Gatekeepers in publishing are, by and large, viewed as the nemesis of the will-be published author. Agents, agent assistants, submission inboxes, acquiring editors–I see a lot of folks on social media taking shots at the gatekeepers like gatekeepers have it out for writers. Like they stand above a big cauldron with their warty noses, green skin, and toad eyes cackling as they send your rejection letter.
It’s bullpucky. It’s a huge pile of bullpucky, oh let me count the ways.
1) People in publishing got into the business because they love books.
It’s not the money. Is it not ever the money. On the agenting side of things, the cash flow can be impressive, but that’s after you’re established, built a stable, built your network, and generally floundered in the trenches awhile. Inside publishing houses? Yeah, those gatekeepers aren’t exactly rolling in money. The industry is “frugal” by and large. The common draw then? THE LOVE OF BOOKS. So if they love books, why would they hate your book from the get go? Erm.
2) Quality control exists in every facet of our lives.
Every part in your car was inspected by number fourteen to make sure when you put your key in the ignition, your gilded chariot doesn’t explode in a fiery ball of death. Every implement in a doctor’s hands was inspected to ensure it passes standards before the doctor removes your spleen. Your jeans were inspected to make sure the stitching is secure and your fly doesn’t stay down exposing your tallywhack to children at the mall. Your goddamned CHEETOS were inspected to make sure you don’t get some conjoined twin giant Cheeto in your bag of snacks. Quality control is, by and large, a great thing that improves our lives. Until it’s not working to your personal advantage, I guess?
3) It’s not personal no matter how much it feels like it is.
“Of course it is,” you say. “I’ve put heart and soul into this book and they should appreciate that.” I bet they do, dear writer, but as much as you think you’re a special snowflake, that your tears are more precious than unicorn farts, you’re wrong. You’re not reinventing the wheel here. You should absolutely be proud that you FINISHED A BOOK, but you shouldn’t put on rose colored glasses about it, either. You put just as much heart and soul into writing as everyone else who commits those months (sometimes years) to ass-in-chair time. Sure, your contribution is going to feel greater because you’re close to it, but the reality is–lots and lots and lots of people write books. Everyone toiled. That gatekeeper sees all the toil of every writer forever. That gatekeeper cannot appreciate you anymore than they can appreciate everyone else who did exactly the same thing you did. They’d go crazy.
4) The gatekeepers have their own monsters to battle.
The gatekeeper might absolutely adore your work, but they have three monsters they have to battle before they can pass your submission onto the next set of hands.
Monster One: The spaces on their list. If they have all fantasy projects already and there’s only so many editors with so many hours for fantasy projects and they’re stretched taut? You’re out. If an agent has four projects on submission similar to yours that haven’t sold, why would they scoop up a fifth to let it flop around like a fish without water? Editors and agents have gaps on their lists for certain genres at certain times. Some aspects of publishing are like gambling in that you need to strike at just the right moment–when the almighty gap is available. Gatekeepers know about gaps. They respect the gaps they have to work around.
Monster Two: The backlist. If there’s work the house has already published that looks TOO MUCH like your work, welp. You’re done. Lightning rarely strikes twice. They don’t need forty-seven versions of the same story.
Monster Three: The market. Writing is a business. Why would they take your submission and pass it on if the genre you’re writing in has been unprofitable? It’s going to be an insta-no. Maybe not for the editor who can appreciate your story, but the editor ain’t getting you an offer without the support of the Money People. And the job of the Money People is, unsurprisingly, to make money for the company. If they don’t, they’re crummy at their jobs. Does this mean they might not take risks they ought to take on good books? Sure, but it’s a reality of the business. If you’re writing for a glutted market. If you’re writing for a dwindling market. If you’re writing too obscure to properly market to the reading audience? The money people will kill the project. The gatekeeper will know these things. The gatekeeper isn’t going to waste your time or theirs.
Yes, we all know that great books sometimes don’t get published. Sometimes a great author is overlooked by an editor or an agent. Sometimes JK Rowling is turned down nine times before someone makes an offer on HARRY POTTER. The gatekeeper will make mistakes, but if publishing is making money (and it is no matter what the naysayers will have you believe) it’s doing something right. When a gatekeeper turns you away, it’s not because You Suck. It’s because THAT PROJECT (that might be great) is not right FOR THEM at THAT TIME. That’s it. It is not STEWIE YOU’RE A DOUCHE. It’s not OMG QUIT WRITING YOU PILE OF SHAME. It’s not HAHA I’M GOING TO SHOW THIS AROUND THE OFFICE AND LAUGH AT IT.
It’s one single project at one single moment that doesn’t fit their needs.
So make another project. That’s better. For a profitable market. And lay off the gatekeepers who may very well take your NEXT project and fling it up the line. They’re not your enemy, and when you finally get the almighty sale, you’ll often find they were the best friend you made in business.