Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- e-LiteraryAgent: Something Else Not to Try

In the nanosecond-attention-span environment that is the Internet, everything old is perpetually new again.

Take, for instance, pay-per-click content sites such as Triond.com, where you can post your work (articles, videos, podcasts, photos) and earn a "royalty" from ad clicks. Such sites present themselves as something new and innovative--but in fact they're updated incarnations of a rather elderly idea. Way, way back in the dim and distant mists of Internet time (1998), when clickthrough advertising was supposed to be the Next Big Thing, an outfit called Themestream offered the exact same service. Problem was, clickthrough advertising wasn't as lucrative as everyone hoped it would be, and Themestream couldn't generate enough ad income to pay its content providers the promised royalty rates. After reducing rates several times, Themestream closed its doors in 2001. Similar companies (MightyWords, The Vine) died a similar death.

Will Triond go the same route? Or has it learned lessons from its predecessors that will enable it to survive? There's no way to know. The point is that this apparently brand new idea is not new at all, and didn't work very well the first time around. Yet writers, eternally searching for the Big Shortcut in the Sky--a new and better way to get an agent/get published/earn money from their writing--will probably jump eagerly on board.

Ditto for manuscript display sites--those websites that display your writing with the intent of somehow furthering your quest for publication, either by attracting agents and editors or by providing peer commentary which you can use to spruce up your ms. Several are currently touting themselves as new and revolutionary, but like the ad-click content sites, they're really retreads of an old, largely unworkable premise. I discussed this in a previous blog entry (in fact, some of the nouveau display sites I mentioned have already gone belly-up).

Yesterday I discovered yet another display site, e-LiteraryAgent. Unlike other such sites, which are aimed at agents and editors both, e-LiteraryAgent focuses entirely on reaching editors--in other words, it purports to be as good as its name. It wants to be your electronic literary agent.

The verbiage with which e-LiteraryAgent attempts to attract clients is depressingly familiar: "As you probably know, most publishers are reluctant to look at unsolicited manuscripts, and prefer to deal with agents. However, since agents typically receive about 15% of the author’s royalties, agents, too, are reluctant to sign newcomers. They prefer the 'blockbuster' authors who can demand million dollar advances." Fortunately, e-LiteraryAgent can help you bypass this (largely imaginary) problem. "[W]ith e-LiteraryAgent, you can reach hundreds of editors at any one time, there is no paperwork going back and forth, and we can approach editors throughout the world with one email." In other words, it's not just a display site--it's a query blaster. We already know what publishing people think of those.

According to e-LiteraryAgent, this approach "...saves everyone time and money—-and they can read your manuscript directly on-line, or print it out and read it at their leisure." But this is the same flawed logic the old display sites used--that displaying manuscripts online will somehow streamline the process, and that busy editors will find an online slushpile more attractive than the paper one already weighing down their desks. There's no rational reason why they should. The demise of those old display sites, and the failure of some of the new ones, proves that they don't.

The fee for eLiteraryAgent's service? It's steep--$195 a year. Other display sites charge less, including the big daddy of display sites, Authorlink, the sole survivor of the display site wars of the late 1990's. Authorlink also provides a lot more perks.

The man behind eLiteraryAgent actually has solid credentials, albeit in a specialized area. Fred N. Grayson runs American BookWorks Corporation, a packager that develops textbooks, test preparation manuals, and reference books for a number of major publishers. As legitimate as this company seems to be, however, reference and educational publishing are highly specialized segments of the market, very far from the trade publishing segment that is responsible for fiction and general nonfiction. Even if displaying manuscripts online and spamming editors were an effective method of marketing manuscripts, Mr. Grayson's educational/reference packaging expertise wouldn't necessarily translate into the expertise needed to market consumer books to trade publishers--or the ability to effectively negotiate trade book contracts and sell subsidiary rights (which e-LiteraryAgent claims the right to do--without detailing its terms--in the unlikely event that your book should sell as a result of a listing on its website).

I'm well aware that much of what I've said above has been said elsewhere on this blog, on the Writer Beware website, and in the various writers' forums where Ann and I participate. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, and I fear that our readers will get bored with the repetition. The problem is that the Internet encourages a short memory span (how many of you remember Themestream?), and failed schemes risen from the dead and claiming to be "new" are too often taken at their word. Even for writers with longer memories, it's a huge temptation to assume that new and supposedly improved iterations of bad old ideas have promise--especially where those bad ideas key into writerly frustrations and desires by promising an easy way around an obstacle. I wish I had a nickel for every writer who has emailed me to say that they know Writer Beware thinks Bookblaster is a bad idea, but what do we think about eQuery Online? Or that they know fee-charging agent X is bad news because she's on Writer Beware's 20 Worst List, but mightn't fee-charging Agent Y be on the level?

So, apologies for the reptition...but some warnings need to be given many more times than once.

9 comments:

Linda Adams said...

I remember Themestream!

I remember how a whole LOT of writers thought it was going to be the silver bullet to getting rich. I kept looking it and thinking "It's too good to be true." Then the bottom dropped out, and many, many people never got paid.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Why do I feel compelled to not recommend e-Literary Agent?

... Oh, yeah, the fee. Guess I might as well get another business with a lawyer mad at P&E and myself. If I duck when they charge at me, maybe they'll clobber each other like in the cartoons. ;)

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

I remember Themestream too. Although I joined it rather late (six months before the end), after they'd done away with most of the royalty-payment part. I had some stories up at Themestream mainly for the opportunity to get reader feedback on my stories. At that point in time, the only writers who (theoretically) got money were those whose pieces were among the top 100 or so most accessed. I never got that high, but I did get within the top 500 or so with one of my speculative fiction stories, and got some good feedback out of it.

I always thought Themestream had a flawed business model, since they didn't seem to have any paid advertisers on the site, so I was never sure how they were going to make any clickthrough money. . .

--E said...

You keep right on with the repetition, Victoria. Even if the old-timers know the score, there are always new folks discovering the pitfalls for the first time.

Just last week on a mailing list, another starry-eyed ideallist jumped up to exhort the masses, "Let's all self-publish and bring the massive corporate publishing conglomerates to their knees!"

Needless to say, more experienced listmembers doused him with a bucket of cold reality. He wasn't an idiot, just someone who knew nothing at all about how real publishing works.

Samuel Tinianow said...

By any chance, was that this guy?

It all brings us back to the same problem that plagues just about every "alternative" method to getting published: that a slushpile by any other name is still a slushpile. It doesn't matter if you self-publish your work, or put it up on a display site, or what. It's just another, clunkier version of the system that publishers already use.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Yeah, I was hoping you'd bring up that "Then who's gonna negotiate all my deal points for me?" part of this new ... idea, let's call it.

I'm glad you didn't neglect it. I hope lots of others realize how valuable agents are, just for that reason alone.

Robin Bayne said...

I remember Themestream! I think I made $30.

~Nancy said...

I wrote a couple of "articles" for Themestream, but I didn't look at it as a way to make money. It was therapeutic - I wrote those articles to deal with the death of our dog.

Three or four people clicked through on the first article, and I think only one on the second article.

So I was probably owed, at most, a big, whopping $1.

~JerseyGirl

James Macdonald said...

There's even an acronym for new display sites: YADS. That stands for "Yet Another Display Site."

Remember what happened to RoseDog? I rememeber when RoseDog started up. The nice ladies who ran it wrote to me asking me to recommend it. I wrote back asking "Why are editors and agents going to go to your site?" or words to that effect. They wrote back to say, "They just will!" or something similar.

As it turns out, editors and agents didn't go to their site. Eventually RoseDog was bought by old-time vanity publisher Dorrance, who made it into yet another source of authors who would pay to publish with them.

I talked with an editor a while back about YADS. Said the editor, "I couldn't buy a manuscript off one of those sites if I wanted to."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because they didn't submit anything to me," he replied.

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Here's the bottom line on YADS: They help the author feel like he/she is doing something, without requiring that the author actually do anything. The authors will never be rejected -- because they never submitted.

If avoiding rejection is your goal, then go for it....