From literary agent Rachelle Gardner:
People in and around this business have long used the word “gatekeeper” when referring to those in publishing tasked with choosing which books to publish or represent.
Since the rise of self-publishing, it has become a debate—often heated:
Down with the gatekeepers!
Hooray for the gatekeepers!
BUT GATEKEEPERS ARE NOT WHAT YOU THINK.
There is nobody in publishing whose job is to “keep you out.” Are we watching the gate? Yes!—to identify authors we’d like to see published.
Each person who has a so-called “gatekeeping” role is tasked with finding authors to bring in, not authors to keep out. Anyone who acquires authors for an agency or for a publisher is totally 100% focused on bringing in books they believe they can sell.
You wouldn’t call the women’s wear buyer at Nordstrom a gatekeeper, because you know her job is to bring in clothes she believes her customers will like. Her job is not to keep out the bad, but to bring in the good.
Some publishers, librarians, agents, and acquisitions editors call themselves gatekeepers. Maybe they relish that role because they feel it gives them power. But regardless of what they say or how they refer to themselves, they’re not gatekeepers. They’re selectors. Choosers. They’re salespeople. They’re looking for books they can sell. Period.
Link to the rest at Rachelle Gardner
PG checked the almost-always helpful Wikipedia for definitions:
A gatekeeper is a person who controls access to something, for example via a city gate. In the late 20th century the term came into metaphorical use, referring to individuals who decide whether a given message will be distributed by a mass medium.
. . . .
Gatekeepers serve in various roles including academic admissions, financial advising, and news editing. An academic admissions officer might review students’ qualifications based on criteria like test scores, race, social class, grades, family connections, and even athletic ability. Where this internal gatekeeping role is unwanted, open admissions can externalize it.
Various gatekeeping organizations administer professional certifications to protect clients from fraud and unqualified advice, for example for financial advisers.
A news editor selects stories for publication based on his or her organization’s specific criteria, e.g., importance and relevance to their readership. For example, a presidential resignation would be on the front page of a newspaper but likely not a celebrity break-up (unless the paper was of the gossip variety).
Other people gatekeeping roles are in mental health service, clergy, police, hairdressers, and bartenders because of their extensive contact with the public.
And a quick quote about gatekeepers:
I sat with myself one day and asked, ‘Who is in those prestigious literary circles? Do they represent me? Do they appreciate the topics I write about and the style in which I write? Do those gatekeepers let a demographic like mine through the door?’ And the answer was no.
PG will note that a gatekeeper’s continued existence requires that a lot of people want what is behind the gate.