Who Goes There?!

So, the latest stray dog that everyone has been kicking is Laurie Gough’s misguided screed on The Huffington Post assaulting the idea of self-publishing. Now, it would be easy, so, so easy to join the dog-piling and point out things like Kiwi having a higher rank than any of her books, or point out that from all reports, while they might not be from a Vanity press, they are chock full of vanity. Or even the point that she’s writing for free for HuffPo. I mean, when both Larry Correia AND the readers at File770 are taking your article apart, you know you’re on the wrong track. (I don’t think anyone needs links from me to find these).

But I would like to address the main thesis of her piece, the idea that Publishing Industry Gatekeepers are the key to quality and that Self-publishing lacks them, therefore it is all crap (“An insult to the written word” in her terms). Now the easiest way to counter a universal claim like that is to pick out counterexamples. That’s already been done.

No, my point is that she is wrong about the lack of gatekeepers. There are actually more gatekeepers now than there are editors and publishers and agents in the entire publishing industry.

I’m talking about you, the reader – both individually and collectively. Individually, because you now have a vastly broader range of works to choose from. You are no longer constrained by the biases of a publisher and his marketing department telling him “Urban Fantasy is over,” when you still want to read about the corner bodega with the dragon instead of a cat. And collectively, through your actions on a site like Amazon. When you and all the other readers go to Amazon, you are informing each other about what is good or bad by what you buy, or not, as reflected by the Amazon ranking (conveniently divided by subgenre), and what else is good through the “Also Bought” mechanism. And individually, again, through your star ratings and reviews. Your actions are both informed by those who have gone before you, and they guide those who come after you.

Through this mechanism, the whole gatekeeping function has been crowdsourced, and the sheer number of people involved cancels out individual bias. Or rather, that bias has been channeled into more relevant recommendations.

But wait, there’s more. There are independent reviewers, people with their own blogs who help sort through what’s good, whether by trying to point out the Emperor’s truant trousseau, or daring the murky depths to bring up an overlooked pearl. Similarly, through reviews and reading lists posted to Goodreads, the internet has made word of mouth a primary source these days. Do you want to know if the latest Star Wars movie is worth seeing? Check FaceBook or Twitter or Gab (If you’re lucky enough to have gotten an account yet). And the best thing is, even though there are millions of people out there with differing opinions, chances are you’re already listening to the opinions of people you trust, who see things similarly to you. Whether it’s Larry Correia posting a “Book Bomb” or File 770 rounding up links to new books, you more than likely have already found a source of recommendations you are likely to follow.

True, Amazon and the Kindle have basically taken the slushpile and put it online, but you don’t have to go through it yourself, everybody else has already done it for you. And your reading choices are not being filtered by a bored, underpaid English Lit grad in a cramped New York office who is pining for the days of making lattés at Starbucks, who is the TRUE  Publishing Industry Gatekeeper, long before the Editor in Chief sees a word.

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