Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Yesterday, PW reported on the launch of AgentInbox, a new service from collaborative writing website WEbook (I've blogged about WEbook before).
"AgentInbox is a service that connects publication-ready authors with reputable, vetted literary agents," says the service's FAQ for writers. Writers enter their book's "vital stats," including title, genre, query letter, and all or part of the manuscript (there are several tutorials to help with the polishing process). They can then check AgentInbox's roster of participating agents and choose which ones they'd like their submission to go to. WEbook staff pre-screens submissions, then forwards them on to the agents chosen.
According to PW,
AgentInbox will focus in particular on query letters while also ensuring the manuscripts adhere to basic editorial standards and readiness, said Ardy Khazaei, president of WEbook.
WEbook’s team of in-house and freelance publishing professionals will review pitch letters, make sure that the letters match the actual manuscript and that the manuscript is properly formatted, but the company will not make any recommendations about the quality of the content.
How does it work for agents? According to AgentInbox's FAQ for agents, agents create a profile listing their interests and submission preferences. They can then check their submissions online, sort them by various categories including genre, and "[r]eject unsuitable submissions with a single click, and contact the gems directly."
At present, AgentInbox is free for writers, though in future, premium services may be subject to a fee.
AgentInbox reminds me a lot of Creative Byline (about which I have also blogged), an automated submission service targeted to publishers. Creative Byline provides not just screening, but actual editorial feedback on writers' materials--but otherwise the setup seems quite similar.
Both AgentInbox and Creative Byline are a riff on the manuscript display site, or electronic slush pile, which aims to attract agents and publishers by moving the acquisition process online, and to serve writers by promoting their work direct to publishing professionals, without the need for sending multiple queries. There are many iterations of this basic idea, from the static display site where writers' submissions hang like banners in hopes someone will come along and view them (example: BooksandManuscripts.com), to supposedly more selective display sites where submissions are pre-screened for quality before being made available to registered agents and publishers (example: OnlyOneChapter), to crowd-sourced display sites where reader rankings drive submissions to the top for consideration by participating agents and editors (example: Authonomy).
The display site idea first surfaced in the late 1990's. Despite innovations in concept and advances in technology, electronic slush piles have so far failed to establish themselves as a genuine alternative path to representation or publication (for writers), or as an alternative method of manuscript acquisition (for agents and publishers).
Will AgentInbox--which already has signed up an impressive roster of participating agents, one of whom, according to PW, has already found a client via the service--be the tipping point? Only time will tell. Worth noting, however: Creative Byline, which has been in business for more than a year and a half, continues to have difficulty expanding its publisher list (currently, only six publishers are signed up), and has reported no sales as a result of writers' use of the service. Simply because agents can be more flexible in their acquisition guidelines than publishers, I'd expect a greater success rate for AgentInbox, at least initially. But I would also guess that unless AgentInbox staff do a bit more than just make sure that manuscripts are properly formatted, agents will lose enthusiasm for the service.
(Writers take note: whether or not it improves access to agents, AgentInbox won't help with those most common of writerly gripes, form rejection letters and nonresponse. For agents, one of the advertised perks of the system is that they can "delete [submissions] or send automated rejections with a few clicks.")