The Decline of Ye Olde Gatekeepers

The Decline of Ye Olde Gatekeepers

It is customary for writers and readers alike to mourn the impending collapse of Ye Olde Publishing model, in which Ye Olde Gatekeepers, otherwise known as the Editors and Pub Board, would decide which favored authors would be granted book advances and eventually inflicted upon an unsuspecting public.  These decisions were presumed to be based upon some level of literary quality until it became impossible to maintain that fiction any longer, (see Brown, Dan), at which point everyone assumed that it was potential book sales that were driving publishing decisions.  But now, I am not so sure that we can even assume that it is cold-hearted economic self-interest underlying the process anymore.  Consider this article from the New York Times:

This being the aughties, what started as a joke with a colleague at Self blossomed into a Web site,, in 2008. Within two posts on her blog, which now attracts 30,000 visitors a month, Ms. Dolgoff said, five agents got in touch, and a book idea was born. Later this month, Ms. Dolgoff, who lives with her husband and twin 7-year-old girls on the Lower East Side, is to appear on the “Today” show.

England's best-selling author at book signing
England's best-selling author at book signing

Now, this is not meant to belittle Ms. Dogloff or begrudge either her book contract or the amount of media attention that is being devoted to her. Those things are to be reserved for future discussion in less genteel environs. But, I can’t help but notice that the woman had no less than FIVE agents contacting her after a grand total of TWO blog posts. Those must have been some really spectacular posts. The article mentions that her blog now has 30,000 visitors per month, which sounds like rather a lot. Perhaps that explains the interest? I tend to doubt it, however, as I happen to notice that my own little blog appears to have had 208,595 visitors last month, in addition to another 46,376 monthly Feedburner subscribers. According to Blogger, I have written 8,376 posts, which if my math is correct suggests that I should have been contacted by an estimated 177,969 literary agents by now. And yet, despite having published five novels, three graphic novels, and two non-fiction books, I have never, ever been contacted by one. Or, come to think of it, by the Today Show either. How highly peculiar!

Here’s the truth. Writing as a professional career officially died the day Katie Price aka Jordan reached the #1 bestseller status in the UK, not for one of her “autobiographies” which also topped the sales charts, but for her “novel”. Writing is a wonderful pastime, and if you enjoy writing, you should absolutely peck away at your keyboard until your eyes are burning, your eyelids are heavy, your fingertips are numb, and the sun is beginning to rise. But do it for fun, don’t expect to quit your day job if it doesn’t involve a) collecting unemployment, b) acting in Hollywood films, or c) posing naked in front of a camera. And while you’re at it, celebrate the demise of the Gatekeepers since you’ll almost certainly have more opportunity in the brave new world of digital publishing than before.  Barring implants, Ye Old Ones probably weren’t going to let you in anyhow.

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I work at a sheet music store, and print-on-demand publishing is beginning to effect the print music industry somewhat. Publishers are making more and more titles available for download and printing such that there’s no longer any point in buying a song book for one song. Granted, novels and music books are different industries, and POD is probably not going to replace traditional sheet music publishing, but there is a strong presence.
I wonder what digital publishing could at least do for the short story market. For instance, my favorite Conan story is “The Devil in Iron,” and if it were in a collection of other Howard stories that I didn’t like, I probably wouldn’t buy the book. How about buying the story by itself? Print-wise, it couldn’t work since I can’t see myself paying for a laser print-out without a book cover or anything like that, then sitting down and read what essentially feels like a manuscript. But how about in the e-book world where buying a short story for a dollar, maybe less, maybe more, could be feasible? Or even pick-and-choose your own Howard collection. Would that increase the short story market any, maybe? Or even pick and choose the stories you want for $7.99 or something. Hmph.

[…] so popular that she’s scheduled to appear later this month on The Today Show. Novelist Theodore Beale is also pissed:I happen to notice that my own little blog appears to have had 208,595 visitors last month, in […]

[…] pool. That’s what editors do, among other things. As the publishing industry collapses and ye olde gatekeepers — publishing houses, agents, book-stores — go to the wall, we’re all going to be […]

[…] Theodore Beale: ~200,000 readers per month, zero agent solicitations. […]

B. Mac

I’m highly skeptical of her claim that she had five agents within two posts. I think the NYT should have dug harder on that point. (IE: who are these agents? Why were they not interviewed for the article? What did they see of interest after two blog posts? Did they know her before she started blogging?)

–B. Mac
Editor/Blogger, Superhero Nation

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