When I first entered the realm of publishing, it frustrated me beyond reason that I would have to jump through so many hoops, just to snag the attention of a publisher or agent?
So why does publishing have so many gatekeepers in the first place? Why can’t they make it easier for the best writers to put their best foot forward?
Short answer: there are a lot of aspiring authors and not enough aspiring publishers and agents.
Long answer: let’s break it down below.
The Sheer Number of Authors
It makes me so excited to know that so many people create. As a Christian, I believe I have a creative God, so it makes sense that any beings he would create would want to follow suit.
Nevertheless, because so many beings create, not many beings publish or represent.
A short scan of the thousands of publishers and agents out there may cause you to beg to differ.
But during my time as an agent, in the span of one year, I would get ten thousand submissions. One little agent, trying to get one more client, of those ten thousand subs.
If we do the math, that means that one person had a 0.001 percent chance of landing a contract with me.
If we apply those odds to other publishers and agents, we can understand why they have gatekeepers in place. Few spots make themselves available to the bountiful number of authors.
Many authors do all the right things. Or the write things (haha, okay, I’ll stop any terrible puns from this point onward).
They go to writers conferences, write until they nail their voice (Stephen King says it takes at least one million words to get there), learn from instructional books on writing, read recently published books in their genre, work on their platform and social media presence, create a marketing plan for their book, (deep breath), and build industry connections in organic ways.
Nevertheless, many authors do not.
Working as both an agent and a publisher, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve flagged typos, people who didn’t follow submissions instructions, and submissions that would frankly make my Grandma blush from their no-no content. They certainly made me do so.
Gatekeepers exist to make sure the best of the best gets into Traditional Publishing City.
The gatekeepers may sometimes miss good writers or it can take good writers quite a few tries with different gatekeepers to get there. However, most gatekeepers will be looking for the same things. Want to know what those things are? Check out the list above, in the sentence that starts with, “They go to writers conferences.”
How Do I Get Past the Gatekeepers Then?
In most cases, you get past the gatekeepers by presenting the gatekeepers what they want to see. Other blog posts on this site will provide great insights on how to do so, but allow me to explain why all the items on the list above will get you your best chance inside the gates.
Going to Writers Conferences: At these events you meet with industry professionals. They give you the most up-to-date information about what readers and publishers are looking for. They meet with writers for ten- or fifteen-minute appointments, where the writer has a chance to jump over the slush pile. Yes, they do take an investment, but a worthy one. I didn’t land my agent, nor my publisher, before I went to a handful of these.
Nailing Your Voice: In most cases, it does take one million words. I wrote twelve books before I found my voice. You totally read that right. Twelve books! Always keep writing and investing in your craft.
Reading Instructional Books: Read books about writing and about the publishing industry. These are written by people who have gone before you and want to help you take your best steps forward. They’ve gotten past the gatekeepers and know the secrets for how you can do so as well.
Reading Recently Published Books: I’m a stickler on this, and so are other publishers. We want authors to be reading in their genres, and reading recently. Trends change, as do writing styles. A well-read writer has the best chance at breaking through the gates.
Working on Platform: No, you don’t have to be YouTube famous, but you do need to work on building your social media and newsletter long before you have a book out. Publishers and writers market, and publishers need to know that you have enough readers eager to dive into your book.
Creating a Marketing Plan for Your Book: Publishers want to know you have a plan. Assure them you do, and are willing to go the extra mile when it comes to promoting your book.
Building Industry Connections: This industry is all about who you know. This most often happens at writers conferences. But never be afraid to ask a publisher how you can be of service? They probably need launch team members, reviewers, prayer warriors, etc. Get involved in little ways, so they remember your name.
I believe in you, author. Go get past those gatekeepers!