When Gatekeepers Are Good (In which I piss people off)

In Business of Writing, Musings, Publishing on April 18, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I have been thinking of how to write this post in the way that will piss the fewest people off as possible. But I’m not sure I can do that. I don’t even know if it makes sense for me to write this post. Who am I? Why does anyone care what I think about the old self-publishing vs. mainstream publishing debate?

But I’ve been thinking and talking with writers a lot and have come to one simple conclusion…gatekeepers are good. I am not wholeheartedly against self-publishing. There are people for whom it is a fantastic venue, who take it as seriously as if they were being published by the mainstream, get themselves thoroughly edited and hire professionals to design and market their product. These people understand that readers want a product that has gone through some transformation, that is designed to appeal, to entertain, or to enlighten. And they chose this route because they didn’t have the time to waste, or they had the money to invest in getting it right, or they have nothing else to lose and don’t expect it to compare to a mainstream publishing model.

I have a book published by a press so small it might as well be self-published, and I know, first-hand, the down-side of not having a big machine of marketing and PR behind you. Compare that with my book published by the mainstream, and, well,  there is no comparison.

And I believe that we all deserve self-expression, and there is nothing wrong with self-publishing something for friends, family, or the sheer joy of seeing a bound book you’ve written.

But I’m not going to lie: I want to read books that have been vetted by someone. That have been put through an editing process (and I can already hear the arguments: who says the current gatekeepers are good; crappy books get published; well known authors don’t get edited enough)…

But the main reason I find myself bristling against the self-published experience (parts of it, mind you) is not because I reject its purpose or its wonderful accessibility at all…It’s that I’m already inundated with books and media, and I need someone to do the job of sorting through it for me so that I don’t drown in it.

Now, bring on the shitstorm 🙂

  1. Hi Jordan, I’ll chime in! Having experienced both sides of the publishing discussion, from very small publisher to self-published to being published by a larger publisher, I have to say that I’m thrilled to have a larger publisher. I also want to say that I spent LOTS of money paying for editing, more money to get my books professionally laid out, hoping to be taken seriously in the publishing world. I have no regrets for that, but it is a huge amount of work and cost to really do it right, and it seems that there are so many instances where that is not the case.
    Recently I was asked to review a book with an important topic–domestic violence and claiming one’s life, but it was so poorly written and not professionally edited, at least not enough, that I couldn’t reach the true message the person was trying to convey.
    So yes, people should spend lots of money to get edited multiple times if they take on the venture of publishing, but really, it’s worth it to keep trying to find a publisher and agent. The professionals at publishing houses are there for a reason.
    Thanks for the educational post, Jordan.–Linda Joy

  2. I agree with you Jordan. I don’t have the time or will to sort through all those self-published books to find the ones that were done with care and deserve my attention. If a book comes with a trustworthy recommendation I’ll read it regardless of how it came into being.

  3. Agreed. And I thought you were very diplomatic!

    I think that self-publishing has its place and its authors, who, like you said, really put the effort into making sure their work has reached its greatest potential. There are some great writers out there who ended up getting their work circulating out in the world through less traditional means. They are committed to their vision and pursue it with discipline, heart, and integrity.

    The issue I have is that with the instant ability to ‘publish’ and get an audience on the internet, the gates are flung open to a certain degree. I’ve noticed a trend towards people thinking that their first drafts are a complete package because they posted it on a blog and got a good response. Again, not to discount this either – some great writing/writers find their footing through that medium. I think it is just that it can breed a lack of perspective on the necessity of editing and working on craft.

    But I’ve also come from the mindset that if my writing didn’t pass through the gatekeepers, it was a sign that my writing wasn’t ready or destined for a larger audience. And defining those ‘gates’ are important too…not every story is meant for a larger audience, it may not be bestseller/commercial, but it might be perfect for a literary journal or a magazine.

    Anyway, great post. I am sure there will be some great conversations to follow.

  4. Thanks, Alegra, for joining in the convo.

  5. As an aspiring writer, my aim is to write well enough to be considered worthy of large scale acceptance, in other words, making it past the gatekeepers.
    I suffer from groaning bookshelves. So many books, so little time! I’m thankful for someone having already made sure the multitude of stories I’ve purchased have been vetted.

    • Yes, I think there’s something thrilling, Cinette, about having that bar set high to aspire to as a writer, and knowing that if you buy a book, while it may not be your perfect book, or even perfect at all, it underwent some kind of process of improvement 🙂

  6. It’s kind of like buying bootleg DVDs. You never know what you’re going to get. And if you purchased it for $5 off some street vender don’t complain if you see people getting up out of their seats, blocking the movie screen just as the flick is reaching it’s climax.

    So, I take comfort in the fact that SEVERAL eyes have looked over a book before it hits the shelves.

    There’s no replacement for great editing? Long live the editors!

    • Hi Dwayne! Yes, that’s a good comparison 🙂 Again, I don’t want to trash all self-publishing efforts outright, but I once judged a self-published book contest for a respectable writing magazine, and I read TONS of them…and it was evident to me that each book still needed a great deal of work. Not that they were all hopeless by any means, but not finished, either.

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