Open Gate

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I was looking at past blogs. Here is a blog I wrote six years ago. At that time it was somewhat of a futurist post. Now, so much of it has come true. Do you believe the outcome is what we predicted then? Here goes:

In the past I’ve blogged about broken things. Today I’m going to take a different tack and look at the new options in a positive light.

Writers used to rail against the gatekeepers in publishing. And gatekeepers are legion. You’ve heard the complaints from writers: “You can’t get to the publishers without an agent and you can’t get an agent with out being published.”  I’ve also heard publishers moan about the bookstore buyers as gatekeepers. If a powerful chain doesn’t like a cover, the book is dead-in-the-water. Or if a conservative bookstore owner takes exception to content, the publisher will never be able to sell that author into that store again. Gatekeepers!

Well, here’s the good news: With so many new ways to publish, the gates have been flung wide open. If you can’t get an agent or a publisher to take notice, you can self-publish and distribute your own book. Or, you can self-publish as an e-book. Or you can do a combination of the two and make your book available as a POD (print-on-demand) physical book and an e-book. Or a self-published physical edition and an e-book.

Voilá! Gatekeepers banished. With no one standing in your way you are completely responsible for your own success. You have an open gate.  It’s a big responsibility since you are accountable for brilliant writing, a gorgeous cover, perfect editing and dazzling marketing. But the upside is that no one will slam a gate in your face.

More good news: With an investment commitment, some of the above can be outsourced. It’s a far different world than the shuttered halls of yesterday’s publishing. It’s an open gate. You don’t need to have an agent or a publisher to hold your book in your hands or be able to download your book to your e-reader. You are free to fly.

So, do we agents worry that we will become obsolete? Not at all. Our work is value-added to the writer. There is a substantial return on every penny of commission I receive. We may be considered gatekeepers by some, but to our clients we are an important part of their team. We help brainstorm, coach, plan careers, encourage, run interference, collect money, negotiate contracts, make important decisions, etc., etc. And as the industry changes, our unique contributions remain valuable. We are constantly evolving, creating innovative tools for our clients and developing all new strategies for success. As the industry evolves, so do we. Who knows what agenting will look like over the next few years? It’s exciting.

It is the same with publishers. Once a writer begins publishing on his own, he will come to value the many things publishers now do on his behalf even more. Who wants to spend time securing ISBN numbers and writing press releases? Yes, writers can do it all but will a writer do it all and still write? That’s one of the nagging questions that remains to be seen.

So while questions remain about the success of walking through those open gates, it’s all in your hands. In the years to come I’m guessing that some of you will become successful authors outside of traditional publishers. Others, I hope, will someday become clients and our team will help you to success within traditional publishing. Or perhaps we’ll help you create a hybrid of both models.

It’s an exciting new world out there.

Your turn to be a futurist: Squeeze your eyes shut for a minute and then squint at the future. What do you see? What will publishing look like in five years? Ten years? Where will the challenges be? What will success look like?

11 Responses

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  1. “Lead me not into temptation.”
    “Lead me in the path of righteousness for your name’s sake.”
    First, the great Gatekeeper. He opens and closes the other gates.

  2. Success depends on each person’s own definition, so for me, success will merely be my work being in the hands of others and glorifying God. What qualifies as success for everyone else?

    What will publishing look like in five, ten, or even farther down the road? I think both industries (traditional and self-publish) will still be existence with maybe the lines a little more blurred. We are already seeing how authors are more and more responsible for good marketing plans and getting the word out there.

    I think the independent market will still be flooded by good and bad, making it necessary for authors to really work hard to prove themselves and make their stories visible in the onslaught of offers.

    As consumers want lower and lower prices, I think we are going to find a lot of stories to either be shorter or turned out in a speed that reduces the quality of editing. (I hope that is not the case, but I am already seeing it.) I see the competition as being more vigorous with the monetary benefits a little less. But God did not call us to write to become rich and famous. He has called us to serve Him through writing stories that bring His message of hope, redemption, and love, and often that is the hardest, most opposed mission out there.

    Then you also have the concept of Christian fiction crossing over into the secular market. I think you are going to find stories that hit the hard topics once considered taboo a normal thing. You will still have the clean, sweet feel of Christian fiction, but you will also have the nitty-gritty stories that rock the secular world. “Christian Fiction” may morph into a new secular category that we never imagined. We shouldn’t rebel at the thought, but thank God for the opportunity to reach those who wouldn’t walk a Christian Fiction aisle if their life depended on it.

    So there is my vision of the future with a little bit of soapbox. Thanks for making me pause and think about it.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Crystal, I think you’re probably right that Christian fiction will expand into rougher waters where secular readers might be subconsciously searching for an answer they don’t even know exists. Many people need to find a life preserver to cling to in turbulent water, not an inflatable chair with a pocket for your ice tea that can float on your swimming pool while you relax in the sun.
      *But given the risk of commercial failure for that painfully truthful writing, I think it will be the indies who move into that market.The bar for breaking even financially is so much lower for an indie than a traditional publisher. And some will gladly write in the financial red in order to reach people who truly need the message.

      • I love the way you describe it, Carol. I agree. Indies are the usually the first to break the water, but I have noticed traditional publishers following suit recently. Maybe not to the same degree, but who knows where it will lead in a decade?

        It will be a delicate balance for traditional publishers, to be sure. Financial security is the bottom line, and there will always be those who seek out the sweet innocent. However, as the younger generations become our primary consumers, the desire for real, hard truth becomes a driving motivation for book purchases. I think the financial aspect will demand they meet those needs or see further decline.

        I do agree that indies will be the ones to push the farthest, but I don’t think publishers will always remain in the shallow end.

  3. Joanne Reese says:

    I like to think some things are timeless, Wendy. Having an agent in my corner, I believe, will help me become the best steward of the talents God has given me. (Matthew 25:14-30)

  4. It is interesting that now that the gates are open, so many writers are hesitating to rush through them. We do value the gatekeepers opinions and skills after all!

    • The gatekeepers are wonderful barriers to the unknown. Know that the gates are wide open, the shadows that lurk in the woods of publishing are scary. The risk of rejection and failure is different, almost more personal. It used to be we could “blame” the gatekeepers for our lack of success, but now we see the risks the gatekeepers took and the obstacles are scary. Walking through the woods alone is terrifying. Walking together as a group reduces the anxiety. Thank you, God, for agents and mentors who have walked before and have the confidence to guide us through.

  5. Who knows? Maybe in another 20 years we’ll be reading books by brain implants. E-books would have been considered science fiction 70 years ago.

    I think – and hope – as people have more problems they’ll realize they need something the world can’t offer and turn back to God so perhaps there won’t be a division between Christian and secular books. There wasn’t that kind of division in the past.

  6. Thanks for the blog post Wendy. I agree with the belief that God is the ultimate Gatekeeper and He will provide an audience –perhaps in a way we never imagined.

    For me, I would always value an agent’s expertise, input and all the other things agents do. Gives me more time to be creative, write, and do what I will be doing. I will probably never go indie, unless someone who knew it well was working with me, and I would want a bigger platform first.

    I do think people are searching for answers to the hard things, and that they will be willing to read books that offer truthful answers, to difficult situations. I believe my writing partner and I are right in the midst of those who see that need and our writing is for that situation. We want to be the authors that people go to who have lived in challenging situations that include life in the raw in the city where we live, life for those touched or smack in the middle of mental health issues, struggles of those abused or who have made horrible decisions. We want to offer the hope of the gospel to a dying world in its current culture, and reach out to those the church treats as modern day lepers. I believe God will open a door for us.