Gatekeepers. The term came up on a Facebook post about self-published books. Someone suggested that since self-publishing bypasses gatekeepers, it is populated by mediocrity – poorly written, poorly edited, poorly conceived novels. Now, I will not deny that there are a lot of mediocre books out there. Some are downright bad.
But I had a job in radio for many years, working closely with record labels on Music Row. Before the digital age, I had accumulated a very large box of CDs (probably 150 at least) by folks you’ve never heard of. They were all professionally produced. All the artists had made it through several gatekeepers – managers, A&R people, heads of labels, producers, etc. – gatekeepers who said they were willing to invest hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars into their career. Each of the CDs in that box of unknowns represented how wrong the gatekeepers had been.
Sure, gatekeepers are pros. They know things. They’ve been around the block a few times. But they cannot predict who will connect with an audience and who will not. Who has that special something that will inspire a following and who doesn’t. Who will create something that people will lay down their hard-earned money for and who won’t.
Gatekeepers are not a bad thing. But they are not and should not be the arbiters of art. They don’t guarantee greatness over mediocrity.
Take a chance on an indie musician. And an indie author. Be your own gatekeeper.
I started writing a blog post about the Oscars and just kinda quit on it. Then today, I became aware of a controversy over a literary award I didn’t even know existed. It’s the Hugo Award for science fiction and fantasy books, and evidently a few years ago, it was undermined by a few bloggers who encouraged their readers to vote for a specific slate of books. Seems they had some sort of political motivation. In the end, the ballot and therefore the awards were compromised by people picking books for reasons other than because they thought they were the best. So I decided to return to my thoughts on the Oscars.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t watch the Academy Awards. In fact, I rarely watch any award shows. After having worked around the music business for years, I have come to understand award shows (and other awards) for what they are. Or at least, for what they’re not.
They certainly aren’t any sort of valid ranking of what’s “best”. Because, first and foremost, we’re talking about art. Which is entirely subjective. Awards give us an opportunity to applaud greatness, but the choosing of a “best” is really about what and who’s most popular at the moment. And in the case of the Academy Awards, the voters are all in the industry, and they look at movies in entirely different ways than we do. They also push for slate voting, trade favors and pick movies for reasons other than because they think they are the best.
Furthermore, they aren’t ultimately who the movies are made for. What pleases a movie-going audience isn’t necessarily what pleases the Academy. The Nashville Songwriters Association International has a list every year of the top ten songs their songwriting members wished they had written. I love that! What songwriter wouldn’t love to see their song on that list?
However, very little art is created for our peers. We wouldn’t sell
much if those who do what we do were our only audience. Charts and rankings and
sales and box office stats are a much better indicator of how well the makers
of entertainment did their true job. Of course, those don’t measure quality.
I produced a country music radio program for years. It was a countdown, tracking the radio charts. I can tell you that the songs that reached #1 were not the “best” songs. Their airplay was related to the artist, to the label, and to the relation those two had with radio stations. It was affected by the producer, by current trends, by radio stations desire for tempo, by what other songs were out at the time, by the season. By the favors bestowed on radio program directors. I can’t list, nor do I even know, the many factors that go into how a song gets to #1. But trust me, it’s not because that song is the “best”. It is simply the most played song on a certain number of radio stations that week.
Now, right here, I’m going to tell you that I don’t have a problem with charts. (I had a good job for a number of years because of them!) Nor do I have a problem with awards. I won a local award as radio producer a few years back. It was nice. It’s doubtful, but maybe someday I’ll be up for an award for another creative effort. It would be nice.
My point is just that trophies and accolades and #1 rankings are a measure of a lot of things, including effective marketing, popularity, and good timing. And yes, even quality. But none of them are a measure of what’s best.
Because you can’t rank art.
There’s a small part of me that thinks we shouldn’t. Of course, if that were the case, we wouldn’t have chart-topping songs and award-winning movies and wonderful, shiny trophies. What fun would that be? Those designations help sales. They help us document art through the years. They remind us to celebrate greatness. They inspire others. They decorate mantels. I like my local Best Producer award. So, no, I don’t think we should do away with them.
So what am I saying? Yeah, you’re right. I need to get to a point.
First, I’m saying that we should recognize awards for what they are. Fun and glamorous and cool and totally biased and manipulated by countless factors other than “greatness”.
Second, we should remember that our opinion of a movie or a song or a book is just as important as anyone else’s. Experiencing art is very personal, just as creating it is. Even though we don’t get to hand out awards, we get to make our own determination of what great is. The lack of a number one ranking doesn’t affect our memory of a song that was playing at an important time in our life. The lack of an Oscar shouldn’t negate the way a movie makes us feel.
I have written my first novel, so I have become a part of the entertainment industry, where a creative endeavor is put out into the world and is judged. I have a ranking on Amazon. I have reviews that have “stars” attached to them telling me how well I did.
Why did I go through the agony of writing a book and publishing it? I thought a lot about this today, and I think bottom line, I wanted to write a book, that I was proud of, that people would read and be entertained by. Sure, I’d like to make money at it, but there are lots of easier ways to make money! I’d like to earn a Best Seller badge one of these days. I wouldn’t turn down an award. Still, I understand how flawed those things are in determining how well I did.
So, here’s my final point. When you stop me in church or send me a text or call me on the phone while you’re reading or leave a comment or write a glowing review or share a post or offer me any sort of feedback – it reminds me why I did it. Sometimes Hollywood and Music Row and solitary authors forget that. We become blinded by the glitter. In the end, art is created for you. Not the collective you, but the individual you. You get to choose what you like, what you think is great.
In my case, when you are entertained by my book, I fulfilled my purpose. And when you let me know, that’s my applause. My award. My ranking on the chart. It’s my trophy on the mantel. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
You know what they say about home. They say you can’t go back.
I know why they say it. Because home isn’t just a location. Home is also about a time… and about people. So even when you can plant your feet in the same physical space, time has marched on. And people have grown older, or moved away. Or died.
For all intents and purposes, I left my hometown of Eldorado, Illinois back in 1982, the year I moved away to the University of Illinois. Thereafter, I always had a different zip code, and quite a few at that. I was often in Eldorado since that’s where my family was. But I no longer lived there. At the end of the week, or the weekend, I always went back ‘home’, to somewhere else.
For close to three decades now, the Nashville, TN area has been home. I currently live on a quiet street in a town called Gallatin. It’s a pretty good size, compared to Eldorado. I usually don’t run into people I know at the store. Some of my closest ‘local’ friends are still miles away. But it has become home to me. Meanwhile, back in Eldorado, my parents have both passed. Many of my friends are no longer there. I don’t find time to visit very often.
But a couple of weekends ago, I went home again. I stayed with my brother. I shared meals with family and with good friends. And I did a book signing for my debut novel BUKU at the Eldorado Memorial Library. I’ve known the lady who set up the event a good portion of my life. My brother stayed for moral support the whole time. My dear friends Bruce and Julie came and took pictures.
The first guy to walk in the door was Scott. Scott and I never did hang around together. But I’ve known Scott since we were in elementary school. The same with Jeff. And Mark. And Bonnie. I caught up with Chris and Janet and Sally and Mike. My neighbor Kim, who I spent countless hours riding bikes with back on Bramlet Street, was there. As was one of my besties from as far back as I can remember; Valery and I have so many shared memories of camp and school and sitting on the back row at church and giggling so hard the pew shook.
Former neighbors, mothers of friends, the husband of a former teacher. Jerri, who I was on a speech team with when we both attended the local community college. And Gary, my coach from those days. I hadn’t seen either of them since the 90’s, and we talked fast and tried to fill in the years.
There’s something about people who knew you when you were young. Who are a part of your history. Who know your family and have stories on your brother. Who remember your parents and your grandparents.
Eldorado isn’t the town it was when I was growing up. Many of the downtown buildings have collapsed due to age and neglect. My parents are gone; their house sits sad and empty. I can probably walk into the grocery store there and not recognize the faces. But how incredible is it, that thirty-four years after I moved away, I can go back and remember so much? And be remembered by so many. I was afraid I wouldn’t know people. But I did. I may have forgotten people I worked with ten years ago. But I remember the faces of my hometown, the people I knew, and who knew me, when I was young.
So here’s the thing. You can’t turn back the clock. You cannot bring back those you love. But turns out, you can go home again.
I have lived in nine different towns (and parts of Nashville) since I moved away. I now reside in Gallatin. But no matter how long I live, I will always be from Eldorado, Illinois.
I dedicated my first novel BUKU to my husband Mike because it would not have been possible without him. He was the one who finagled the budget so we could afford for me to quit my full-time job. He was the one who did that again when my freelance jobs dwindled away. He was the one who went to work every day while I pursued my dream of writing a book. BUKU would not have been possible without him.
But it was my mother Carolyn who taught me to love stories. Mom was a reader. Big time. She was a dichotomy, or as Kristofferson says, “a walking contradiction”. She battled depression, probably more so than I realized as a child. Because what I saw her doing was leading a 4-H club and coaching softball and teaching the youth at our church alongside my dad.
I also saw her read. All the time. I think she used it as a way to battle her depression. She was always in the midst of a book. And she made sure the whole family was too. She would go to the library and spend hours picking out a bag full of books, not just for herself, but for me and my brother and my father. Dad would read a few. My brother would read a few. I read a lot. She read them all.
My grandmother fussed at times about mom’s lack of housekeeping skills and the amount of time she spent reading. However, the thought occurred to me the other day that I don’t know if I gained much of anything long-term from Grandma’s cleaning skills. (Though I did from her cooking!)
But from my mom, I learned to love stories. And words. It was while diving into those books she meticulously picked out for me that I developed the dream to write my own books.
I didn’t get to tell her this, but I have no doubt that because she read, I now write.
When Lee Ann Womack won Female Vocalist of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards, it was a dream come true. Literally. Lee Ann used to watch the awards show as a child and dream of winning the coveted trophy. She worked hard, with single-minded conviction, until she actually did it. She was named the top female singer in country music in 2001.
But Lee Ann said that after the euphoria died down, she was left with a big question. What next? What do you do when you achieve what you’ve worked for for so long? Well, I am about to find out!
No, I’m not up for an award. And probably never will be. But I am about to release my debut novel to the world. Of course, my dream doesn’t center around one book. I hope to write many more. But here at the top of a hill I’ve been climbing for several years, I find myself contemplating the path behind me. It extends all the way back to childhood when I read books that transported me to other places and times. That’s when I told myself I could do that too. The adult me took a long time to get around to it, and I can tell you that path has been long and steep and even torturous at times. But hey, young Jenny. Look at the hill we have climbed.
There’s lots more to do. I’m self-published, so stuff like covers and formatting and marketing and websites is all in my hands. And of course, it’s time to start on the next book. It’s just that, right now, I want to acknowledge that I did it. Whether it sells or not, I have fulfilled a childhood dream.
And folks, I can tell you. It feels good.
I hope you remember your dreams. I hope you can do something that helps you accomplish them in some way. Maybe you can’t become an astronaut, but you can still explore the stars by studying about them. Maybe you can’t be a superstar, but you can still sing or act or paint or pick out a tune on a guitar.
What hill did you want to climb as a child? Have you tried climbing it lately?
BUKU the prologue:
The way it began is kind of sketchy. At least now. Maybe at some point in time someone somewhere knew if Dr. Buddy Givens truly was a benevolent genius concerned with saving the world economy. That was the image he sold to governments around the globe, and the one they all bought lock, stock, and oil barrel.
A precious few at the time, and many more once it was too late to stop, attributed his motives to greed, megalomania, or out-and-out insanity. Some labeled him evil.
Trying hard to be heard above the manic hype, ecologists warned of historical disasters like kudzu and Asian carp, when the introduction of foreign species overwhelmed delicate ecosystems. A handful of savvy farmers and ranchers resisted the tidal wave. The religious right, of course, shouted that a man-made creature was an abomination against God.
In the end, it didn’t much matter whether Givens was charitable or malicious or just plain naive. His scientific endeavors, once touted as the thousand-year solution to all the earth’s energy woes, directly contributed to the collapse of modern society, the deaths of billions of people, and the threatened extinction of almost every living thing on God’s once green earth…
Working on the novel. This is what I have so far, with the help of the cat.
“Shepherd,” she said. “He’s not our enemy.”
999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999He glanced at her, but his eyes returned immediately to Oso.
Today. I waited a long time for today. Dreamed about it. Worked toward it. Thought it would never arrive. But today I can officially say I have written a book. I just finished my final self-edit and am sending it off to a few beta readers. There are several more steps I need to take before I can hold a copy of it in my hands, but today is a big day. Today I can claim to be an author.
Check out the start of the prologue to Buku. http://jenniferandersonwriter.com/2018/04/10/buku-lock-stock-and-oil-barrel/