Back in 2008, I started seeing something in the publishing industry I didn’t like.
I, like many other writers trying to become authors, did what we considered due diligence and monitored with religious fervor the blogs of as many literary agents as possible. (The difference between writers and authors is, writers aren’t published, and authors are – at least, that was true at the time, in the eyes of most of us.) And in so doing, I started noticing things I hadn’t before.
For one thing, I used Google Reader for keeping up. It put all the blogs into a single page so I could click, read, and move on. Very nice. It also let me do something called “star” the posts of interest, which kept them bookmarked so I could recall the exact post whenever I wanted.
And that last feature is what tipped me off.
See, literary agents present(ed) themselves as vanguards of publishing. We called them “gatekeepers” later, but they basically stood between publishers and the unwashed masses, telling them what publishers wanted from them. They were “helping” everyone. Helping publishers by weeding out the “bad” manuscripts, and helping writers by passing through the “good” manuscripts.
The problem manifested fairly soon. Agents would tell writers one thing about how to prepare a query letter or a manuscript. I’d “star” those posts for later reference. A few months later, those agents put out more advice about querying. I starred those too. A few months later still, I’d go back and start reading the starred posts.
Hey….waaaaaaait a minute…
See, the stuff they said about query a few months before didn’t jibe with what they said later. And if I’d been a bit more studious, I might’ve found similar shifts throughout the years on their blogs. Once, I noticed a change in a matter of weeks; what the agent said in May wasn’t the same as what she said in April.
The same agent gave changing advice on how to query them.
This comes as no surprise to most who do querying on a regular basis. A query has to be tailored to the specific agent, then has to be adjusted as the agent changes their view on what s/he wants from prospective clients. The hoops are changed, raised, lowered, moved side to side, tightened, opened…there was no way to know how to jump through them from post to post. Very strange.
And it ticked me off.
So, I never gave it a second thought. I made a decision in 2008 never to bother. I knew I had the ability to be a successful writer, and I knew if I could find some way around those gatekeepers I’d be able to sell. (Why yes, that is hubris, thank you!) In the end, I knew getting an agent to take you on as a client wouldn’t assure success as an author. It wouldn’t even assure a publishing contract. All it assured a writer is, they’d be getting 15% less (at that time, at least) on anything they did manage to earn.
I’m generally a poor prognosticator, but I can say I jumped onto the Kindle Direct Publishing platform as early as I could do so. I’ve put as many things out there as I could. (I don’t write much any more, sadly. When I do I’ll put it there myself though.) And like a lot of writers, I dreamed the ocean of Amazon readers would find and love my books and I’d never have to work again.
Of course, that didn’t happen, but I did have a couple of computer-related books published back in 2009 and 2010. (So, technically, I’m an “author”. Chew on that for a while. Heh.) Still, I see an awful large number of writers looking with glassy-eyed longing at those gatekeepers, and no matter who explains it to me, and no matter how often it’s explained to me, I just don’t get it. The system may have worked in the first part of the last century, but it hasn’t worked well for a long, long time.
Writers are a funny lot, though, and I don’t see the fickle demands of agents, which change with their moods, stabilizing, or those unnecessary gatekeepers going out of business. I think some writers are catching on now. Some will catch on later, probably. But there are still plenty of people who think being agented, and following that, published by the legacy system designed (now) to treat you like a commodity and keep you OUT of the legacy system, is the mark of ability and the pinnacle of a career.
Interesting. I’ve lost “friends” over this. People I used to talk to on a regular basis have walked away from our relationship because I drew a hard line against that set-up-for-failure system and tried to make them see it my way, in no uncertain terms. I got a lot of excuses, lines about dreams, and a lot of people who just don’t want to talk to me any more.
(For the record, I was a jerk about their Stockholm Syndrome and thought the idea of “this is my dream” was a stupid reason to cling to, so there’s fault on both sides.)
I’ve lost friends for a lot of silly reasons. This is only one of them. I haven’t changed my opinion about the gatekeeper system of publishing. I’m still not living on my writing wages, either. But I wonder, if something as simple as a disagreement about publishing can divide friends forever, what other small things am I missing which do similar?
How about you? What relationships have you lost for things which seem silly now? Any?
PS – That image is beautiful, and a Google image search shows it in a LOT of different places. I got it here.