Are Gatekeepers Still Relevant?

Several times over the past few years, I’ve listened to colleagues tell me that an editor who loved his/her work had called, sometimes in tears, to say they could not make an offer on their book project. Why? Because the marketing and sales departments at the publishing house decided that the book, though good, was not “marketable enough.”

We used to think of editors at publishing houses as gatekeepers. It was an honored, almost revered term. These were the people we trusted to not only recognize quality, but to nurture true talent and to take pride in discovering something new. We also relied on them to turn away the crap. Today, though, the gatekeepers are not always the trusted guards, often they are the jesters, dancing to whatever tune pleases the court. And if the court wants crap, that is what they are forced to deliver, on a silver platter, no less. And it’s not just happening in publishing, it’s happening in music, visual arts, and the performing arts, as well.

The tide is turning now against the gatekeepers. There are those who argue that it is the public who will decide what succeeds and what fails. But this is nothing new. It was always the public that decided. We made sleeper hits out of stories that had received modest launches and we tanked books for which publishers had paid exorbitant advances. We, the “fickle” public, have always been a burr under the gatekeepers’ saddles.

Now that the gates have been flung open, though, and any old peasant can publish a book, the gatekeepers are defecting the castle and heading out into the villages to peddle their skills to the unwashed masses. And I, for one, welcome them. Please bring us your knowledge, your experience, your acute editorial eye, and your passion for quality literature. And bring with you those awesome stories that your publishing houses passed on, so we can read and enjoy them. Work with us to do what an editor is supposed to do, help us write the best damn books we possibly can and bring them into the world.

If, however, you’re still in possession of any high horses, please leave them in the stable.  🙂