Thanking the Gatekeepers – One Writer’s Views on the Advantages of Traditional Publishing

by Sharon Browning

Paolo Bacigalupi is an award winning science fiction writer.  Author of the amazing book, The Windup Girl (which won the 2009 Nebula Award and tied with China Miéville’s The City & the City for the 2010 Hugo Award) and Zombie Baseball Beatdown, as well as four other novels and many award-winning short stories, he definitely knows what it’s like to benefit from traditional publishing.

He’s also a very accessible author, vlogging, blogging, and posting freely on Facebook and Twitter, sharing his process with those who are interested in following along.  Just the other day while he was going through the copy editing process on his latest work, he asked for the public’s opinion on which would be most “correct”:  Superbadass, super badass, or super bad ass.  No word on his final verdict – I guess we’ll have to wait and see!  He also recently posted on Facebook:  ” Amazed at the number of people who think quality in writing is subjective and unknowable. Writing is a craft. You can evaluate craft quality quite easily, actually.”  That, of course, led to a lively discussion.

But it was another recent post of his that really captured my eye.  A “thank you” to his publisher, he pointed out how very valuable their assistance as “gatekeepers” was for a work in progress.

As someone who has not officially published a stand-alone work, nor really considers myself a “writer” (other than what I contribute here at LitStack), I nevertheless have lots of friends who ask me to comment on something they have written, and they also tend to ask me my thoughts on traditional publishing versus self-publishing.  I fear that I can’t really guide them in one direction or the other, lacking my own experience with either, but I find the discussions about the pluses and minuses of both very interesting.  So with this in mind, I thought I would pass along Mr. Bacigalupi ‘s  comments to our LitStack readers.

Here is what he posted:

I’ve noticed a lot of discussion about gatekeepers in publishing, and a lot of new handwringing about “traditional” publishing versus self-publishing, and now, having just finished my latest round of copy edits, I’d say that Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is definitely and explicitly a gatekeeper, and I’m damn glad they are.

A timeline:

My editor read the draft of my latest novel, THE DOUBT FACTORY, and suggested revisions.

She was right. It needed work. I revised.

My editor read it again, her assistant editor read it as well, and they suggested more revisions.

They also added a fact-checker into the mix, who also had red flags, questions, and details that needed clarifying.

I revised again, based on their suggestions and red flags the fact-checker raised.

My editor and her assistant editor read it again, and suggested small final tweaks.

I fixed those.

My editor then sent it to the copy editor. The copy editor suggested changes, tweaks, and caught two major plot holes that all of us had previously missed.

I fixed those issues, and stitched up plot holes.

Now Little, Brown is going to read it again, check last details, and send the book to be typeset. After that, it will be proofread. After that, hopefully, it will go out in the world, and none of us will be embarrassed.

So. Yeah. Gatekeepers. I’m grateful for them. My book is a massively improved thanks to all the smart and inspired and detail-oriented people who have worked on it.

Now, it’s true that Mr. Bacigalupi is already an established (and successful) writer.  It also seems to me, from what I have gleaned from talking to aspiring authors, that breaking through in the traditional publishing arena is quite daunting for a new writer.  Rejections are legendary.  But the benefits of having an established support system must be mighty darned enticing.

So what do you think, LitStackers?  Traditional publishing, or self-publishing?  I’d love to hear of your experiences, and your opinions!

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