Anyone Can Be a Gatekeeper

Today, I read an article titled “Self-Publishers Should Not Be Called Authors” by Michael Kozlowski. In the article, the blogger states: “Just because its easy to upload your written word, so that it can be downloaded to another machine does not make you an author, any more than me buying a stethoscope allows me to be called a doctor.” This attitude is not uncommon in the publishing world. As more and more self-published authors emerge, there are some in the industry who scoff and say, “Anyone can be an author these days.”

Well, as it turns out, anyone can be a gatekeeper–or, at least they can try. In the past, agents and traditional publishers acted as gatekeepers to the literary world. Now that self-publishing is a viable option for thousands of authors, a few authors and bloggers have decided to be unofficial gatekeepers to the industry. They can’t prevent authors from publishing, so instead they use snobbery and disdain to try to discredit self-published authors. They aren’t the only gatekeepers. Certain professional organizations have rules about who can and cannot join, and most of these rules come down to money. How much of an advance did the author receive? How much money did they make in royalties?

Yes, there are still gatekeepers. It’s still difficult for authors to make their way in the world. And when a blogger writes, “Indie authors and self-published authors who claim they are real authors makes me laugh,” it can be very disheartening to be a self-published author.

While I agree there are some authors who publish before they’re ready and end up publishing a product that could be better, who am I to say they aren’t a “real” author? Who has the right to decide whether or not someone is a legitimate author? Money and earnings cannot be our only guide. Since quality is subjective, a novel that one reader views as well-written, might be utter crap to someone else.

According to Merriam-Webster, an author is “a person who has written something; especially : a person who has written a book or who writes many books.” I don’t know about you, but I like this definition.

If you’ve written something–whether it’s a self-published novel or an article on your blog–you are an author. Michael Kozlowski is an author, even if by his own definition, he would not be able to properly label himself as such.

What do you think? Can anyone be an author? What does it really mean to be an author?

35 thoughts on “Anyone Can Be a Gatekeeper

  1. So, you have to be published to be an author. Any particular publishers? Have to sell how many copies? Any specific number of reviews, newspaper interviews, TV spots? Of course anybody can be an author! There are good authors and bad authors, published by ‘proper’ publishers and self-published, just like there are good and bad doctors and lawyers and teachers. Some really awful books sell millions, and many more very good books sell very few copies. There are dozens of factors involved in what makes a successful book—far fewer in what makes a good book—and who you’re published by doesn’t change the quality of the material, though it might change the quality of the editing.

  2. Of course any one can be an author. Does that mean everyone *should*? Well, that’s another conversation entirely. It’s just like saying those who write and preform their own music, even create and sell their own albums aren’t real musicians. If you have a talent, or a passion, you should do what you can to share that with the masses. There shouldn’t be any kind of exclusionary clique that holds the reigns.

    • Everyone has a story to tell–some tell it better than others. Once an author enters the professional arena by publishing their work, they open themselves up to criticism and bad reviews. It’s hard enough to deal with negative reviews without having to defend yourself for daring to call yourself an author. You are absolutely right that people should share their talent and passion with the world. Not everyone has to like your work, but there shouldn’t be an elitist group who discredits your talent based on the label “self-published.”

      Thanks for the reblog!

  3. I definitely think the article in question is a bit problematic. It leads to assume ONLY traditionally published books print brilliant literature.

    I’ve read some traditionally published and thought “God, they’re traditionally represented?” It’s not all perfect pieces of art. Neither are self published works, but who really is an author then? If it is only people who get paid, Im sure many traditionally published authors can tell you that by that definition, they’re not authors either.

    I think if we ONLY leave it up to the main gatekeepers, we will continuously see the same stories told. We can keep saying “let’s wait” but, the problem is, we’ve been waiting. And we’ve seen only a smidgen of change. How long do they expect people to wait their turn?

    While traditionally publishers may have some advantages, they still have to do many things on their own. They may even have the very same resources, outside of decent editors a self published author has. Which is typically not a whole lot.

    So I cant say I disagree that the power of click and publish allows bad work to get out there. But there are many who are trying and learning through their errors. That statement about self published authors should not be considered real authors is ridiculous.

      • Oh, I agree. There are many books that are published before they’re ready. But can we say the person who wrote such a book isn’t really an author? I’d rather sift through a hundred “bad” books than have good books that never reach readers.

        I love what you said about waiting on the gatekeepers. In terms of multicultural fiction, traditional publishing is woefully behind. We can’t wait forever for heroes and heroines of color to find representation in literature. Thank God for indie authors who are leading the way.

  4. I’ve been in many discussions on when are you an author, is it dependent on being published, and must that mean published traditionally? I was always more comfortable with the term novelist (that was a step up from paperback writer, LOL!) and only recently started calling myself an author as my book got closer to publication. I’m still not published yet, but I will be, one way or the other. Bottom line: You’re an author if you’re comfortable with the label. Lord! They are all just labels. I got more enjoyment and confirmation from comments from my beta reader friends and family than I would from a snob like that, who wants to strip away a label because … why? Does he have his own self-confidence problem he’s transferring to authors? I wonder if he thinks non-fiction writers are authors more than fiction writers are. Yes, I like that definition as well, Tricia. Thanks for reminding me there are still people out there trying to steal our glorious sunsets. I have 2-1/2 more books sitting on my computer waiting for me to return after #1 is submitted. Can Mr. Kozlowski say the same?

    Come on, fellow AUTHORS! We are burning new paths through the underbrush to the castle full of our readers, and we all burn our own paths to success. I feel a lot better with that off my chest!

    • What a brilliant response! Thanks so much for your comment, especially the final paragraph. Do you hear that, Authors? Don’t let anyone tell you who you are or are not. Don’t let anyone steal your “glorious sunsets.” Thank you, Linda.

      • You’re very welcome, Tricia. These topics has been around way too long, both the author label and the tradpub vs. selfpub authenticity. You’re lucky I wrote the cliff notes version this time!

  5. What a wanker!

    He completely missed the point, too. If you’re selling stuff, you need to tap into your market. As far as I’m aware, most people who read books call the people that wrote them authors. And if my customers call me an ‘author’ that’s what I am.

    Personally I think once you’ve got a book under your belt that you didn’t wish someone else had written you’re an author.

    Cheers

    MTM

    • Wise words. Thank you for reminding us that our readers (who are the only people who count) label us “authors” regardless of how we chose to publish our books. They don’t know (or care) how much money we make or whether we belong to an exclusive writers group. All they care about is the story.

        • I just popped over to that article and read some of the comments. I saw Michael’s response to you. Seriously, did this guy get hacked, or is he trying to destroy his career? I’ve never seen anything like it.

            • It doesn’t make any sense for him to be so hostile and insulting. It’s almost as if he wants to alienate potential readers and subscribers to his blog. You aren’t the only person he was hateful toward. He’s been argumentative with every person whose made a comment.

              • He’s having a trantrum, he probably doesn’t realise what he’s doing, he’s written an article designed to be controversial and now he’s throwing his bricks out of the pram. He’s just self destructively bitter and angry and too young a soul to be able to sit down and figure it out. To be honest, he’s getting his arse whupped so badly I felt a bit mean arguing. I thought I’d been fair and straightforward, maybe he read it as sarky.

                It was a bit of a judgement failure to post, I thought.

                Cheers

                MTM

                • I know. He’s being beaten up so badly, I almost feel bad for publishing this blog post. I tried not to call him horrible names, and even labeled him an author, so hopefully, he won’t view my post as “bullying.” I didn’t post this to shame him. He entered the arena as a professional blogger when he posted his article, and like all articles on the www, anything out there is up for debate. Besides, author-identity and making the transition from aspiring-author to published-author is something we discuss fairly often on this blog. I’m always eager to reference back to any article that sparks a debate on this topic.

                  In many ways, I feel I owe a huge thanks to Michael. I often struggle with my own identity as an author, and after reading his blog and doing my own research, I’m proud to say “I’m an author!”

                  • I think you were very even handed. I think it’s also a very good lesson for looking thoroughly at what you say in writing, from as many angles as possible. In one of my jobs, I used to end up writing a lot of stuff that was over and above my remit because they knew that people can be easily offended without you knowing. One person’s polite reply to a letter of complaint is another’s sarcastic put down. The difficult ones were sometimes given to me for that reason but I made enough stuff ups, myself, to know that the 90% of non verbal communication is extremely important. He did rather lay down the law but I suspect it sounded differently in his head as he wrote it.

                    I thought of myself as an author in training until I finally wrote a book that I was proud of, that I didn’t wish someone else had written. There was a magical moment when I realised that I didn’t mind if people slammed it because deep down inside I knew I’d arrived; I knew it was OK.

                    Cheers

                    MTM

  6. Great post and I’m glad you wrote it! Publishers are so snippy about self-publishing, they no longer have the power to dictate what people read and who has their work shown and the fact they lose money on it.

    With self-publishing there are so many authors now publishing their own works in all genres and types and it’s great! I say the more stories the better :D

    • It amazes me to find agents and publishers who are still condescending when it comes to self-published authors. Certainly you’re right–they are losing money now that savvy authors have chosen to bypass the traditional gatekeepers and take their books directly to readers. It’s a big win for all of us, especially readers who now have lots of variety.

  7. To me an author is just not what the dictionary says but as someone who has an idea and put is it down on paper and then does his/her hard work of editing and research (if any) before getting it published. It’s not whether you make millions of dollars or just a small handful amount barely enough to pay for a bag of groceries. to borrow a phrase from Sister Mary Clarence from the sister act movies, “If all you can think about is music when you wake up in the morning is music. then you are a musician. Same goes for inventing and if you all you can think about writing, then you are a writer…” It’s that phrase that has stuck with me all these years since I was ten. I only came to remember it just a few years ago.

    • That’s a great line, Greg. A Writer writes. It’s as simple as that. I like what you said about what it means to be an author. An author does research, editing, and rewriting all before their work is ever published. Self-published authors also are responsible for formatting, commissioning cover art, and promoting their book (among many other things). I don’t think it can get any more “real” than that.

  8. Before publishing houses, pretty much all authors were self-published. Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), Benjamin Franklin with his “Farmer’s Alchemist”, Edgar Allen Poe, the list goes on. Time is the real test and gatekeeper for literature, regardless of how it is published. But if Kim Kardashian can call herself an author, then anyone can, I’d say.

    • Excellent points! Big publishing houses haven’t been around nearly as long as good literature. I have faith good literature will survive as the publishing industry evolves. In this day and age when anyone can become an author (even Kim Kardashian), it all comes down to an author’s determination. Anyone who puts time, effort, and their own money into their books (which most self-published authors do) has a right to call him or herself a professional. They are making an investment in their career. Many small business owners will tell you it takes a while to get a new business off the ground. Would anyone tell a new restaurant owner, “You’re not a REAL restaurant owner because you’re not part of a chain and you’re not making X amount of dollars?” Of course not! It’s the same with new authors. It takes a while to get your career off the ground, but until you do, no one has the right to say you’re not a REAL author or a professional author.

      Holy cow! Sorry for the long response. Your comment fired me up all over again.

  9. Excellent post! Some who use traditional methods of agents and publishers then should not be called an author because they don’t sell X amount of books. I just finished reading a book I got free that was pure trash from beginning to end and this ‘author’ had a traditional publisher. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes, bad sentencing, dup words, dup sentences, dup ideas. Change happens everyday in every situation. We can fight it as much as we want, but it’s still going to happen.

  10. Great article Patricia.
    I am grateful that I did not have to send my book to a “gatekeeper” and wait months for their opinion of it. My books are out there for all to see and read, to like or not. No elitist gatekeepers. :)

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