12 thoughts on “Curious

  1. I can’t comment on all the text at the Bookner site, but I can manage a few words about the passage David W. cites in Joho the Blog:

    “The publishing industry is a mess. Neither publishers nor literary agents are interested in discovering new writers, because unpublished writers are an unknown risk. Hence we have a surreal situation where it is easier for a pro wrestler to publish a book than a writer. As a result, the writer – someone who is good at putting thoughts into words and spinning a good yarn in printed form – is in danger of extinction. Well, Bookner is about to change all that.”

    That’s dead wrong.

    First, publishers and editors and agents are perennially interested in discovering new writers, sometimes to the detriment of their more established authors. I could list half-a-dozen Tor titles published in the past few years where the editor, having gotten wind of an especially interesting manuscript, went and more or less hunted down the author. Just this past month we’ve bought several books from previously unpublished authors.

    Sometimes writers fall into despair over the rejections they’re collecting. Sometimes this happens to writers who’re on the brink of being publishable, or being published, which is especially hard for them to understand, since they know they’re good. Sometimes writers who can’t tell that they aren’t terribly good yet will fall into fits of indignation after being rejected, and decide that the publishing industry must be broken.

    Here’s a less innocent thing that happens: scam agents, vanity presses, worthless book-marketing programs, and other leeches that fasten onto aspiring writers, are forever telling them how hard it is for them to get published, how unlikely they are to be successful, and how little the industry values books not written by celebrities. They’re lying. Their implicit message is that you can’t possibly get published by a conventional publisher, so you might as well put your book and your money in their hands.

    The shelves at your local bookstore are full of first-time authors, and the authors who aren’t still had to have been first-timers at some point in the past.

    Second, it is not easier for a pro wrestler to sell a book than it is for an author to do so. Books by or about celebrities make up an infinitesimal fraction of the trade publishing industry’s output. Feel free to ignore them. Celebrity books always get a lot of free media attention. That’s a lot of the reason they get published in the first place.

    Also, you have to understand that the huge dollar amounts supposedly paid for celebrity books are illusory. Many of those dollars are tied to escalator clauses which stipulate extra payments or royalty percentages if the book performs implausibly well. No one really expects that to happen, but the agents love pie-in-the-sky escalator clauses because they can then claim to have negotiated a million-dollar-plus contract for their client.

    Third, authors are in no danger of extinction, none whatsoever. There are more professional authors relative to the population right now than there have ever been in all the history of the world. Anyone who says otherwise is either a con artist or an ignoramus.

    Fourth, Bookner’s scheme is not about to change either the industry as they imagine it, or the industry as it actually exists.

    This is how I understand it to work: Authors send their manuscripts to Bookner. They receive other authors’ manuscripts from Bookner to review, and if they do so, their own manuscripts will be reviewed. Bookner will use its proprietary scoring system to arrive at a rating for a manuscript that’s been reviewed. If the rating’s high enough, they let editors and agents know about it.

    Hoo boy.

    What I can tell, looking at that scheme, is that the people at Bookner have never seen a slushpile. A substantial fraction of slushpile manuscripts are worse than you can possibly imagine. Their authors literally can’t tell that their manuscripts are unpublishable. If you subscribe to Bookner’s scheme, that’s the kind of material you’re likely to wind up reading, and those are the kind of writers who’re likely to be reviewing your manuscript. Is there a chance that you’ll run across a manuscript that meets minimal publication standards? Sure. That’s always a possibility. But odds are, Bookner’s going to get the writers who can’t get their manuscripts evaluated elsewhere, or who don’t believe the evaluations they get.

    If I don’t know whose word I’m taking that a book is good, I’m in the same position I’d be if I were opening a random submission found in the slushpile. The most a scheme like Bookner’s can do is perform gross triage, sorting out the truly incoherent manuscripts. But why bother? The truly bad submissions are the easiest ones to spot. It’s the manuscripts that need careful reading that take up your time — and that’s exactly the task I wouldn’t trust Bookner to do.

    Another problem is that reading and evaluating a manuscript takes a fair amount of work. However, doing a slapdash job of reading and evaluating a manuscript is much, much easier. Why should Bookner’s participants do a lick of work beyond the minimum needed to get their own manuscripts read? If their work is anonymous, there’s no incentive to do a good job. And if their work isn’t anonymous, you’ll quickly see informal groups coalescing that do “you praise mine and I’ll praise yours” trade-offs.

    I could go on, but I think I’ve said enough. Here’s the summary: Bookner is trying to address problems that don’t exist, and problems they don’t understand, using a manuscript evaluation scheme that won’t work.

  2. Thanks, Teresa — that’s pretty much what I thought you would say, but “what I thought” doesn’t count compared to “what she said.”

  3. I agree with Teresa wholeheartedly about Bookner being little more than an online slush pile, and that the mind(s) behind the site don’t seem to have a solid grasp of how the book business works. I’d written something yesterday along those lines in my own blog, but Teresa has illustrated all the same points and more much more assuredly than I.

    I don’t doubt that Bookner wants to do something positive, however I don’t think they actually have enough grounding in the reality of publishing to do anything at all. Points for effort and all that, but…

  4. What I can tell from your post is that you haven’t bothered to read what we say at our site. You should do more than cursorily scan a website before reviewing it. There is hardly any need for me to rebut anything you say; it’s all at our site.

    I would like to point out though that it’s fairly obvious from what we say that only a small number of good books will get through our system. Hence, the assumptions you make about our assumptions are totally wrong.

    One other thing I would like to note is that we are perhaps the only site in this segment of the Internet that isn’t trying to make money off aspiring writers.

    Jason Gonzales,

  5. Bookner’s potential success seems to hinge on ex post facto interest from publishing professionals, rather than pre-launch arrangements with specific editors and agents. There’s nothing to guarantee, then, that even the highest peer-review will gain any attention the way Zoetrope.com, for example, offers in-house potential for publication.

    Perhaps there’s a model here for a large-scale collective ?† la FC2, in which posters/reviewers pay a small membership fee out of which the highest rated manuscripts can be published.

  6. Sorry – just a quick addendum. Firstly, I should have said “comment” not “post” and included a salutation to clarify that my comment above was meant for Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

    Secondly, and most importantly, belated but sincere thanks to AKMA for mentioning Bookner. Always appreciated. I wholeheartedly welcome discussion and debate.

    Jason Gonzales

  7. I see that Jason Gonzales can’t tell the difference between I can’t comment on all the text at the Bookner site and I didn’t read the text at the Bookner site. He should be more careful what he wishes for. The reason I didn’t comment on all his text is that it would have taken me far too long, since his site is festooned throughout with elementary errors about books, bookselling, and the publishing industry.

    I’ll note that he didn’t respond to any of my points. He just insists that I can’t possibly have understood his brilliant business plan. I understood it just fine. It’s all bolted together out of standard parts, and I’ve seen them before.

    Finding interesting manuscripts is a service that has some value, but it’s only one of a great many tasks that go into making a successful book out of a raw manuscript. Publishers and agents and sometimes packagers already sift through slush, but they do a lot of other things besides, and they know how their industry works. Nobody needs Jason Gonzales’ proposed services, and in the meantime ignoramuses are a lot of trouble to work with.

    Even if Gonzales could talk his way into getting paid for finding books, the fees couldn’t amount to much, because he’d only be doing a small fraction of the work that goes into successfully publishing a book. Everything else would still need to be done. The industry’s profit margins are narrow. Also, he’d only be working with first-time authors who couldn’t make connections with the industry any other way. That’s a very low return on a very small amount of business, performing a service of dubious utility.

    And I have to question whether Gonzales/Bookner contributes anything of value to the transaction. Look at Bookner’s one-page explanation of their system. They don’t read and evaluate manuscripts; the writers do that. They don’t market their books and authors; instead, they merely notify agents and publishers that thus-and-such property has gotten an acceptably high rating — and from the looks of things, Bookner would prefer that the agents and publishers log in to the site and find that out themselves. In short, what Bookner wants is to get paid for setting themselves up as an automated checkpoint.

    I’m not impressed.

  8. Bookner is already displaying shady business practices. Though his (rather defensively-toned)site says that “At Bookner, we believe in discussion and debate”, he has continually deleted legitimate questions form his blog (i.e. how do you plan to entice agents to your site). He is also VERY rude to people who don’t believe his site will be feasible (for examples, please read the comments relating to Bookner on either Miss Snark’s web site misssnark.blogspot.com or my own)

  9. I actually have commented on everything at Bookner’s site. If you’d like to visit it (or perhaps even link to it), it’s antibookner.blogspot.com

  10. Well, I’m not terribly keen on carrying on this debate here, especially since my opponent is so obviously shooting from the hip, but since we do still have people visiting these comments, and Ms Hayden criticized me for not responding to her points, I uploaded a rebuttal to our site. Please click on my name below to view it.

    Having said that, it would be best if interested parties go straight to the Bookner site and make up their own minds about whether it is a good or lousy idea.

    Thank you.

  11. “…since my opponent is so obviously shooting from the hip…”
    I have yet to see Mr. Gonzales respond professionally to a criticism. All his remarks begin by attacking the reviewer, from their intelligence to even their sanity. This seems a poor practice for a business man who has to woo people to his ‘revolutionary’ site. Maybe that’s why he has yet to recieve interest from an agent.

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