Guarding the Gates

There’s a lot of talk in indie author communites about gatekeepers. The way they’re discussed, it often conjures images of hooded figures with heavy weapons, standing atop towers, taking aim at any of the unwashed masses who attempt to approach the golden fields of publishing. Behind that carefully gated community lie riches, prestige, beautiful people and the status allowance to glance down your nose at anyone who doesn’t meet their definition of “art.”

This image annoys the hell out of me.

Do I wish I could cross those gates and live the dream? Sure. Do I take it as a personal offense, or picture these “gatekeepers” as some kind of evil stormtroopers out to crush our individual creativity and spirit and those who have passed the gate as being sell-out snobs? No.

Why? Becuase those “gatekeepers” and all the folks that lie past them are doing business. A so-called gatekeeper, be it a faceless monolithic publishing house or it’s appointed representatives, has honestly zero care in the world for quality, originality, plotting. At least, not as it relates to their job. They have one concern and one concern only: Will it sell?

Who decides what will sell? The buying public. Now, one can argue all day about exposure theory and that something can’t/won’t sell until someone gives it a chance, but realistically, the oh-so-evil gatekeepers are just following the trends, the sure-sells. That’s how trends go. That’s why we’re drowning in Harry Potter-alikes, bad bondage porn and why every teenage girl wants a vampire to kidnap her and make her his queen; because those three things caught on, so the gatekeepers started hunting for that. Once they’ve exhausted that pool, something else will come along.

Admittedly, to start those waves, someone has to take a chance, but the chance-takers are a very small minority. Because publishing isn’t Vegas, and they don’t bet on the long shots until the safe bets stop paying. Should that be construed as a slap to the face for all writers who’s preferred story is either from a past wave that is no longer popular or is from one yet to catch on, thus making their supposed opportunities almost nonexistent? Not unless you also think it’s somehow offensive that the lottery doesn’t automatically target you, or that lightning strikes your uninsured treehouse instead of your car, thus preventing an amazing settlement.

Of course, there’s also another reason the gatekeepers exist, and why I say we need them. Have you really looked at some of the stuff out there? Everyone may have a story to tell, but not everyone should be telling it. The number of self-published books that, among other things, haven’t run a spell check, do not contain line, page or paragraph breaks, or use emoticons is kind of terrifying. I’m not talking about “Ew, that story is bad.” Because that’s not the argument. It’s “Good god, if you feel this strongly about it, at least learn to express it with reasonable clarity and without involving your emoji keyboard.” That’s before one even gets into fanfiction.

Yes, that may be slightly elitist. So be it. I’m a silly person who believes that grammar and syntax are important. Violating those rules is fine – under the right circumstances – but pretending those rules don’t exist at all, or claiming ignorance of their existence shouldn’t be in any way a reason to question the work isn’t the way to get things done, in my opinion.

If there were no evil stormtrooper gatekeepers, if everything written was everywhere and there was no system in place to sift the sludge for the gold beyond public opinion, reading and writing would die out entirely. We’d drown in Dr. Who Mary Sue Futa Shipping in less than a week – all of which has thousands or millions of 5 star ratings, gained via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media or boosted by pranks from 4Chan or Reddit – and it would leave most of the populace almost afraid to read anything, because there’d be no one watching out… At least, no one with a voice any louder, more noticable or more recognizable than the millions of Kardashian Tweeps and Twipie Shippers. Yes, I’m being melodramatic and arguing a slippery slope position, and I may be blowing it out of proportion just a teensy bit. But you get the point.

Gatekeepers aren’t evil and out to get you. They’re just doing a job. One that may feel adversarial at times, but people feel that way about a lot of law enforcement, educational and governmental employees, too. They’re also doing a job that, at times, is beneficial.

So I offer this suggestion: Instead of spending so much time maligning gatekeepers or a “broken system,” spend your time writing. Spend it networking. Spend it learning your craft. Spend it taking your dog to the river and uploading ridiculous Vines of him being scared of the water. Spend it promoting your work so become an amazing indie success, or spend it chasing the elusive brass ring of a publishing contract (or gate pass) of your own.

But that’s just my two cents.

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