Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Gatekeepers Response

This is a response for Charles who was kind enough to post a comment on "The Truth Behind the Power" on 6/23/08 that brought up some good points. When we went to respond, we felt the length made it more of a post. The comment is below in italics and our response is beneath it.

"This just seems to prove the point about gatekeepers. Sure, the readers make choices, but it's like going to a restaurant and being given a menu - and agents and editors determine what's on the menu. Of course, they try to guess what will sell, but the point is unless readers have already declared something "edible," low chance for an author to get it through the gatekeepers. When even many agents have stopped taking unsolicited QUERIES, of all things, the writer has been fenced out several times. Face it, you have tremendous power from the writer's point of view."

Fortunately, agents and editors don’t make the decision as to what’s on the menu—readers do. We are all—writers, agents, editors, publishers, distributors and bookstore owners—driven by the entertainment marketplace. Writers want to be looked upon as artists, but publishing is a business, and like any other business, we are all part of a manufacturing process. Writers provide the raw material, some of which, unfortunately, is not compatible with the manufacturing process, and therefore, it must be rejected. The sorting out part of the process falls upon agents and editors, and because of that, they are the most visible to writers. However, the rejection part of the process begins with readers and works backward through the editors and agents to the writer, not the other way around.

Writers actually have most, if not all, of the power. They just have to realize it. Case in point is the seven-figure deal—who gets most of the seven figures? The editor? The agent? It is the writer, AND RIGHTLY SO (at least in most cases). Writers are immortalized, while agents and editors just fade away. For example, I can go out on any street in any city, large or small, and ask ten people if they know who Stephen King is. Most of them will at least have heard the name. However, if I go out on that same street and ask ten people who William Morris is, most won't have any idea, nor will they care (unless he's selling bootleg gasoline). Try this: Can you name Edgar Allan Poe's agent? Ralph Waldo Emerson's? **See what I mean? That's just how it is, and we're okay with that. Unfortunately, many writers don't see it this way.

While it seems that writers are powerless minions, and there will be days that they are, they are not nearly in as bad shape as it may seem. Writing is like any job—ups and downs, sometimes within a few minutes. It can be tough, but it’s what some people want to do.

And that leads me to the following:

  1. Remember, you DO NOT have to have an agent to get published.
  2. The thing about gates is there is always a way around them. Climb them, dig under them, squeeze through the bars, pick the lock, etc. I’m being completely serious here when I say that there is a way to make sure you get published and have a career in the publishing industry. The most straight-forward path to publication has always been there and always will be there. Unfortunately, it is not one that every writer wants to put the effort into or maybe they just don’t know about it. We’ll give you a hint: Sex in the City. No, we are not promoting the show, but there is one aspect of it that can help new writers everywhere. The answer is there, if you just watch the re-runs--as many as you can stomach--and pay attention.
  3. ***
**By the way, we know Poe and Emerson didn't have agents--at least none we're aware of (which proves our point...again)--but we can't wait to see how many comments it generates. Back in the day, publishing was just a little bit different.
***There's another hint on how to become a writer hidden in this post as well. Maybe even two.

Hope this helps.
Robert and Sharene


Suzanne said...

Well, that's as good a reason as any to take a break and watch Sex and the City DVDs! Heh.

Scott Jensen said...

Oh dear God, please tell us. I'm a guy and "Sex in the City" was really a horrible TV series. I have been forced to watch it three times and I'd rather go to the dentist for root canal surgery. And, yes, I do mean I was literally forced to watch it. Once I lost a bet and twice it was what I had to pay for my girlfriend to do something I wanted her to do for me. I know Robert and Sharene have no mercy for us guys but maybe some other people here do. What is the lesson us writers can learn from "Sex in the City"? For the love of God, have mercy on us guys and tell us.

As for the hidden hints, my guesses are 1) write what is popular, 2) be professional about being a writer, 3) know that writing is only part of a writer's job (do publicity and work on the marketing of your book), and 4) realize that you yourself as the writer is as much of a commodity as what you write. The more you can make yourself into a celebrity, the more it will help your book sales.

Personally, I think Ernest Hemingway wasn't that great of a writer but was a great promoter of himself which helped promote what he wrote.

There are six things I do wonder about:

1) Did I get all the hidden hints?

2) Will I ever get a reply to my white paper question to the "Questions and Answers" post? ;-)

3) What is the best way to pitch oneself to a publisher without an agent.

4) Is self-publishing a real option for a professional writer? I know some bestsellers were self-published, but I also know that bookstore chains are a very hard sell for self-publishers. The stigma of vanity presses being the cause of this.

5) If one can get promotion deals for one's novel, would that help sell the book to agents and/or publishers? I'm a marketer by trade so I have been thinking of getting businesses to do tie-in promotions for the novel I'm working on. When done, it will be the fourth one I have written. I think I have the salesmanship to get the businesses on board. In fact, this is one of the reasons why I'm thinking of going the self-publishing route since I believe I myself can get my novel promoted more than any publisher will ever realistically do for it and because I am willing to consider unconventional promotion ideas, possibly ones that publishers won't even do for a novel they put out since it isn't what they have done for any of their novels before.

6) The novel I'm currently working on doesn't fit into any genre. I guess then it would fall into the catch-what-remains "literature" category because of that. However, I do think it could establish a new genre. Something unique from all other genres and one that, when you think about it for a moment, has a natural, logical, and even expected formula to it. I have run this new genre idea past several of my fellow marketers and they think I'm onto something. However, I do know that founding a new genre would be quite a feat. Last one I know to do so was Edgar Allen Poe with mysteries. Should I mention this to agents and/or publishers as at least a possibility? That my novel could establish a new genre. Or not mention it and "simply" sell it for the "literature" category.