Guest Post – Gatekeepers…

Guest Post – Gatekeepers…

Huge thanks to author Paul Marriner, for a second equally thought provoking Guest Blog…

Who Are The New Gatekeepers?

As the technological barriers to publishing become lower, and the cost (in 1st world at least) becomes more manageable, does that reduce the general quality of fiction in the market?

I know it’s a long question but one that is asked regularly (in various forms) and increasingly so in the last few years.

One quick aside – What is meant by quality when it comes to fiction? How do we measure it? Good questions but for now let’s pretend we have some common agreement on what it means.

Gate-keepers, generally agents and publishers, were (still are) primarily guardians of entry to the market, not custodians of some mysterious measure of ‘worthiness’ for publication. By which I mean they are mainly trying to get books to market that have a chance of selling. This does not mean they are not well-written or,potentially, great and influential works of art – clearly many are and without the efforts of the gatekeepers we would all be culturally poorer. And, for the most part, the gatekeepers are looking for quality products, whatever the genre or market, because they have a better chance of selling. It is also the case that many gate-keepers will be taking chances on work that they believe in but which they know may struggle to be commercially successful – and, again, for this, we should be thankful.

But as technological barriers to market entry are reduced, primarily thanks to books and print on demand, the traditional gate-keepers are by-passed by independent publishers, be they the authors themselves or smaller publishing companies. Does this mean the general quality of published work is diminished?Anecdotally, it would seem there are times when such books are published without a basic level of grammar, spelling and formatting having been achieved and, generally, the traditional gate-keepers will provide guidance and correction in these areas if the story-telling and style is considered strong enough. Though, again anecdotally, there is some debate as to whether or not traditional publishers are struggling to commit resources to detailed proofing in the manner of the past.

And even if the independent published book is perfect in grammar and spelling there is no gate-keeper to check on the strength of the narrative or story arc or characterisations or the other myriad of elements that together make a story.It seems reasonable to assume that, without some independent check, the quality(again the rider that we have some agreement on what that means) of many of these books will be questionable. But it is also reasonable to assume that the quality of some will be as high or higher than those that the gate-keepers have‘passed’ into the traditional publishing arena – especially bearing in mind the sheer volume of books being independently published.

So, it seems to me that the fact there may be many books of dubious quality being published is not in itself, a reason to try and enforce some form of quality assurance prior to market entry.

However, from the readers’ viewpoint, is there not some form of reasonable expectation that the book they are buying is produced to some form of acceptable standard?Albeit it might be to some lowest common denominator? This expectation would need to somehow take into account that literature is mainly a matter of opinion(though that opinion will often be heavily guided and influenced by marketing budgets), together with the fact that many independently published books are available as ebooks for free or so cheaply as to make no difference. If a customer pays 99p for a product do they, sub-consciously or otherwise, lower their expectations? If a publisher is prepared to give their work away does that imply anything with regards to their own assessment of its quality and value?

So, bearing in mind such pricing, does it matter if general quality declines? Or does the simple fact that there is so much new stuff on the market mean that there will be more high quality books there as well, in which case does this mean gate-keepers will also need to up their game in nurturing quality fiction– which is a good thing too?

Do we have a race for the top or the bottom? I prefer to think it’s to the top.

The role of the independent blogger and reviewer has become increasingly important,especially with regard to marketing. Readers, understandably, are looking to people whose views they trust for recommendations regarding their next purchase.In this regard we are lucky to have bloggers and reviewers who put in so much effort but I don’t think it’s fair to expect them to act as the gate-keepers of the future.

So I think the question is: Do we need some new form of gate-keeper? Would this need to be based on some measurable standard?

Personally I find it hard to imagine how that might work and perhaps scary if we consider that initiatives like Artificial Intelligence  might take us in that direction.

In the short term I think we will continue as we are, with a huge mix of work coming to the market, regardless of whether it needs to be commercially successful. In terms of diversity this seems to me a good thing, though I wonder if the readers will become overwhelmed with the choice. From the writer’s viewpoint I think it means we have to either throw ourselves into the market and accept the huge volume of competition, or perhaps take a step back to ask ourselves why we write? It may be that we can satisfy that need without needing to ‘enter the fray’ and, I’m sure, there are many excellent writers who are already in that camp.

Perhaps the most interesting thing might turn out to be that if we understand properly why we write there’s a chance we’ll write ‘better’ anyway – whatever ‘better’means without a gate-keeper to tell us.

You can find information about Paul’s latest novel here

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