Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Third Party Reader

Unfortunately the answer is not more agents. Having more agents would not increase the number of books being published or purchased by consumers. The unwelcome truth is we need more readers and fewer writers. (Rachelle Gardner, comment to her Jan 13, 2010 blog post)

Fewer writers. Now there’s a thought. I still have this image in my head of Rachelle reading through her slush pile with a sniper riffle in hand. “There’s an author who shouldn’t be writing.” Bang! “That’ll take care of that.” But I know that’s not what she meant.

We obscure authors would love for the publishing industry to function more like the image we have of it in our heads. We finish a manuscript, send it to a few agents and they all are anxious to represent us. One of them sends it off to a few publishers and it starts a bidding war. But that rarely happens. We finish a manuscript and we can hardly get an agent to give us the time of day. And don’t even think about sending it to a publisher. They fact is that everyone and his brother are writing books. But it doesn’t stop there. They all send a copy to every agent they can think of and agents are buried beneath a stack of queries. Fortunately, it is an electronic stack these days, but it doesn’t reduce their work any. Yeah, we need more readers, but what about this thing about fewer writers?

Even if we could, shooting authors indiscriminately would not be the ideal solution. But it wouldn’t be without its merits. Instead of shooting authors, suppose we held a lottery. Every author would be eligible to enter the lottery. If his name were drawn, he would be permitted to submit a completed manuscript to an agent. The number of names drawn would be determined by how many manuscripts the agent wants in her slush pile. Other than that, the process would be the same, though the agent might have more time to respond to each query. The problem with that is that looking through a slush pile is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Randomly limiting ourselves to a smaller section of the haystack reduces the work, but it doesn’t increase the probability of finding the needle.

We could ask authors to voluntarily remove themselves from consideration. You know, take one for the team and all of that, but we aren’t a team. Every author believes himself to be worthy of publication, so he isn’t going to just bow out because he isn’t good enough and we don’t want the better authors bowing out. We need them, if we have any hope of increasing readership.

Suppose there was a panel of readers and all they did was read manuscripts and make an up or down vote concerning whether the author has a chance of being picked up by an agent. Unlike the typical slush pile, manuscripts would have a much higher chance of escaping this panel. Let’s say the top 25% or so leave the panel with a stamp of approval. But that would mean that 75% would be rejected for being incomplete, being poorly edited or being plain ol’ boring. The authors would have to pay for the service, of course, but in return that stamp of approval would push their manuscript into the top 25% of the slush pile when they submit to an agent. Effectively, it would reduce the agent slush pile by 75% or more, without eliminating many of the needles hidden within. Would it work? I don’t know. There are several issues that would have to be worked out, but it might be worth considering.

Question: What do you think? Would you be willing to pay a reader’s fee for a third party to possibly put a stamp of approval on a manuscript before you submit? If it were rejected, would you go back and rework it or would you submit it anyway?