Gatekeepers – You Choose – Publishers or Readers? by Chris Longmuir

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about gatekeepers, and who decides what readers should be allowed to read. I suppose this has been instigated by the Hachette/Amazon dispute, with Hachette wanting to maintain high prices for their e-books and Amazon stubbornly resisting this in favour of a discounting model. Now, I’m not going to get into an argument of who’s right and who’s wrong, let the big boys slug it out. However, the niggling thoughts about gatekeepers keep on invading my mind.

It has long been accepted that publishers are the gatekeepers, but is this a good thing? It is generally accepted that in order to be accepted by a publisher a book has to be well written and that the badly written books will be weeded out. Excuse me for a moment while I have a snort of derision as I think about Fifty Shades of Grey and all those celebrity memoirs. You see, it’s not really about quality. It’s about money, and whether the book will sell in sufficiently large amounts to earn the publishers shed loads of cash.

Thinking back to when my saga A Salt Splashed Cradle was rejected by one of the big publishers – a book which is now selling very well and is popular with readers, thank you very much – the rejection was on the basis that historical sagas had gone out of fashion. Now this book had survived the many layers of the RNA (Romantic Novelist Society) probation scheme for new writers which involved the thumbs up from three different professional readers and placement with the said publisher. So, to be rejected on the basis of changing fashion in the world of readers was, looking back on it, strange. Did all the saga readers suddenly stop reading this genre overnight? Or was the publisher acting as a dictator, deciding what readers could or could not read? I would lay bets it was nothing to do with what readers wanted and more to do with sagas not bringing in as much money as the other genres. Was any thought given to the devoted saga readers? No, they would just have to make do with whatever the publisher dictated was the new fashion in reading.

The same thing happens when a publisher decides a mid list author is no longer reaching the publisher’s ever increasing targets. They are dropped without any thought given to the readers who may be waiting anxiously for that author’s next book.

This poses the question – should publishers be the gatekeepers? Or should the industry allow their readers to be the gatekeepers? Somehow, I can’t see that happening because, as I said, it’s all about money and profit. So perhaps it’s just as well the gatekeepers are getting competition from the independent authors who are very aware of who are the most important people in the publishing equation. The readers.

Chris Longmuir


Sandra Horn said…
I share your contempt for decisions made in the name of commerce with total disregard for quality, Chris - and the argument that crap like 50 Shades of Grey has empowered some women makes me despair/want to upchuck/scream etc. I don't think the readers could do a worse job as gatekeepers than the worst of the 'big' publishers, so on we go!
Lydia Bennet said…
publishers as sole gatekeepers isn't good for readers or for writers. and certainly no guarantee of quality! choice is good and we have more of that now.
glitter noir said…
Well said, Chris. But, imo, the process is more sinister and convoluted: by and large, publishers only see what agents submit to them and agents submit what they believe publishers want, based on perceptions of what folks will buy--based in turn upon what is now selling.

Lydia Bennet said…
agents are also influenced by their own prejudice and stereotyped thinking - they think the typical 'reader' is like them, whereas the biggest book buying sector over here is older women who are persistently ignored by publishers.
Enid Richemont said…
Bravo! And 'Fifty Shades of Crap' describes those books very accurately (or should I, with my French background, re-name that 'Fifty Shades of Caca'?) The writing's appalling (how do I know? Because they all end up in my local charity shops).
This is an interesting question. I think the old publisher-as-gatekeeper model helped the more literary (probably midlist, but occasionally surprise bestseller) titles reach readers. Since there is now so much published, writing in a niche genre can be the kiss of death.

I am pretty sure my teen/YA historical adventures would hardly have reached readers at all without a publisher's backing. In fact, now I've done all my backlist as ebooks, I can see that I have 2 books that sell themselves, possibly another 4 that might sell if I did some advertising, and the rest are a niche market that only shift occasional copies and might as well have been rejected at the gate. It's making me think very hard about what I write next, and in this respect maybe authors will end up being their own gatekeepers?

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