I managed, with my usual aplomb, to find myself in the middle of a discussion that turned into a mild argument– on Twitter. It takes extreme talent to argue on Twitter and I don’t advise it. Better to admit my inadequacies and move on: I need far more than 140 characters to really get my teeth in a topic.
However, the point isn’t the dispute, but the subject of dispute. We were discussing gatekeepers and whether or not indie writers should have them (or writers in general). I’m going to set forth my reasoning here (in far more than 140 characters or even 140 words), but I would love to hear from you as well. Comment here. Knock me up on Twitter (although I do expect help raising the baby). Send me an email if you’re feeling a bit shy. I’ll put all my contact info at the bottom.
Do I think that big publishing houses have too much control over what we read and they tend to be directed more by the almighty dollar than the best in reading material? Yes. Not all of them, all of the time, but a significant enough amount to not ignore it.
Do I still think that published writing needs a gatekeeper? Yes, unless it’s free. Why?
- Because we– you and I– spend money on books. Sometimes it’s just the $0.99 e-book. Sometimes it’s the splurgy $19.99 hardback. But our money goes into books. When you’re not Real in the first place and coming by real money can be a bit of a trick, this is a serious thing. I care about where my money goes.
- Because we spend our time on reading books and most of us have far less time than money. If you have more money than time, please send some to me directly and I’ll solve that issue.
- Because we invest a bit of our souls in the books we read (or at least I do… one Horcrux per book and I can never die. Voldemort and JK Rowling should be quite jealous).
- Because the more bad books that are out there, the less expectation there is for anything good. People stop reading. I like people reading.
I know. You’re sitting there thinking “he’s not the boss of me” and very likely taking all your toys and going home. This is, of course, your right. But hear me out: I’m not saying you shouldn’t write. I want every last person on this planet to experience writing. In fact, I want to take writing to alien planets. I even think every person has a right to publish what they write. It is, after all, their sanity. If they want to throw it away to briefly declare “I am Writer”, I can’t judge. My sanity took the bullet train to Elsewhere a long time ago.
However, I don’t feel everyone should be charging for their books. Hey! Stop throwing things. You’ll only damage your screen and I am not buying you a new one. Hear me out.
- Do you think the Girl Scout with a First Aid and CPR certification should charge you if you are kind enough to let her practice on you?
- Do you think your child/ niece/ nephew/ random kid who gives you hand-drawn art should be charging you for the free décor?
- Do you think the singers in a karaoke bar should get tips for singing in public?
Most of you will have answered “no”. Any children, Girl Scouts, or aspiring karaoke singers may have said “yes”. The reason is simple: all of these are amateurs who are practicing their craft. They aren’t masters or even journeymen. They haven’t reached the point where they’ve earned the right to sell their craft.
Once, this was an easily understood concept. A child with promising talent would become an apprentice. Apprentices practiced, all day long, and received instruction, but no pay. Then the apprentice became a journeyman at the approval of a master. The journeyman might sell a few things, but always at a discount because it was widely accepted that the quality wouldn’t be as good. Only a master could promote someone to a master. It meant that the buyer had the right to expect a certain level of quality in the work that followed.
We’ve done away with the apprentice system (unless you’re Donald Trump– if you are, please ask Russia to bring it back for the rest of us). We no longer have any way to tell who is the master and who is the rank amateur without investing our precious time, money, and energy in that person. As I’ve said, I don’t have endless amounts of time, money, and energy to invest. Because of that, I’m very wary of many indie authors, even though I read more indie works than anything else. Reviews are often useless, since finishing a book means five stars. This means I am far less likely to take a chance just after a bad choice.
Read the blurb and/ or free sample. You can figure it out from there.
Sometimes I can. Sometimes a book starts out good and dies, midway, like it tried to storm a beach and forgot sunblock. (There was a logical analogy in there somewhere.) Sometimes you simply can’t tell without reading the book that, although it flows beautifully, there’s no plot to it and the characters are cardboard cutouts.
Follow trusted reviewers.
Then I have to figure out who to trust, which is another investment of my time.
Do you see the issue? It’s not that I want someone saying, “No! Your book can’t be published because it’s not the current zombie/ post-apoc/ romantic triangle/ superhero trend and we can’t be sure we’ll sell it”. It’s that I want someone saying, “Not yet. Maybe go back and practice as an apprentice a little longer. Get some journeyman time. Make some corrections.” Then I’ll happily buy, read, and review the book.
But someone has to say “not yet”… and, as of yet, I don’t know who that should be. How about you?