Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How You Like Those Gatekeepers Now?

By Holly West

Back when I was a young whippersnapper of a writer, I wrote this post for my personal blog: "Don't Bypass the Gatekeepers"

Recently, I revisited the post, thinking that now that I'm published myself, I might have some different views on the subject than I had back in August 2011. But though publishing, particularly self-publishing, has changed/evolved greatly in the past few years, I was surprised to learn that my own views hadn't changed all that much.

Some of my wording, however, made me cringe a little:
"This post isn't about eBooks vs. paper books. It's about why I choose the books I buy and read, and whether or not self-published books will ever make the cut. So far, they haven't."
What a Judgy McJudgerson I was. Especially since at that point, I'd read maybe one self-published book (which I mention in the post).

It might be useful to know where I was on my own path-to-publishing at the time. I'd just completed what I believed was a "query-worthy"draft of Mistress of Fortune and had sent my first tentative queries out. I'd already been rejected by a few potential agents (including my "dream" agent) but I was still hopeful and generally enthusiastic about the process. 

Reading self-published works was something I didn't really do, so as you can imagine, self-publishing my own novel wasn't even a blip on my screen.

But in my defense, the point I was trying to make was valid then, and remains so:
"The gatekeepers aren't just comprised of agents, et al. They're my friends on Twitter who can't stop talking about a particular book. They're book store employees who jabber excitedly about this book or that. I'm a voracious, but slow reader. I need help culling titles. That help comes from the gatekeepers, whoever they might be.
Someone recently posted in group I follow that he was in the process of self-pubbing his debut novel and wanted hints on how to promote it. In the discussion that ensued, the subject of beta readers came up and it turned out he'd never even heard of beta readers. Said it was too late to enlist their help because the book was being uploaded in a few days. Hells bells, people, beta readers are the first line of gatekeepers. Do you think I'd consider buying his book now, even for a paltry 99 cents?"
"I'm not saying people who haven't been traditionally published shouldn't self-publish, not at all. I'm saying that if you do, you'd better make damn sure you've written a novel worth not only my 99 cents but my time. That means at the very least you've had trusted beta readers take a look, hired a professional editor to copy edit (and perhaps even do a developmental edit), and make sure that story sparkles."
Since that post was written, I've read many self-published novels and I can tell you, when an author-turned-publisher treats the process professionally, the result can be outstanding, ranking right up there with any well-regarded traditionally published novel.

Furthermore, though the numbers are disputed, I know more than a few self-published authors who are making good money. They are choosing not to be traditionally published because it's a sound financial decision.

I better understand now that some novels, no matter how good, will never have a place in traditional publishing. Mistress of Fortune, is, in some ways, one of those books. It doesn't fit very well into the mold of traditional publishing (though I did eventually sign with a traditional publisher). 

Toward the end of own my path to publication of Mistress of Fortune, I seriously considered self-publishing. I had it professionally edited with the full intent to go forward with that plan (even if that's not what ended up happening). I know now that I will eventually self-publish something, not because it's a last resort, but because I want to do it. I just haven't written that book yet.

So there you have it. I still believe in the gatekeepers. In fact, even more so, now that I've gone through the publishing process. But unlike before, I embrace self-publishing as a viable--maybe even a preferable--option, provided I'm willing and able to do what it takes to put out a professional, high-quality product.

For those who do choose the self-publishing route (or anything in between), I'd say don't bypass the gatekeepers. Your perception and experience with them might thus far be negative as it pertains to publishing your own work, but remember, you're the one in control now. Depending upon who they are, these so-called gatekeepers can help to elevate your work to the next level, to make it on par or even exceed what traditional publishers are capable of.


Dana King said...

I don't think of agents and publishers as gatekeepers. To me, they're marketing and distribution. I enjoy writing, and will do so whether I can find a publisher for a book or not. What I don't like is trying to create some notice on my own. That's where they come in. The book will be available, either way.

Holly West said...

Dana, that's one of the reasons I didn't self-pub Mistress of Fortune. I wasn't ready to be a publisher myself. And yet with the amount of marketing I do, I sometimes think I might as well have.