Gatekeepers are – by definition, I suppose – intimidating individuals. How else could they keep out the riff-raff? In the writing world, those obstacles take on the form of agents, editors, and publishers…all with the goal of assuring quality publications for the literary world.
At least that’s what we hope.
But if you’re a writer like me, you’ve railed against the wall gate for its implacable, ever-changing rules that seem to require a super-secret password and handshake to get past. My query spreadsheet (yes, I keep a spreadsheet) has been around so long and is filled with so many rejections that I’ve started dividing it up by year just to avoid the discouragement of seeing the full list every time I open it.
My first novel, Forty & Out, garnered thirty-nine rejections (yes, some sent too early in the process while I was learning the ropes – but I did learn!). While I know that’s not a lot compared to the likely apocryphal numbers bandied about by now-legends of the writing world, I’d given up on the MS and moved on to novel 2 (3?) by the time I sent magical 39. (Side note: a woman at one of my early readings asked, “Forty & Out got 39 rejections before ‘yes’? Maybe if you’d called it Thirty & Out it would have been published sooner!” <ba-dum tish!>)
The gatekeeper mentality was one of several parallels I noted last year when I entered the political realm. I naively expected there to be some reasonable process of candidate vetting, but such a thing doesn’t exist – at least at the level I encountered. The local party was more concerned with finding a willing candidate with the appropriate “D” after their name than looking at qualifications and experience. At the national level, I learned that qualifications and experience take a backseat to financial backing and the depth of a candidate’s call sheet for fundraising. Depressing, to say the least, and one of several reasons I’ll never take on that particular challenge again.
As for my writing, I have yet to reach my long-dreamt of goal of landing an agent. Instead, I’ve been published with two small presses (the first went out of business shortly before novel #2 was to be released…but that’s a story for another day). And as I watch fellow writers find an agent and a big(ger) publishing house and a multiple-book contract, it’s hard not to be discouraged (and yes, a bit jealous). When do I get my secret decoder ring to slip past the elite gatekeepers?
Many authors these days avoid those roadblocks altogether and go straight to self-publishing, “indie” now, as that process sheds (some of) the stigma of the vanity presses of yore. But to do it right, self-pub has its own set of obstacles, requiring still more time and several other skill sets (cover design, editing, formatting, marketing) – or the money to hire professionals to handle those tasks.
Self-pub is not for me, for all those reasons and more. As I tell my students, we need to define what “success” as a writer means to us individually. For now, I’ll keep confronting the gatekeepers, honing my skills, and hoping for the day those larger, more imposing gates swing open for me.
What’s your definition of writing success? And how do you handle those intimidating gatekeepers?