Gatekeepers and Keymasters in the New Publishing World

“I am The Gatekeeper,” a possessed Sigourney Weaver says in the comedy classic, Ghostbusters. “Are you the keymaster?”

She might as well be speaking for the publishing industry.  Agents, editors, and publishing houses all acted as gatekeepers. Ostensibly, they set a bar a prospective author had to hurdle. If you could write well enough about subjects that were interesting enough, you could be designated a keymaster and permitted inside the portal of the publishing world. If a gatekeeper didn’t find you worthy, you didn’t get in. Your options were to keep trying with a new book or to self-publish, thereby garnering the mockery of the same gatekeepers who denied you.

Things are changing.

Now that e-readers have exploded as a sales category, so have e-books. And the thing about e-books is, suddenly you don’t need gatekeepers to get them to market. Self-publishing might still be cause for mockery among the so-called gatekeepers, but the insult doesn’t have any sting or power anymore. Because now self-published authors are making money and not worrying whether it will hurt their chances to get a book contract with a major publishing house in the future.

“Oh, we have to get these two together,” Bill Murray quips, when he learns Harold Ramis has The Keymaster at Ghostbusters headquarters.

“I think that would be extraordinarily dangerous,” Ramis responds.

Again, my ears hear the cries of the publishing world. What if the keymasters (writers) get together with the gatekeepers (people who sell books) and cut out all the middlemen! Worse, what if the keymasters become the gatekeepers?

This last idea comes to me from a keymaster-turned-gatekeeper. MT Nickerson writes a blog called 50-Book Quest. His latest entry asserts that writers can become gatekeepers by recommending books of other writers they like across electronic channels. In other words, writers can do the selling for other writers, thereby raising the waters for everyone.

It’s an amazing notion. Now, with the advent of e-books, e-books stores, reasonably priced e-readers, and the ubiquity of internet communication, the keymasters become themselves the gatekeepers. No longer is an agent or editor or publisher in a position to say, “That isn’t worthy of being read.” Instead, other writers (who have their own fan bases and, thus, clout in the electronic marketplace) say, “That is worthy of being read.”

It’s a subtle difference but a powerful one. Instead of keeping people out of the castle, we’re letting everyone in and seeing who can survive. That’s much more democratic, fosters innovation and success, and remains in line with J.A. Konrath‘s simple principle that cream rises and crap sinks.

Here’s the neat thing, Nickerson’s premise has been at work between he and I subtly and unknown until today. I know about MT Nickerson, because he decided to follow me on Twitter. Who knows how he found me. He lives in Maine. I’m in Kansas. But somehow he came across me on Twitter, saw I was a writer and decided to follow me. So, after checking out his Twitter profile, I returned the favor. Like me, he tweets when he has a new blog entry, and I started reading his work, which I enjoyed.

And then today happened. He blogged about a genius idea. I was moved enough to comment on his blog and then expand on his ideas on mine.  Two writers from different parts of the country found each other’s work and started acting as New Publishing World gatekeepers to it, transitioning from simple keymasters.

So I will remember to be not just a keymaster but a gatekeeper as well. I’ll be making sure to tweet, retweet, comment, and blog about other writers’s work as I find material that’s good — that’s worthy not just of being published but read. I encourage my fellow writers to do so as well.

Let’s help throw open the gates for as many quality writers as we can find. That makes for a lot of winners, especially for the people who make all this possible — readers.


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