do.  Hell, look at all of the people who hate Harry Potter, or Twilight, or Dan Brown, or Stephen King or anything else that has ever been popular, ever.  Rejection happens all the time.  You can't control the market and sometimes the market rejects you.  Agents and editors?  They're just the bearers of bad news because they already know that the market will reject you.

Anyway, there's another issue with publication that I think people overlook. 

Us writers are an insecure lot.  Don't tell me you're not because you're lying.  If you hand your story to someone, do you watch their face to see if they smile or brow furrow or chuckle and do you instantly wonder what part they're at?  If you send someone your manuscript, do you want to check in every few hours to see if they've started it yet? 

Of course you have. 

And I think that's one of the great things about publishers.  I think we, as writers, have built up their role of gatekeeper to an almost sacred level -- because we need them to be.  We need to feel like there's one single person who can say with the writ of a holy pen, "THIS IS GOOD" so that we can feel better about ourselves.  So that our aching little insecure hearts can be vindicated that someone, somewhere, who knows what they're talking about, said that the book was good. 

If we lose publishers as gatekeepers, we lose that vindication. 

Writers can whine and balk all they want about gatekeepers.  But at the end of the day, I think we're the ones who elevated publishers to that role in the first place, and we'd be so lost without them. 


  1. If your book is published, I will buy the shit outta that shit. #insightfulfeedback

  2. We already knew that I'd buy it. Twice. (You have to sign both copies, but one gets to be my pristine 'collector's edition' version.) And I agree entirely. ^^ We really *do* need someone to validate our desperate hopefulness that what we've poured HOURS into isn't as flimsy, poorly written, pathetic, trite, etc, etc as we think it is. (Know it is, deep down.) When someone gives us that validation of "No, this is good" it's not just a statement. It's an uplifting hymn to our trembling, wide-eyed little muses.

    1. It's true. I think in some ways this is where Stephen King's "ideal reader" idea comes in handy.

  3. It sounds like all you're looking for is fans, and self-publishing is the quickest route to getting those. :-)

    I came looking for your blog because you mentioned your style of story on Absolute Write and it's exactly the kind of story I love. I agree that those kind of stories can be hard to find. So I would probably be a fan if you wrote that kind of story.

    1. I definitely think that self-publishing has yet reach its full potential. I'm not quite ready to jump on the wagon just yet -- in large part because I'm quite attached to glamor and prestige of traditional pubbing, for ill or not -- but I haven't dismissed it entirely. At the end of the day, you're right: the ultimate goal is getting good stories into the hands of the readers who will appreciate them. And any method you choose to deliver that, will be the right one.

      And I'm glad to hear that we have similar tastes :)