Critique, Publishing

Fling Open the Gates

Mirror-posted at Mad Genius Club today.

Reading bouquet
What goes into a book?

I’ll begin this with two myths. First, that books and publishing need gatekeepers. This could be applied to oh, so much more in life, but I will stop there. The other, that gatekeepers must have the ‘right credentials’ or indeed, that anyone involved with writing must have them, from authors to editors to… whatever role you choose. I would say that rather, we are too easily impressed with ‘credentials’ and it has come to absurd level in our society. I started thinking about this when I got an email from a librarian list I am on, with a job listing in it. They are seeking, if you’re looking, a Children’s Librarian Assistant. But it’s only fifteen hours a week, and in order to qualify for that lowly position and small amount of time, you must have a bachelors degree. Oh, my, what has our world come to?

I suppose you are thinking that at least in traditional publishers those who make the decisions on what manuscripts are the next, brightest prospect must at least have a bachelor’s degree, then? I mean, if a very part-time library job in a tiny state requires that, surely…

Ah, no. Copyediting is done at traditional publishers by people who aren’t even paid to do the job. Interns like this young lady, who writes breathlessly “I spend the morning copyediting–essentially, proofreading a manuscript that’s been submitted for publication. I didn’t realize how much power I have doing this job.” Danuta Kean, in a scathing article aimed at UK publishers, writes “Temps. Remember them? They used to be the people who came in to cover the donkey work jobs no one wanted or no one had time to do. They also used to be the route into publishing for the vast majority – especially women. Not any more. Now budding publishers are expected to work free in long unpaid internships.” And as for submissions? Well, a Random House intern named Karissa writes that this is what she did, most of all, on top of other things: “ Each day I work closely with the editorial team, participating in meetings about our list and submissions. I proofread and copyedit book material, check indexes, maintain a database of review quotations and read. My reports are taken seriously and my opinions are sought out on proposals.”

It seems fairly clear from those quotes that not only are author’s first gatekeepers mostly very young women who are being treated as slave labor (read some of the quotes on Karissa’s blog about how to survive while making no money), but who have no previous experience beyond, you know, highschool. And we all know what a public highschool prepares you for. Why do we have gatekeepers, again?

Reality is that gatekeeping is not about quality, but quantity. Even my absolute favorite publisher can only publish so many ‘new’ books a year. They have x number of slots, and most of those go to established authors, both best-seller and mid-list. So they are left with perhaps one or two for a new author, someone to take a chance on. And just how many authors are trying to break into the market? Well, you, me, my friends over here, and… a lot. Let’s just leave it at that. Publishers simply can’t offer all of us a place, no matter how good we are. And frankly, there’s only one I’d even consider, given the abusive practices the other traditional publishers have shown publicly and shamelessly.

Which brings us back to whether or not we the readers need gatekeepers to protect our poor lil’ ol selves from those mean nasty indie published books. I mean, the unpaid interns haven’t even had a chance to paw through that manuscript leaving jammy fingerprints, what do you mean the public can buy it? And evil, evil Amazon, treating authors like customers, and allowing them to have options, and control, and stuff. Publishing as an industry seems to have a thing for metaphorical bondage.

I love the things Seth Godin has written over the years on marketing and using the internet to build a personal brand. After all, this is a soundly practical man. In a 2010 LA Times article on the role of gatekeepers in publishing, he is quoted “If an author has the choice of two distribution models, one that costs nothing and has no gatekeeper and the other has lots of gatekeepers and costs a lot of money, a lot of people will go with the free one.” Yes, by all means let’s free ourselves from the notion that we must gave gates, at all. We live in the science fiction future, and with the technology at our fingertips, the possibilities are unbounded. Let the traditional publishers slowly fall to dust while we thrive and give readers what they want, good stories at affordable prices.

I love the metaphor here, the idea of what I’m part of as being just one stall in a teeming marketplace. I’m comfortably at home, not out in the hot sun hawking my wares, but my neighbors are doing the same as I, and when you put it all together, it is a glorious, spicy melange of offerings to the public. Dan Holloway, questioning the desirability of gatekeepers for Indie publishing, “To do justice to the indie community, we can’t treat it as such – a single community with a single way of doing things. We don’t want to build a mall, we want to build a bustling market full of the myriad sensual treats of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. And that means not claiming to single out “the best” as though the best saffron were the same as the best silk hijab.”

See, what I propose is that YOU, my reader, be trusted to decide what is best for you. Not based on what some expert with credentials (a bachelor’s degree earned to work fifteen hours a week, plus another two-three jobs on top of that, undoubtedly, in order to live) says is best for you. Not based on what some poor kid trying to scratch their way up a success-ladder crumbling to dry rot and termites beneath her fingertips says is best for you. But what you think is good. Because entertainment is a very individual decision. Along with a lot of other things I am not going into on this blog, but I trust you are thinking about them, as well as about what you plan to read next.