Do we need Gatekeepers?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Recently the concept of a ‘gatekeeper’ seems to have become a pejorative term for the agents, editors and other players in the traditional publishing world. With the advent of ‘indie’ publishing we’ve seen a lot of negativity surrounding the concept of ‘gatekeeper’ and for some, I think, the concept itself seemed outdated and irrelevant. 

I’ve come across two recent posts, however, defending the ‘gatekeeper’ – one by author Chris Pavone (see In Praise of Editors, Agents and every other Gatekeeper in Publishing) and the other by book editor Daniel Menaker (see The Gatekeeper. In praise of publishers who move readers and units) and they raise some interesting points in praise of the profession. I do believe that my own books benefited from the rigour imposed by this ‘gatekeeper’ model (both in terms of books acquired and not acquired:)). Along the way I always felt my writing improved from each round of revision and feedback. That of course, doesn’t have to happen within a traditional model – there are many fine independent editors who can apply just the same level of rigour to an author’s work (I just haven’t used them so I can’t really speak to this experience). 

I thought it would be interesting to get your take on both these ‘defences’ of the gatekeeper model and to see how TKZers felt the current state of the industry helps or hinders authors in terms of both curating the best work possible and getting readers to connect with writers (and books) that they might enjoy. There’s no doubt in my mind that the book world is now an incredible crowded one – one that I personally find hard to navigate as both a reader and a writer.

So what do you think?
Is there still a place for the traditional gatekeeper model? 

Becoming your own gatekeeper

I’d like to piggyback onto Clare’s topic yesterday, about the role of gatekeepers in publishing. After I posted my comment yesterday, I found myself doing an internal rant about the subject, so I thought I might as well share it here.

Here’s what I really think about gatekeepers: No matter which path you take to becoming published, legacy or indie, you must act as your own gatekeeper.

Lesson #1 I learned when I got published: You don’t get much editing.

When I first got a writing contract, I expected to have lengthy, cozy conversations with my editor about my work. Granted, we lived on opposite coasts, but I expected to get some sort of in-depth discussion about where my drafts needed overhaul. What I typically got, instead, was a one-page email of bullet points. I was amazed by how few significant changes were expected. Even a bit suspicious.

As I met and talked with other writers who worked for Big 6 publishers, I heard similar stories. Here was the bottom line: Agents and editors sign you only if they think you’re already publishable. They don’t take writers who need work.

Of course, a publisher can be wrong about your writing. Sometimes they put it out there, and it doesn’t sell. (We writers like to bemoan lousy covers or inattentive publicity departments for this failure to thrive.)

Now comes along indie publishing. Indie writers will have to become their own gatekeepers. But here’s the truth: We writers  are always our own gatekeepers. We’re wasting our time if we put stuff out there that isn’t “publishable.” We have to be able to know when our work is ready for publication. And especially, when it’s not.

One thing I notice a lot in critique groups: Writers submit  material before it’s ready. Sometimes a writer will turn to me with hopeful eyes and say, “Do you think my piece is ready to send out?” Most of the time I have to say (reluctantly, because I like the person) “no.” What I don’t understand is writers who can’t figure that out for themselves.

When you’re ready to self-publish (or submit to an agent or publisher), you must compare your work to what’s already on the bookshelves. Does it measure up? Are you sure? With my own work, I am extremely reluctant to submit it. Only deadlines have ever forced me to push the Send button. (Knowing when a draft is finished–that’s a blog topic for another day).

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Most TKZ’ers visit our little blog in the cybersphere because we’re  obsessive about perfecting our craft.

As Captain Picard would say, “Make it so.”