When I first attempted Nanowrimo more than fifteen years ago and by extension started down my fiction writing path in earnest, there was no feasible method for Indie publishing. There was the start-up publisher iUniverse (and probably some others), who I credit with bringing visibility to the idea of print-on-demand technology. Ebooks were these clunky, really irritating things that maybe you could read on your computer or some geeky device that cost several hundreds of dollars.

The idea of self-publishing was even more frowned upon than it is today, but more importantly there was very little chance of reaching any level of success through self/indie-publishing.

Back then you had one choice — traditional publishing. And traditional publishing like any dusty, backward looking business model came with its “always done this way” rules. Some of those were:

You must have an agent. The big Five do not take non-agented submission.

No simultaneous submissions, unless the publisher specifically allows it.

I’m not going to comment on the stupidity of that simultaneous submission rule, other than to say I never followed it. Because, fuck ’em. They wanted months on end to read the submission. Even when I was 32, I didn’t have the time for that bullshit.

The agented submission is another form of bullshit that lives on today. The agents have been and continue to be gatekeepers to gatekeepers (i.e. agents -> publisher -> reader). They (agent and traditional publishers) argue that it keeps low quality work off the market protecting the reading public. In those days, I remember thinking how the indie music scene took off by cutting out the big-time record labels. Publishing has followed suit despite the best attempts of the Big-Five and agents.

There was another aspect of this agented submission requirement that was none so savory (I suspect it continues). The scam agents. Writers, so concerned that no publisher would read their submission, became easy prey to agents who would charge the writer for agent services. Disgusting.

Alas, in today’s market, where writers have taken some initiative in the markets, a new type of gatekeeping has arrived.  A new scam is breeding.

Today with the popularity of indie publishing, all of the ‘experts’ are warning of the lack of quality. The reader must be protected. NOW, every indie writer ‘must’ have their novel ‘professionally’ edited (editorial direction, developmental editing, copyediting, proofread), and they must hire a ‘professional’ book cover designer, and possibly ‘professional’ book formatting. Most of the individuals who have set-up shop in any of these cottage industries are ‘professional’ in the same way the women of the world’s oldest profession are. Which is to say, there are no professional requirements for any of these people to provide their services. Yet, nearly everyone in the industry, including fellow indie writers, claim all of it is necessary. I just received an email from Reedsy that suggests the average costs for just the minimum editing (see all that bullshit in the parenthesis above) is greater than $4000.  Formatting approx. additional grand. Same for cover design. The cost of all of these ‘required’ quality assurances is the new gatekeeper! I don’t think I need to tell you what the scam is…

This is bullshit.

Do your best. With what you can afford. Do not be deterred by this bullshit. It is all capitalizing on writer/artist fear. If you can afford a copyeditor and you don’t have a free resource, by all means purchase the service (but research credentials). If you can afford a cover artist, and you can’t do a good job of it yourself, have at it (but check the portfolio). If you can afford a formatting help, keep that money in your pocket or give it to me.

Don’t let these costs keep the gate closed. Almost all of them can be minimized or eliminated with a little creativity. And some of it should not be used (book doctor, cough), period.

And by the way, call bullshit on all of the advice I just gave, because what do I know? But do think for yourself, because you are the only one that has your interests at heart.




6 thoughts on “Gatekeeping

  1. Totally agree, Tony. Back when I first started publishing, it was a very hostile atmosphere for anyone outside the mainstream. I was accosted by other online writers for (A) even thinking about self-publishing and (B) for signing with a traditional publisher that wasn’t a “real publisher.”

    I also got flak for suggesting that mainstream publishing wasn’t interested in like 90% of all submissions because the author had no impressive resume. Everyone insisted that if you write a great book, you will be published. What a delusional group of sycophants. One of them even admitted they just LOVE Simon Cowell, and that says it all.

    And of course, back then all the published authors had to tell you that if you’re not traditionally published you’re just a lousy writer in general.

    So that was my introduction to the writing business! Baptism by fire sort of thing.

    I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a professional writer back then, but a couple of very well-read and amazing authors gave me some wonderful compliments that helped motivate me to keep going.

    Anyway, good luck to you. I like your book angle…like a Mickey Spillane sort of vibe.


  2. I first read about self publishing over 45 years ago when Dan Poynter was still alive and was THE guru of self publishing. Back then it meant printing books. And there were very expensive vanity presses trying to get you to let them do it. Dan showed how to DIY and not spend so much money.

    Later the internet spawned many cheaper vanity presses as every print shop with a copy machine tried to keep it busy by becoming a ‘publisher’.

    Finally we got the internet and Amazon and people could self publish for free. But still there are scams out there trying to charge you to publish your book on amazon and itunes etc.


    1. Thanks Jedidiah, Evidently in the early-20th century self-publishing was not only acceptable but very well respected. I believe a great many ‘classics’ were self-published. By mid-century, it became less and less acceptable…right around the time of the rise of Vanity Presses. Coincidence? I don’t think so. There still are vanity presses, and self-publishing services that provide all the handholding… and then there are the new breed of ‘professionals’. Writers have this new ‘gold rush’ (I say that sarcastically), and much like the original rush… the real money is being made not by the miners with pans in their hands (the writers) but the hotels, restaurantiers, and others (freelance editors, cover designers, book doctors, paid beta readers, formatters, etc) supporting the miners. The problem isn’t that these entities exist. Most of us can use an extra set of eyes, for example. It is the piling on…the big money grab. It’s like it’s not an indie writer revolution, but a freelance publishing service SCHEME. (For the record, I have paid for copy-editing and a cover illustration for my book.)


  3. I wish I could remember the name of the author…but there was this guy a while back who self-published and outsourced all his professional needs to contractors. He sold a lot of books…then he met with a bunch of agents and publishers and basically told them, “I don’t need you anymore.” lol It was pretty awesome. In the end, all an agent could do for him was negotiate movie rights. So power to the independent author.


    1. Honestly unless the agent is also an IP attorney (and some are), I wouldn’t even feel comfortable with them handling movie rights negotiations…but, that would be a nice problem to have! Figuring out who’s so going to negotiate movie rights.


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