Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
People in and around this business have long used the word “gatekeeper” when referring to those in publishing tasked with choosing which books to publish or represent.
Since the rise of self-publishing, it has become popular to deride the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers are trying to keep us out. They’re making it too hard for good writers to get published.
Well… here’s my take on all that:
There are no gatekeepers.
There is nobody in publishing whose job is to “keep you out.” It’s nobody’s job to lock down the hallowed halls of Traditional Publishing so the riff-raff can’t get in.
Are we watching the gate? Yes!—to identify authors we’d like to see published.
Each person who has a so-called “gatekeeping” role is tasked with finding authors to bring in, not authors to keep out. Anyone who acquires authors for an agency or for a publisher is totally 100% focused on bringing in books they believe they can sell.
You wouldn’t call the women’s wear buyer at Nordstrom a gatekeeper, because her job is to bring in clothes she believes her customers will like. Her job is not to keep anything out, but to choose and curate.
Some publishers, librarians, agents, and acquisitions editors call themselves gatekeepers. But really they’re selectors. Curators. And they’re salespeople. They’re looking for books they can sell.
Some are also looking for books and authors they personally believe in. That’s typically a good indicator of whether you’ll be able to sell something—you believe in it. But you’re not going to acquire the book or take on the author if you can’t sell them.
There is joy in bringing in a book your customers want. My customers are publishers, so I’m looking for books I think they’ll want to publish. Librarians are looking for the books their community members will want. Publishers are looking for books their sales and marketing teams believe they can sell.
There is no joy in saying “no” to authors, and the “saying no” part of our jobs is not the main thing, it’s just something we have to do, on the way to finding the books we want to say “yes” to.
So when somebody tries to engage you in a debate about the relative merits of self-publishing and traditional, and they launch into the question of whether we need the gatekeepers, just tell them: There are no gatekeepers. Talking about gatekeepers gives people an outlet for their frustrations, which is fine. But it obscures the reality of the way publishing works.
As a literary agent, I am in business to say YES to writers, not to say no. I’m constantly looking for books and authors I can believe in, and I can sell. I am not a gatekeeper. And I never want to be. I am constantly looking for what I can say yes to.
What are your thoughts on gatekeepers? Do you think it’s an issue of semantics? Do you think agents & editors ARE gatekeepers by virtue of their function in publishing?