"The Gatekeepers are Dead"

I did a little post on Dune last week because i’ve been thinking a lot about Dune, in response to an email discussion with a frustrated writer of my passing acquaintance, talking about the pros and cons of the new world of publishing and the perils (as he sees them) of trying to self-publish intelligent, thoughtful, F&SF in a world where lowest-common denominator stories (again, as he sees them) are the only ones consistently getting notice.

Because there are a lot of people in the world far more eloquent on these topics than i, i was grateful to be able to point this writer in the direction of a new blog post from Michael Stackpole, who talks about this too-oft-circulated fear — that with any and every writer suddenly able to publish their work without the intervention and blessing of the gatekeepers, the works of good writers will inevitably be sucked down and drowned in the larger morass of dreck being published by hack writers.

Stackpole’s summary of the situation:
Here’s the problem with that question: It is utterly meaningless. People seem to believe that the morass situation is some how new and different because of the digital publishing boom. It’s not new—it’s old, ancient, unspeakably so. It’s the specter that’s haunted authors since before the Library at Alexandria burned down.
• • •
The gatekeepers were never very good at making sure books didn’t get lost in the morass. First off, if they were truly all about plucking gems from the slush piles, Harry Potter wouldn’t have bounced around like a pinball before it found a home outside the big six publishers. … [The gatekeepers] don’t even advocate for the books as much as authors do—when was the last time you saw a publishing house promote a book that did better than expected, trying to trigger more sales?
• • •
The goal, then, for authors is not to worry about how to avoid sinking in the morass. The goal is to produce enough high quality work that when you’re discovered, readers will want to read more.
• • •
Any writer who dwells on the question of sinking in the morass is really engaging in a very nasty and self-destructive form of procrastination. This writer uses the possibility that his work will sink to delay doing anything until he’s solved, or until he discovers a solution to, that conundrum. The problem there is, of course, that his refusal to write means he’s cutting himself off from the solution to the problem. Writing is too hard as it is to be sabotaging yourself. Writers write. Do that, do it well, and your audience will find you.
Reading those words (and commenting on the Facebook version of Stackpole’s post), i was reminded of a point that i’d made in the course of the discussion with the writer of my passing acquaintance. According to those who know about such things, Frank Herbert’s Dune was apparently rejected by twenty different publishers before finally seeing print.

That’s Dune. Not Harry Potter, about which arguments of quality versus popularity can certainly be made. Dune.

I personally cannot imagine the contemporary world of speculative fiction existing without Dune. Apparently, the gatekeepers at twenty different publishing companies could.

The gatekeepers are dead; long live the readers.