Indie author Rob Price had a clear vision when he launched Gatekeeper Press in 2015: “to open the gates of the book publishing world.” Price, who has served a term as chairperson of the Independent Book Publishers Association since the press’s founding, says he has since observed a noticeable shift in how self-publishing is perceived, both within the industry and by readers in general.
“As more and more self-published titles hit major bestsellers lists,” Price says, “we’ve seen a thawing in the book industry’s attitude toward self-published books as a whole.” There are clear signs of this—including self-published titles increasingly appearing on the shelves at bricks-and-mortar stores and libraries, as well as recognition of the value and viability of indie books from professional review channels.
Price says freedom and autonomy for authors is central to Gatekeeper Press’s approach, and that writers are seeing the advantage of the increased control over the publishing and promotional process. Having navigated self-publishing himself, Price says he recognizes the need for new models that will guarantee writers “100% royalties and rights, 100% control, global distribution, one-on-one attention, and a single, trusted location to have their books professionally edited, designed, formatted, and made available for sale all over the world.”
For many authors, self-publishing is becoming a preference rather than the default option following rejection from agents or traditional publishers. Tony Chellini, director of sales and business development for Gatekeeper Press, says self-publishing is having its moment. “I genuinely believe self-publishing is the way of the future—and, in fact, it’s really the way of the present,” Chellini says. “Traditional publishing is great for those that can make millions in book advance fees, but for the 99% of the rest of us, self-publishing has risen to the challenge and surpassed traditional publishing.”
Price points to one of Gatekeeper Press’s earliest authors, Elise Kova, whose indie success led her to turn down subsequent offers from multiple traditional publishing houses, as an example of self-publishing’s growing favorability among authors. “We’ve worked with many authors who had done the same thing,” he says, “and countless others who chose to self-publish with us after having been published traditionally.”
Price is aware that, despite how far self-publishing has come, predatory companies still exist in the space. A number of writers have come to Gatekeeper Press after negative experiences, Price says. “We hear horror stories from our authors about terrible service, poor quality, price gouging, complete unresponsiveness, and theft of royalties,” he says. “This is why we think looking to independent reviews and getting referrals is so important in the self-publishing space.”
Publishing in isolation
Price says there has been a steep uptick in the number of people who have contacted Gatekeeper Press for consultations over the past several months. “With more people home from work, they have more time to write,” Price says. He sees another reason for the increase in consultations during these peculiar times: “This massive global event has altered the course of history and caused us all to reexamine life in general,” he says. “The pandemic is wreaking incalculable suffering and heartache; it is tearing some families apart and bringing others together. It is a cosmic shift for everyone alive today—and cosmic shifts lead to new ideas, thoughts, and stories.”
Price has also observed thematic trends since the pandemic began. Numerous authors have sought consultations for children’s books that aim to help young readers cope with the changes brought on by social distancing. There have also been pandemic-related medical books, and even dating books with chapters on “dating during quarantine,” he says. And since the killing of George Floyd in late May, Price says he has observed an increase in submissions of books about racial inequality. “We’ve seen an influx of African American authors telling all kinds of stories,” he says, “from those that directly address the tragedies of systemic racism, to those intended for traditionally underserved audiences, like young African American readers.”
Chellini says he is accustomed to meeting authors “who have been working on their books for so long—sometimes years, even decades.” In many cases, he notes, recent circumstances have stirred in these authors a desire to finish their manuscripts and finally publish their work. “They are ready and excited to take the leap and to share their creativity with the world.” Another recent trend he’s noticed is that a number of Gatekeeper Press authors have chosen to include last-minute prologues that address the paradigm-shifting events of the moment—a perk of indie publishing’s flexibility.
More than ever before, Price finds himself in a position to give urgently needed writing and publishing advice to authors who may be facing uncertainty in their own lives. That being said, his advice has remained consistent since before the pandemic. He tells authors to “ask questions and research, research, research.” Specifically, he says, authors need to determine how much attention their book will receive from a publishing service, where their book will be listed for sale, and what percentage of royalties and ownership rights they will be allowed to retain. “The physical world is a scary enough place right now as it is,” Price says. “The world of self-publishing doesn’t have to be if you’re armed with the right information and have the helping hand of a trusted partner.”