Sometimes the best way to tell a tale of pain and sorrow is by allegory so that it doesn’t cut too close to the bone.
And so—The New Gatekeepers.
Gather around. DID YOU HEAR?
There’s a new gatekeeper in our town.
The publishing world has been transformed. I bring the news to you from my front row seat. The best way to explain is—as usual—to tell a story.
Some of you are too young to remember the arrival of personal computers in our homes. But when they did arrive, many of us decided to become writers. Given the huge volume of prose that has flowed since then, I must conclude that our creativity was severely repressed in earlier times.
With so many people writing all kinds of stories and opinions, the publishing houses were flooded with more manuscripts than ever before. Agents and publishers [the gatekeepers] grew angry at the onslaught and so overwhelmed were they, that they rarely answered the poor writer’s little query letters over which he had laboured for weeks. With no response, the writers also grew angry.
But it wasn’t really the fault of those publishing houses. Their technology and staff were not up to the deluge. Neither was the cash flow. In this new publishing landscape, they could afford precious little time and very little money. Where were those fat advance cheques, the authors [the ones who got past the gate] wondered?
The writers became even angrier. After all, no one liked to be brushed off with a generic rejection letter. Nothing seemed to be “for our list”. The writers were very dispirited. Their creative urge was nearly expunged. In desperation, they sought other avenues.
Along came innumerable self-publishing companies and more new technology called print on demand and, much later, e-books. In those days, any author forced to admit he was self published hung his head in shame. Aside from being rejected in a rude and uncaring fashion by the traditional gatekeepers, the writer had yet another cause for unhappiness—public humiliation. The stigma of “self-published” was branded on his forehead. The book must be garbage. After all, without the imprimatur of the gatekeeper, how could the book be anything else? What could the angry and humiliated writer do?
What a sad and frustrating tale! Back then, any author, convinced the old order still existed, quaked like a lowly vassal outside the King’s castle. Fearsome dark turrets with few openings rose up and towered over him. The drawbridge slammed shut with such a bang that the author was nearly deafened.
Despite his despair, he remained ever determined. The author would fling his manuscript over the moat aiming for one of the lowest portals. If those sheets of paper magically took flight and got into the castle, the vassal would sit patiently on a rock and wait. And wait. He would try to keep his spirits up by following the usual advice to keep writing while waiting. Actually that was not bad advice and many new manuscripts resulted. But rarely did any writer get called to enter the castle. Oh yes—there were a few but throngs of other supplicants were never noticed. What could the authors do?
No one knows how it happened, but one morning, magically, a new market square appeared between the castle and the forest where the writers lived. It covered many acres and was loud, noisy, colourful and crammed with thousands upon thousands of people.
Many hawkers had built rude little stands and made bright red and gold signs. The attendant at each stand shouted out to advertise their wares [mostly books] which were piled in baskets. The more enterprising had helpers who slipped through the crowds to hand out advertisements and coupons with marvellous offers—free books.
Signs were posted at the most promising locations in the market where the traffic was highest. But where could anyone find their sort of customer—the ones who would actually buy their books?
One hawker of food said, “If someone’s looking for a mutton leg, no point in wasting time trying to sell him fruit and vegetables. You got to find the right customer for your wares.” By the way, those who sold food did very well. People who were browsing the books became ravenous.
“So how can we find the carnivores?” the writers asked.
Sad to say, few customers could afford the price of meat.
From dawn to dusk, the shopkeepers [writers]slaved. Later some met to consider putting on a play to tell about their books and attract readers. Others decided that singing and dancing might help. The brightest and the best said—“Now is the time to be creative!” One even dressed up as his own wife to act the part of one of his characters. Those who normally shunned the limelight hurried back home to write in peace.
Now about that new gatekeeper. This is a tale filled with irony. The old gatekeepers at the castle no longer had their jobs. They came each morning to the market asking if they might guard the gate. They did not seem to understand that the order had changed and that they had to find a way to go on. No one wanted to hire them because anyone could come into the market. In fact, the more people the better.
“The market needs no gatekeeper,” the hawkers insisted.
“And why is that?” the old gatekeepers asked.
“ The market itself, in its massive size, is its own gatekeeper”.
The old gatekeepers looked sad and scratched their heads. Finally they began walking aimlessly through the market looking for something to do.
I am no expert in the effect of technological advance upon societies. But any who cannot figure out the game of selling their wares is barred by the extreme difficulty in being heard above the din of the marketplace.