Monday, October 3, 2011

Indie-Publishing: Who Are the New Gatekeepers?

If you’ve been around the romance business long enough, you’ve heard the term ‘Gatekeepers’ associated with agents and the Big 6, those mega corporations with publishing houses such as Avon, Berkley, St. Martins and Harlequin to name a few. These are the people standing between the unpublished writer and the reader.

The Agent Gatekeeper

The first obstacle in a writer’s path is the Agent Gatekeeper. Most of the NY Big 6 editors won’t even look at a manuscript from an author unless it’s handed to them dipped in Godiva chocolate and wrapped in gold by a literary agent. There are about 200 agents out there who handle romance, but most of them are overloaded and only taking on new clients if the author is previously published (with a stellar track record and an existing fan base) or they have something that’s uber hot for the moment and an easy sell. As the old saying goes, all the good ones are taken. But if you can snag one of them, you're still not in because there’s yet another gate to unlock . . .

The Editor Gatekeeper

I mentioned the Big 6 earlier. Under those 6 mega corporations, there are 13 major imprints that publish romance. Harlequin has imprints within imprints for all their series books, but the trick here is each line is so specific in how its books have to be written, that if that book doesn’t sell to that line, it’s next to impossible to sell it somewhere else. So let’s talk about those other 12 romance publishers. Each has a romance department with acquiring editors. I went to the RWA website to see just how many there are.

Avon – 8 editors
Ballantine/Bantam Dell – 5 editors
Berkley – 4 editors
HQN – 1 editor
Luna – 1 editor
Mira – 7 editors
Kensington – 7 editors
NAL – 6 editors
Sourcebooks – 2 editors
St. Martins – 3 editors
Pocket – 4 editors
TOR – 1 editor

Not counting Harlequin, which averages 3 editors per series line, you’ll see that there are 49 editors who acquire single title romance. Forty-nine people sitting in an office in NY determining which books out of the hundreds if not thousands written and submitted each year will make it onto the shelves for the entire romance reading public to buy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think those are very good odds. If your manuscript doesn’t land on the right editor’s desk, the one who will fall in love with your voice and buy you, then too bad, so sad. Each person has their own personal tastes, their likes and dislikes. I know I have some authors who are Auto-buys and Keepers, while others are so-so or wall-bangers. But you know what? Those books that are so-so or wall-banging material for me might be someone else’s Keeper. And if I were an editor in NY, I might be the very gatekeeper preventing you from finding that book just because it doesn’t float my boat. Scary thought, isn’t it?

The New Gatekeepers

The good news is that with the surge of Indie Publishing, a new Gatekeeper has come on the scene and their voices are being heard. It’s the reader. Now there’s more choice than ever for the ravenous romance reader to choose from. Sure, there’s plenty of books that are getting slapped up on Amazon with crappy covers and shoddy editing, but as the saying goes, the cream rises to the top. There are some stellar books out there that got passed over because some agent had a full client list or an editor wasn’t in the mood for a light paranormal set in WWII Pompeii. But the new Gatekeepers are finding them. They’re letting it be known what stories they want, which authors they love, and who’s putting out the good books. I say it’s about time the power was given back to the people we write our stories for. Hurray for the New Gatekeepers!


  1. Thank you so much for this brave post! I agree wholeheartedly and have been saying the same things for a year now. The cream does indeed rise to the top. And let's face it, there are plenty of totally crappy books out there that Big Six published too, so let's not blame all bad writing on the indies! ;-)

    Going to Tweet this right now! Power to the People!

  2. Kendall and Lori,
    I'm with you. It's a great time for authors because there are new options and opportunities for us. :)

  3. My only caveat is not to assume if something doesn't rise to the top, that's because it must suck balls. I find that my appreciation of the "cream" that has risen in self-publishing is roughly equal to my appreciation of the books published by NY or small presses. I like and dislike an equal proportion of them, and some of my favorites are tiny gems nobody else seems to be buying.

    Either way, I am glad so many authors are finding self-publishing to be rewarding! I just hope they don't feel like total failures if it doesn't go like gangbusters for them...the same way I hope they don't feel like failures if their goal is to NY publish and that doesn't go like gangbusters either.

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  5. So true. As you can tell from my IT Factor posts, there are plenty of books that made it past the old gatekeepers that, IMO, should not have been published.

    Maybe I'll change my reviews to Indie books from now on. There are some gems out there that deserve to be found. *G*

  6. I'm definitely finding self-published gems. I'm an avid reader, so I'm saving a lot of money buying books that are 2.99 and less.

    Writer and Cat, I hope you're giving those unknown gems 5 star reviews so more readers can find them.

  7. You'll never get past a gatekeeper if your book doesn't fit 'in the box'...

    The new gatekeepers are the readers. But then after reading your previous post, I hope I don't get any drive-by reviews.


    What a crazy business!

  8. Wow! What a great blog. You've made some very good points.

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  10. Great post! The gatekeepers are making it known what's hot and what's not, and as an indie author, I'm enjoying every minute of it!

  11. Loved this post...very informative. Thanks for sharing :)