Gatecrashers and Gatekeepers

There are a lot of these droll little animations circulating through the Web right now. I expect it won’t be long until we’re all tired of them and move on to the next big thing, but I found a nugget of truth in these two that I thought was worth talking about.

Let’s start with this one. Bear #1 is telling Bear #2 about his new novel and wants some advice on how best to share his genius with the wider world. Bear #2 correctly perceives a train wreck in the making:

Bear #1 is not an endangered species. In fact, I see enough of Bear #1 in myself to make me want to crawl under the bed and never write another word in public (please, hold your applause). He’s arrogant, he overestimates his own talent, and he doesn’t appreciate the importance of preparation and hard work in writing. To make matters worse, he’s impervious to Bear #2’s feedback, so her reality check bounces right off him. Even if he’s right, and his novel-in-progress has real potential, his attitude is going to kill it. I call him a “gatecrasher,” a label I’ll explain in a moment.

The next scenario is a little different. Singer-songwriter Bear #3 is trying to pitch her demo CD to record company minion Bear #4. She just wants him to listen to it and tell her if it’s any good. He ignores her request and spouts a list of reasons why her demo is dead on arrival:

Now, Bear#3 may be as deluded as our friend from the previous video, but there’s no reason to assume that, and her polite persistence is admirable. The issue here is that Bear #4 has already made up his mind and won’t give her a chance. He’s a “gatekeeper.” His job is to turn back the riff-raff, the gatecrashers, the legions of guys like Bear #1 who flood reality shows such as American Idol and America’s Got Talent because their friends and relations are too polite to tell them they’re not ready for prime time–or they’re too besotted with themselves to listen.

However, Bear #4 says something important: his company won’t accept risk. It’s only interested in supporting a sure thing–someone who brings a large, established fan base and requires no development or polishing. It’s not fair, but it’s totally rational. Recording and publishing companies are businesses, not charities. They care more about maximizing their profit than advancing art or nurturing the next generation. They may overlook some genuine talent, but it costs them less to stay with a reliable formula than to take a chance and guess wrong.

This is why I get frustrated when writers complain about how they’re not getting noticed, how the publishing companies and agents won’t give them the time of day, and how the “system” prevents them from obtaining the success they so richly deserve. It’s like being upset that your dog doesn’t purr.

Bottom line, writers and other creative people:

  • Try your best not to be Bear #1.
  • Listen to Bear #2, even when it hurts.
  • Don’t be afraid to be Bear #3.
  • Expect to see a lot of Bear #4.
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