Ah, publication. That lofty dream of every writer. One day, we tell ourselves, our work will be in bookstores alongside Catcher in the Rye, The Man in the Iron Mask, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Then we can quit our jobs to write full-time, go on book tours, speak to packed auditoriums, and become household names. Maybe those names will one day go on to become adjectives, like ‘Dickensian,’ ‘Seussian,’ or ‘Shakespearean’ (now let’s all take a vote on how to pronounce ‘Oberkotterian,’ just to humor me).
Then we delve into the literary world and find our attempts to bestow our creative genius onto mankind stymied by the enemy of all aspiring authors: The agents. The publishers. The editors. Those malevolent, literary gatekeepers who’ve rejected some of the world’s best writers for no apparent reason. Their whole purpose, it seems, is to hold us back. Without them standing in the way, all our dreams would come true. They are the villains of our writing journey.
That's why I started picking up self-published books whenever I could. It was my way of 'sticking it to the man.' It seemed this route was a backdoor to avoid the gatekeepers, and a way for authors to take things into their own hands—just like Beatrix Potter did. That’s right: If not for self-publishing, there would be no Peter Rabbit.
The results of my efforts? Well, I hate to admit this, but I now have great sympathy for the malevolent gatekeepers.
By no stretch am I saying every self-published book I’ve read is bad. Nor that every traditionally published book I’ve read is good. Neither am I giving up on reading self-published books—not by a long shot. But with each book I’ve delved into, I’ve gotten a better idea of what it’s like for agents and publishers to slog through manuscript submissions, looking for that one gem in the pile. Some were pretty good but needed a little polish. Others were brilliant diamonds in the rough (emphasis on rough). And a fair few, I'm sorry to say, were of such poor quality I could not force myself to finish them.
Basically, I was reading from a slush pile. I never knew if I was going to get an undiscovered gem, a rough diamond, or a lump of coal. If this is what it's like for literary agents, editors, and publishers on a day-to-day basis, my heart goes out to them. Now, when I look at my own manuscripts which will one day reach their desks, I realize just how far I have left to go.
Yes, in their fervor to weed out the duds, the gatekeepers have unfairly cut down the dreams of many talented authors. And yes, a few duds inexplicably slip through the gates while some exceptional books are continually barred from entry. But after a mere glimpse into the over-saturated pool of what seems to be a publishing free-for-all, I have an idea of what it must be like to stand in front of those gates while the hordes try to pour through.
Don't get me wrong. I'm still an aspiring author and will probably always see these gatekeepers as the villains—but they're far more sympathetic villains than I imagined before.