Thursday, February 09, 2012

Publishers' Desk: Display or Misplay?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Over the past few months, I've gotten a number of questions from writers who've received spam--excuse me, invitations from a website called Publishers' Desk. Its motto is "Bringing Authors and Publishers Together," and it describes itself thus (I'm reproducing this at length because the style and syntax should tell you something):
PUBLISHERS' DESK IS A TOOL FOR AUTHORS, AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS. Its function is to bring together those who write and those who publish, empowering their performance for the modern era.

The AUTHOR, after writing their book, spends considerable resources making copies and sending them to agents and publishers. This effort is usually lost, because the refusal from them is much more frequent than the parties would like.

AGENTS and PUBLISHERS, receiving hundreds of manuscripts each month for analysis, are to assume the costs of a laborious selection process. This process, in turn, is always subject to pressures represented by tight deadlines and stringent internal guidelines that reflect market demands. All this makes it too frequent to refuse a work that would otherwise be welcomed, if not then, possibly some months later.

Using PUBLISHERS' DESK, the author manages to offer their works at a fraction of the cost normally spent and they remain available to the searches of agents and publishers - from many countries - 24 hours a day. These professionals, in turn, gain a FREE search tool that excels the quality and improves the speed of a costly procedure that they were once required to perform.
So there we have it: a pretty classic manuscript display site/electronic slush pile. Historically, such websites--which have been around since the late 1990's--have never managed to establish themselves as a genuine alternative to the conventional submission process, even where they're sponsored by major publishers (such as HarperCollins' Authonomy). They can be useful if they also function as peer critique communities; some also make professional critiques available. But as a path to publication, they don't offer improved odds.

There's also the question of what kinds of publishers and agents use the site--if they use it at all. The more professional and high-profile sites may draw at least some reputable people--but display sites can also be a magnet for bottom feeders.

If a display site is free, you lose nothing by signing up (as long as you're careful about any contacts you receive). But if you have to pay a fee, you might want to think twice before pulling out your wallet.

Publishers' Desk offers two subscription plans--$49.99 for six months, $59.99 for a full year (according to the FAQ, you get a discount if you refer others), with an additional $19.95 due if you want to be evaluated for a possible Gold Star Award (according to Publishers' Desk, the Gold Star is "a way to acknowledge the quality of a well written work"). There's also a free option, but if you sign up for that your work will only be viewable by agents and publishers once a month on "Desk Day."

So what do you get for your Publishers' Desk subscription? No networking opportunities--there's no peer critique functionality, no writers' forum or discussion board, no way to connect with other authors. All the site allows you to do is upload a 350-character (yes, character) excerpt, a query letter, and a synopsis of your work, which becomes part of a database that can be (theoretically) searched by publishers and agents.

Do they search? A display site worth using should highlight at least a few success stories. But though Publishers' Desk claims "1,300+ works published by publishers," it doesn't name the works or the publishers, so it's impossible to verify the claim. The testimonials published on the site are similarly uninformative, since the authors who report inking exciting publishing deals conveniently fail to name their publishers.

Publishers' Desk boasts huge lists of publishers and agents--but these aren't especially helpful, either (the implication, of course, is that these publishers and agents actually use Publishers' Desk, but the lists look to me more like a gigantic pile of names harvested from the Internet). For one thing, there are fee-chargers. In the list of publishers, I spotted three vanity publishers--A Better Be Write Publishing, Aberdeen Bay, and American Book Publishing--before I even got out of the A's (Publishers' Desk's FAQ acknowledges the probability that "subsidy" publishers will use the site--always a risk with display sites). Ditto for the agency list, where I found names such as Charlotte Gusay (a $35 reading fee) and the delightfully professional Eddie Kritzer, who charges a $600 upfront marketing fee.

The lists are also larded with defunct publishers--including the notorious Aspen Mountain Press--and moribund agencies--including dead fee-chargers, such as A Picture of You and Authentic Creations. Amateur agencies get space as well (B.R. Fleury, Barron's Literary Management, Chamein Canton Agency). And though many reputable companies are included alongside the duds, there is nothing you can learn from these listings. Other than the company's name, no details are provided--no address, no website link, no submission guidelines, no nothing--and the little popup window that supposedly shows the company's "editorial line" appears to be exactly the same for every single company, making it not just useless but actively misleading.

Writers--save your money. If you want to use a display site, you'll get the most benefit if you choose one that includes a writers' community and is sponsored by a group you recognize--and that doesn't make you pay to participate.

19 comments:

Weirdmage said...

As a Norwegian, I'm 99% sure that the sxcerpt from the website you have quoted is not written by someone with English as their first language.
The syntax doesn't look Scandinavian, but it looks a bit familiar. Could be German or Southern European. (I know a tiny bit of German and French.)
Maybe someone else recognises it if they directly translate it to their language and can make a better informed "guesstimate" of the writers origin.

Weirdmage said...

That should be "excerpt" of course... *sigh*

Victoria Strauss said...

I believe the site was originally launched in Brazil, so I'm guessing Portuguese.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I also got the second-language vibe. I'm an ESL teacher, and it sounded to me like something someone who had spent tons of time studying vocab and grammar but had little experience with spoken English would write. I actually had it pegged as Chinese, because that tends to be the language skill profile of Chinese students that I've had.

But okay, Portuguese.

Rick said...

They will never, ever run out of scams like this, will they? Thank you so much for letting everyone no about this.

Rashad Pharaon said...

It's unfortunate that such companies are allowed to even operate. Correct me if I'm wrong, but every agent tweet I see reads somethings like this: "omg! woke up and found 24 queries in my email this morning. I need coffee. And a vacation." Publishers and agents are already swamped as it is with submissions and queries.

Best,

Rashad.

DeadlyAccurate said...

"...spends considerable resources making copies and sending them to agents and publishers..."

Most of my querying is by email. I'm pretty sure I've spent less than $10 querying this go-round, so I'm not sure where their "considerable resources" comes from. $10 is less than $50, last I checked.

Jenny Brown said...

Authonomy's strength is that there are people there who write well who, if you are friendly and interact with them on the site's forum, will read bits of your work and give you helpful comments.

I learned a great deal from posting a manuscript there and did manage to sell it to HarperCollins, though I did so through an agent. My HC editor had never looked at the Authonomy site. She is far too busy.

Several of the writers whose work I read there went on to make much more impressive sales than mine to major houses, though their sales, too were through agents.

I met one bona fide agent on Authonomy when it was brand new (a UK agent who didn't represent US authors) who encouraged me to submit my book here in the US. She seems to have stopped reading there after a few weeks.

What sent me over to Authonomy in the first place was reading your post about it here, back in January 2009, where you warned people that it wasn't likely to result in publication.

That was largely true. At last count I know of four of us who posted back then who went on to become mainstream published. Three of us sold books that were posed on the site, one sold her next novel. That is four out of several thousand manuscripts that were posted on the site in its first months. Even then, none were bought directly as a result of posting on the site.

Authonomy is free, and I still can't quite figure out what HC gets out of running it as they don't use it to sell their books even though the site attracts avid readers. They certainly weren't looking at submissions for books to buy, as since, if they'd bought my book off the site, they've have paid a whole lot less than my agent extracted from them!

Anonymous said...

TO an American, it should be immediately obvious that this is not American English and an immediate deal breaker.

(I find it hard to believe that anything good goes through Authonomy except by accident.)

Drummond - Publishers' Desk said...

This is Drummond, from Publishers’ Desk.
No, we are definitely not a scam. We are a serious company, with a dedicated team.

We have not implemented networking among authors, at least not so far. Networking opportunities at Publishers’ Desk are designed for agents and publishers. They have their Networking tab (in their profiles), where they can click and talk to each other.

There are hundreds of testimonials that are, indeed, success stories. And no, they do not bring the books’ titles or their publishers. This is because in 2007, when the portal began operations, some publishers demanded that we withdraw this information from their related testimonials. They were entering new genres and they did not want this information to be disclosed before book launching. These publications are frequently informed to us by authors and rarely by publishers, and it is just safer not to be the first one to disclose it. It could be mentioned after 6 to 12 months, but we do not update that list.

And we do not want people to think the testimonials are not real. Aside from the fact that most testimonials are identified (with their authors’ names), there is a very important message before them: “If you wish to contact the author of a testimonial, please tell us. We would be happy to put you in touch, after confirming with him/her”. And we really do put testimonial authors in contact with those who ask.

Yes, we have subsidy publishers listed, and the author may filter them from being informed about their works, if he/she wants to.

We have been in the literary market for almost 5 years, and we are certainly providing excellent service. We attend in 3 languages and, although I apologize here for English not being my first language, we do have native team members (journalists, authors) for each of them. And we are always open for suggestions or constructive criticisms.

About querying by email, of course we know that an increasing number of agents and publishers are accepting it. But the advantages we provide to them go beyond desk space: we offer them a free tool to search works conveniently fast and to network with other professionals.

We will not monitor this thread, but I can be reached in my email address (drummond@publishersdesk.com) if someone wants to talk to me.

Anonymous said...

"It could be mentioned after 6 to 12 months, but we do not update that list."

Perhaps you ought to. Claims that aren't backed with facts or are so old that they should have an expiration date - those are problems.

........................

"We attend in 3 languages and, although I apologize here for English not being my first language, we do have native team members (journalists, authors) for each of them."

One of them should have written your post and should also be writing and editing anything that you want an American audience to take seriously.

You may be legit, but you look a whole lot like trouble. I don't disqualify people on first impressions, but I do start deducting points rather rapidly.

Lauri said...

I wrote a column about this and immediatly got a respnse from the company as you have. Perhaps not a straight scam but not adding much value to what a writer can do for themselves free.

C. M. Albrecht said...

I don't know about Portuguese, but I'd say the writer didn't finish high school. But hey, I didn't either and i'm still here.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Interesting stuff. Thanks. All said and done, if Publishers'Desk are asking you to pay, you have to believe what they offer is worth the money. While I don't doubt agents/publishers may have access to the Publishers' Desk database, it's difficult to believe they would want to (not having enough time to look at books in their very own physical slush pile!).
Cheers :)

cussedness said...

Mr. Drummond, I feel like unsubstantiated excuses. No legitimate publisher "some publishers demanded that we withdraw this information from their related testimonials. They were entering new genres and they did not want this information to be disclosed before book launching."

Far from it. They announce their move into a new genre ahead of time, usually trumpeting it in Publisher's Weekly.

Jessie said...

Interesting. Thanks for the heads up. I'm new to the whole querying/agents/publishing thing, and I appreciate any advice I can get! I'm so glad that I stumbled upon this blog. I just set one up today myself at jessielambertwrites.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build myself a platform. If you have any advice about that, I'd love to hear it!

Anonymous said...

“Far from it. They announce their move into a new genre ahead of time, usually trumpeting it in Publisher's Weekly.”
=================

Hmm... not really. This may be right in the U.S. and maybe at this moment in time.

There are countries with two or three major publishers only, and they are often in fierceful competition.
If one of them decides to debut in the non-fiction category (for instance), this company will try to hide it from the others until launching.

I visited the site. I had the impression they are more than a simple display site (maybe funded by one of the ubiquitous venture capital firms?), and I see they have a free plan.

Anonymous said...

Publisher's desk runs a four percent success rate. Considering that any author, even one who writes a bad boook, can upload to their site and have it available to agents, four percent isn't bad. I don't think its a scam in any way, it just that publishing is a tough business. VERY tough. If you use them, you should keep on looking for an agent. Publisher's desk doesn't get you published - it increases your chances. If you have a serious work, you should use them as agents will look at your work, but if they don't find what they want, they'll move on. First-time authors are human garbage in the eyes of the industry. They are disposable people. Expendable. If you are such an author, you can expect no sympathy or consideration from a publisher or an agent. Adding to your chances for publication through Publisher's desk is a good idea, considering how difficult it is.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous, you say Publishers Desk has a "four percent success rate"--can you offer any backup for that? I just went to the PD website, and I don't see anything that would support such a claim.

First time authors are not "human garbage" or "disposable" in the eyes of the publishing industry. If that were the case, no first-timer could ever get published--and all famous authors were once unknown first-timers. A look at the new books shelf at your local library will show you how many debut fiction and nonfiction books are being published every month..