Feature image from SA1969
What are Literary Gatekeepers?
In the writing world, I am sure you have heard the comment that publishers are the literary world’s gatekeepers. Gatekeepers control passage through a certain gate. This gate may be literal or metaphorical. In literature, gatekeepers are the people who decide who and what gets published when.
Let’s take this metaphor further. To be a gatekeeper, one must have a gate. And for this gate to be successful in it’s function, it must be firmly attached to a wall or fence. The gatekeeper remains at their post until a person wishes to pass through this gate. The gatekeeper is in charge of deciding wether said applicant meets the necessary criteria to access the other side of the wall/fence. See Figure A *
This system relies on new and emerging writers approaching this gate, asking for admittance and waiting to be appropriately assessed.
I don’t have any issues with publishers, agents and editors acting as gatekeepers to the professional world of literature. I actually think they do an incredibly important job.
Chris Pavone writes IN PRAISE OF THE GATEKEEPERS OF PUBLISHING and there is nothing in this article I would argue with. Gatekeepers are excellent at maintaining standards and literary excellence.
What Happens When Writers stop Trying to get Through?
But what happens when New and Emerging Writers stop trying to get past the gate?
It seems that when emerging writers choose to stay on the outside having a party with all their other emerging writer friends, gatekeepers seem to get their knickers in a twist about professionalism.
My issue with ‘gatekeepers’ is when they leave their post and go crashing parties outside the wall, trying to close them down.
Bloggers, self publishers and emerging writers have the option these days, of not funding this system. They don’t care about the gate keepers. They don’t even knock.
Many bloggers and emerging writers are having a party on the outside of the wall/fence, and it seems they are quite enjoying themselves. See Figure B *. I know I am.
I think self publishing / blogging / writing online is great, while others view this as the deprofessionalisation of writing.
Is Self Publishing Deprofessionalising Writing?
You can’t deprofessionalise writing any more than you can deprofessionalise football (I’m talking about soccer) by playing a game on the beach.
There are professionals in every field. There are professional writers and there are non professional writers. The spelling mistakes of the amateur writer does not directly reflect the work of the professional.
Not all writers are professional. Some writers are just enjoying themselves.
I like the football analogy. Yes, there are professionals footballers that get paid handsomely for their work, who represent their country and are public positive roll models. Should there be a organisation walking through parks and neighbourhoods shutting down recreational games because it ‘deprofessionalises’ the sport?
Should recreational soccer only be played where nobody else can see or enjoy it because it detracts from the business of selling tickets to professional games?
Are you not allowed to practice football in public unless you are professional player? Of course not.
Surely we can trust that the audience will be able to discern for themselves who is a professional and who is simply trying to live their best life? And surely a culture of literature, written expression and literacy is something to be encouraged, even if the writer is still learning?
I have been writing for years and I am still no closer to feeling like a ‘Professional Writer’ or a ‘Professional Blogger’ but I still hope one day to do the industry proud.
If I am ever so lucky as to be deemed a literary professional, it will be because of the freedom and flexibility I was afforded in being able to write, practice, learn and develop online despite being perfect.
It is only by being ‘allowed’ to practice writing and party outside the gate, that I will ever be good enough to walk over and knock.
*Probably not what my family had in mind when they supported me to do a Fine Art degree at a Fancy School.