Gratuitous Author Help or Frustrating Scam?

Posted on February 26, 2010. Filed under: Manuscript Submission, Publishing | Tags: , , , , , |

I surf the NaNo forums a lot these days, and I found this post yesterday that caught my eye. The author, to make a long story short, has managed to write a novel for the Christian world, but of course, she can’t seem to find a place where her novel fits. The reason for that: somewhat in the neighborhood of 90% of all Christian fiction these days has an element of romance in it. The publishing houses are loving it, and the majority of Christian fiction readers are women apparently, so they continue to publish period romances and coming-of-age tales of innocence and romance.

I have no problem with that, but it was what the poster wrote in addition to her publishing woes that really surprised me. Apparently a lot of Christian publishing houses are asking authors and those who would otherwise submit unsolicited manuscripts to instead send them to one of three “holding tanks” for manuscripts.

The first is a place called Christian Manuscript Submissions and is billing itself as a place for authors to get exposure for their manuscripts to a number of high end Christian publishers. Normally this would excite me. A place for someone like me to submit a manuscript where it will be viewed by publishers? That’s every writer’s dream.

Yes, for only $98 you can submit your manuscript to this website’s system where it will be made viewable to their affiliated publishers! (For six months only, of course, and then you’ll be required to renew your term of viewing by paying another $98 for a second six months of visibility.) And if you’re really dedicated to getting your novel out there? Pay another $300 for a critique by one of the company’s readers, guaranteeing you either a bronze, silver, or gold medallion on your novel and more visibility to publishers.

Well, what’s the point of doing that when I can pay an equivalent amount to get someone at CreateSpace or Lulu to edit my manuscript for me? Then I can choose my marketing and publishing packages and self-publish to my heart’s content, free in the knowledge that I’m at least getting published after spending all that money.

The same kind of services are offered at another Christian manuscript holding tank. This one, The Writer’s Edge, is a little different in that they screen book proposals and the first three chapters of a manuscript. You send in your chapters via snail mail along with a check. The service is completed, and if they like your manuscript and feel it fits their criteria and the image their company looks for, they’ll change your proposal to fit their readers’ critiques, post it to their website, and let their cadre of publishers sift through the books they feel are worthwhile.

The problem I’m seeing with both these services is that they don’t offer any hope that you’ll really get published. Even if you get through The Writer’s Edge screening process, it’s likely you’ll be dropped into a report with a dozen like-minded authors and set on some publishing agent’s desk only to be ignored like so much dross. To me, I think that’s a genuine waste of my money. I’d prefer to spend money on stamps for the elusive query that can be sent out to multiple agents. At the very least, if I secured an agent for my book, I’d be assured that the person would be looking for a publisher for me. These services don’t care one way or the other whether their authors get published. Authors are paying them.

I’ve read in places it’s best not to submit manuscripts to places where you have to pay, so why are publishers asking authors to do this? Sure, if it were a free holding tank for authors that publishers could go to, that’s a whole different ballgame. I’m sure they’d get thousands upon thousands of manuscripts, and it’d be the same thing as a regular slush pile any publisher deals with. But is paying $98 to get a manuscript on a list really going to do me that much good when the publisher’s more likely to look at Joe Blow on the next page with the bronze medallion next to his work since he paid the $300 to get it reviewed?

Now this last company that was listed by the NaNo-er is actually a branch off Harper-Collins, a publisher most people will recognize. The group is called Authonomy, which is a play off the author’s autonomy, I’m sure. What Authonomy does is different from both groups listed above, and it gets me even harder than those two.

First, Authonomy is free, so of course, there are a lot of people already publishing there. What it encourages is authors to put up at least 10,000 words of a manuscript for perusal by the other members there. Members read, comment, and occasionally “shelve” the books they enjoy. If a book gets “shelved” enough times, it goes to a higher position in relation to the other books.

If I’m recalling what I read correctly, the top five books with the highest number of shelves are sent to the editors’ desks at Harper-Collins where they’re read and reviewed. Of course, this doesn’t say anything about possible publishing, and really , Harper-Collins has said they expect to find good new talent through this service. But there’s no guarantee anyone from the company will ever read an excerpt of your work, especially as it’s the readers who are doing the choosing for the publisher.

Authonomy asks that you have as complete a manuscript as possible, allows you to upload 10,000 words to the entire novel, and lets you attach a piece of coverart for your novel. There are a number of genres you can submit the novel to, and once it’s up, you can start receiving comments from the number of readers that are already a part of the site.

I noticed as I perused some of the books listed that a lot of the authors are using this mainly as a tool to get noticed. The comments ranged from very constructive to “this was great – please check out my book.” The only reason I’d put my book on the site in all honesty was if I were self-published and looking for a little more exposure as Authonomy allows authors of self-published works to include links to their sales websites.

In any event, I’ve heard from a lot of people that something like Authonomy is bad juju if you’re wanting to get published. Anything a publisher thinks is already published, even if it’s e-publishing, can potentially get you dismissed as an author. It’s why I never put my novel up on my LiveJournal account. So what does that say about Authonomy?

Thoughts? Opinions? I’d love to hear it cause this is making me curious. Personally I’m staying away from any of these websites for now. (Not that I have a Christian manuscript to submit to the first two, but you know what I mean.) What does everyone else think?


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