A couple of weeks ago, I trashed a book. Don’t worry – it was my own. It had a long life in draft form, spanning several years, but it had a fatal flaw that I was never able to fix. I knew it and editors knew it and then a respected agent pointed it out and I decided to trash it. For now, anyhow. I’m generally good at throwing things away, but I rarely actually toss a manuscript. Sometimes, years later, you reach an insight that breathes life into the dead.
After pouring yourself into a manuscript over a period of months and years, you lose perspective, which is why we have gatekeepers – editors and agents who size up our writing critically and more or less objectively in terms of what will resonate with the market. Though they love discovering new talent, gatekeepers are particularly tough on amateurs.
These days, writers can circumvent the gatekeepers and opt for self-publishing, online or in hard copy. For some niche projects and folks who lose patience with the slow and sometimes illogical wheels of conventional publishing, these options work best.
Is it simply tradition that keeps us from ditching gatekeepers altogether? Will electronic publishing lead us to full democratization of the publishing process, equalizing all voices? We’re hearing a lot about elitism from our own Sarah Palin. Ridding ourselves of editors and agents would banish elitism from publishing.
Recently I wrote a review for Bookforum, a print publication. Had I been reviewing the same book on Amazon or on this blog, I would have drafted and revised once, maybe twice. But because I was being paid for my work, I wrote to a higher standard, revising several times. A fine editor suggested more rounds of changes. A fact-checker asked me to elaborate on one of my statements.
The result: a well-crafted review. Readers are a discerning bunch. Serious readers and writers welcome a certain reach of elitism in publishing, even though it means some manuscripts will never see the light of day. Some books – my own included – need to be trashed.