Keepers of the Gate

book in the woods
if it doesn’t pass by the gatekeepers, is it a real book? Yes! 

I’ve been sent a couple of links today, by friends who know I’m writing and who are aware of the industry. One talks about a man who, when the gatekeepers of traditional publishing pooh-poohed his book on the Civil War “No one’s interested in the Civil War!” took it an published it himself very successfully. Frederick Chiaventone writes, “they are rapidly becoming viable alternatives to traditional approaches to writing and publishing. It can be ultimately less frustrating and possibly more rewarding.”

The second article, (and my apologies for the source, it’s not one I consider reliable, but the story is compelling, although you may want to fact-check it elsewhere) discusses JK Rowling’s recent exposure as a mystery novelist, then goes on to the tell the story of a man who, 35 years ago, plagiarized a famous novel, submitted it to both publishers and agents, only to have it rejected all around. The point was not for him to profit off his endeavour, it seems, but to see how badly broken the system was, even then, three decades ago.

I talk to young and aspiring authors fairly often. I am one myself, still, and because of that, read a lot of these articles seeking enlightenment on what to, and not to, do. I’ve come to the conclusion that the ‘gatekeepers’ perfectly fulfill the cliches about absolute power and what it does. It’s not, entirely, about ideology, although that is certainly part of it. It is also about a lack of space.

I had the opportunity one day at a convention, to sit and listen to the head of my favorite publishing house (the only one I will someday submit a manuscript to) explain why they cannot ‘discover’ more than one new writer a year. Not that they don’t want to, they simply don’t have the ability to fit any more into the publishing calendar. Let’s face it, for them, the established mid-list authors pay the bills. The fans already know who they are, and buy anything they write. So the new guy gets a little push from the publisher, and for this particular house, quite a lot of pull from fans like me who will buy anything with that dashing little rocketship on the spine. One author a year, from one house. That’s like… winning the lottery (which I don’t play!) sort of odds.

Where does that leave me? Well, I could write my heart out like I had this past week, thousands of words a day, finish the manuscript, edit it, maybe even pay an editor to go over it so it’s the best it can be… and then send it off to make its lonely way from agent to agent, publisher to publisher. Years later… And yes, I mean that. Each foray into slush could take from a few months (ligthning speed) to a couple of years (more average) and you cannot submit it elsewhere during that wait for a rejection. Years later, you re-read it, having completely forgotten the story, and think, maybe if I change this. But no, that’s not it. Because it isn’t about how good your story is or is not, and don’t forget that.

Writers get a rap for being insecure, but as you read the paragraph above I think you can see why. In an industry where it’s all about who you know, or what you write, not how well you write, it can be difficult to get motivated. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the young authors who fell into a bad crowd, whether that was a shared-world anthology that was supposed to be their training wheels but instead became a work-for-free perpetual forlorn hope situation, or a vanity press that charged some poor soul $1500 (example taken from the comments on one of those articles) to finally see their book in print, and in both cases, they lost hope and trust in the industry forever.

Instead, I plan to write like a mad woman, thousands of words a day, glowing in the praise of my mentor calling me a ‘lean, mean, writing machine,” start school, eke out the time to edit, and have this novel published by the end of the year. I’m so excited I can’t stand it. I think it’s a good story, fun, thrilling in places, a little sweet romance thrown in, and tons of action. I don’t want to send it off to wander like Odysseus, with little chance of ever seeing Penelope again. It won’t cost me much to publish it, just the ISBN, a little for distribution, and likely, with this one, I’ll hire the cover done. I stink at drawing figures and faces!

It’s not that difficult to do. Why do you need to hang on the gatekeeper’s every word, while they are drunk on the power you give them? Blaze your own path. The internet may be the last frontier we have, explore the possibilities, and find your people. They are out there, readers who want to enjoy what you are writing.

Now, I need to get back to my writing, I’ve spent the day fighting a summer cold (non-drowsy decongestant my left foot, that knocked me down like a two-by-four upside the head!) and re-reading Pixie Noir taking notes of loose ends I need to tie up before I call it a done book.