Is Money the New Gatekeeper?

In publishing, the gatekeeper is the person who keeps your book idea from becoming a reality. Traditionally that has been the publishing houses and the agents who say “No, thank you” to your proposal. But self-publishing has eliminated those forces. Authors can circumvent the whole agent-publishing house system and put out their own book, in a matter of hours if they so choose, and no one can stop them.

To create a book that people will actually purchase, however, you need to do more than just publish your first draft. You need a professional editor and a professional designer (the designer so people will open your book, the editor so they will continue to read it). And those things cost money. So I ask you, Is money the new gatekeeper?

I posed this question to some colleagues online and the response from some was that quality is and always has been the only gatekeeper. Having read some of the awful books that have been published, both traditionally and independently, and having read some of the terrific books that may never be published, I can’t say I agree. Quality, while not irrelevant, is only part of the issue. How will you achieve quality? All on your own? Not so for most of us.

Curiously, money has become a barrier for those looking for a traditional publisher as well. Particularly with fiction writers, who are expected to approach agents with a completed manuscript, the new expectation is that authors will turn in manuscripts that are publication ready. In fact, one agent I know said while she used to accept a manuscript if it was 99% ready, she now only accepts those that are 100% ready. That was demoralizing to me, and I don’t even write fiction. And for nonfiction writers? Even these authors, who often have their book ideas accepted before the writing is complete, may be asked to pay for editing before submitting the final manuscript to the publisher. If they don’t, the house is fully prepared to end the deal.

I have explained before why editing costs so much, and I would not argue that editors or designers should charge less than they are worth. But if you believe as I believe that everyone needs an editor (that is my company motto, by the way), you have to admit that money plays a significant role in whose books get read and whose don’t, whose books get published and whose don’t. In the past that investment came from the publishing house. Now more often than not it is laid at the foot of the author.

Like this blog? Look for Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, coming Fall 2014.

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2 thoughts on “Is Money the New Gatekeeper?”

  1. I think this is very true, Katherine. As a self-published author who advises others on publishing in a professional manner, it DOES cost money to make a book others will want to read. Editing, decent cover design, and interior formatting matter. Total cost is as much as a nice vacation, so priorities as well as finances matter. And yes, even those trying for the traditional route will need to pay for an editor. The money problem prevents many good stories from becoming good books … and if a self-published author is not good at marketing, then is the cost of creating a good book going to be worth it.

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