Rachelle Gardner posted an article about how she, and others in the publishing industry, are not gatekeepers. Ms. Gardner is one of those people I keep in my blogroll because she has stakes in both traditional and self publishing and keeps my consumption of this information a balanced diet. For anyone who is looking at publishing, I strongly recommend that same approach. The only “right” decision is the one that works best for you, and the only way to know what is best for you is to make sure you are taking in information from all sources. If you only listen to one or another, only to the successes or failures, than you are building a bias in your own mind. This is not a decision that will avail itself to bias.
I said all that because I have a deep respect for Ms. Gardner and her blog (and strongly recommend it). She does have a traditional slant (she’s an agent after all) but is also very forward thinking and genuinely cares about authors and books. Traditional is just the avenue she usually sees as best.
Her post is about how she, as an agent, and others in the industry are not gatekeepers. That their job is not to keep authors out or exclude people, but to find the very best quality and bring it to light. She specifically cites the example of buyers and the fact that they’re not gatekeepers for their particular company.
Except, yeah…yeah they are.
If you make a widget and you want Big Box to sell it, you have to get a hold of a buyer. Invariably, there are more widgets than shelf space for Bog Box. Unless your Amazon, which also serves as a marketplace with infinite room (unless they’re fulfilling for you, then you need a buyer there too), there is only so much product that can be placed in that store or location. A buyer’s job is not only to find the best product but also to weed out the things they don’t want. For Walmart that’s all about profit and what will move the best, coupled with what their customers are demanding. But for an upscale clothing boutique, like say…Nordstrom, their job is also to weed out brands that do not fall in line with the quality or style their store wants to associate itself with. They use the same terms traditional publishing does with words like curating or cultivating in reference to their goods.
They are at the gate, holding the keys, and if you don’t convince them, you will not enter the promised land.
Agents, editors, etc. are all gatekeepers. We can debate all day whether or not that is needed (and there is an argument to be had on both sides) but there’s no debate as to whether or not it’s happening. For your book to get published, it has to wow an editor (and probably the sales team). It has to meet all the metrics and qualifiers these people look at when acquiring content. For all kinds of reasons, your book may get rejected. Those reasons could be good or bad, nevertheless, they are there. To even get to an editor, you need and agent and all those same things apply, except now you have to learn how to write queries, spend time and money traveling across the country to meet them, learn elevator pitches, and basically spend more time learning how to sell your book than it took to write it. Agents use all kinds of reasoning (again, not exactly bad) to deny a book. Not my thing, no market, niche market, I have no idea what to do with this, etc.
Do you know what people hear with those sentences? The keys being pocketed, the gate swinging shut.
Even if your job is to bring up the best, invariably you are going to turn people away. Because of human nature and the variability of the market, you will turn away good books. Editors and agents are human, just trying to do their best to figure out what people want to read and what will sell well. No one knows this perfectly, and most don’t know it at all. Who would have though a web hosted erotic fan fiction for a shitty series would become one of the most lucrative books of all time? You can’t guess this stuff. Many are inundated with thousands or queries and hundreds of manuscripts, from people ranging from world class authors in waiting to barely literate people with nothing but time on their hands and a pencil.
Agents and editors do all sorts of tricks to keep that queue down. An author can write the greatest literature in the world and never have a reader see it because they didn’t follow the agent’s guidelines to a T or because they fell down on their query letter. Just as Amazon provides a marketplace with which to sell a product (and thus avoid the hassles of trying to get in the Big Box), they also provided a market for authors who wanted to avoid gatekeepers. And agents are one hell of a gatekeeper. When you have hundreds of agent’s blogs, books, articles, and conferences all dedicated to teaching you how to query an agent, get noticed by an agent, attend a conference and meet an agent, talk to an agent, present yourself to an agent, format your work for an agent, respond to an agent, thank an agent, accept/decline an offer from an agent…
Well, you’re not really as accessible as you think.
Just because you see your job as an usher rather than a key holder, as a person whose job it is to facilitate the ascension or authors to the Heaven of literary success, please do not negate that fact that you are still an obstacle between the creator and the consumer. And that due to the the ridiculously antiquated hoops people have to jump through just to be seen by these particular ushers, you are a big obstacle.