Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bookner.com

There's a new kid on the publishing block: Bookner.com. The idea is very interesting and quite simple: writers upload their manuscripts for "peer review" by other writers, and agents can then pick from the ones that score well. It presupposes that the mainstream publishing world is still the only game in town (or certainly the 400 pound canary).

Bookner has even received some notice in the books blogosphere: David Rothman at TeleRead has reviewed it. He is somewhat skeptical, since he is touting e-books on his blog. His point is that blogs and other web tools have made the traditional, mainstream publishing world increasingly obsolete, and that authors would rather use POD to sell fiction than return to the hell of commercial houses. While blogs and other tools are empowering writers to look at alternatives, there is still the problem of marketing and delivering physical books. POD is growing slowly, but there is tremendous resistance from bookstores, for example, because the books are expensive and can't be returned. Asking a store owner to stock your book means you either have a following or are a local hero.

There's no question the system is broken, and the more that becomes apparent, the harder the agents and editors seem to fight at looking for alternatives. They act, by their own admission, as "gatekeepers," keeping the sludge from penetrating the inner sanctum, yet often base their decisions entirely on taste. It's one reason they all seem so puzzled when the miss the next trend. "Oh, did you see that coming? I didn't."

Many of them talk about the Internet as the source for the next generation of writers (the publisher of Soft Skull waxed poetic at a recent NY writers conference about the 'Net), but few of them hang out here. Heck, many agents still don't have websites yet, or belong to services that list them and their co-agents, but tell you little else about their business. Many insist they have enough writers already, and are only looking for a few select clients. Yet in the meantime, books are published to no or few readers. The News from Paraguay is a good example. A National Book Award winner, no less.

In my own case, I have attracted almost 50,000 visitors to a blog devoted to a novel and its heroine. Yet few in the industry show any interest in a tool for pre-selling the book, or the pre-sold audience that might be lurking behind those numbers. I remain not so much bitter as puzzled. But definitely surprised. I had expected that by doing some of the heavy lifting, I would have moved this process further along. Clearly the publishing biz has others agendas.

5 Comments:

Blogger Tricia said...

Things are changing.
It's about time that somebody decided to push the envelope.

I just hope they bust that sucker wide open.
It is a huge envelope.

7:28 PM, September 08, 2005  
Blogger Peter L. Winkler said...

W.S. Cross writes:

“I have attracted almost 50,000 visitors to a blog devoted to a novel and its heroine. Yet few in the industry show any interest in a tool for pre-selling the book, or the pre-sold audience that might be lurking behind those numbers.”

Would that really help sell a book in a bookstore to an audience who hadn’t read part of it on the internet? I suppose the cover could say, “Read the book that 50,000 people have discovered online.” If I saw that on a book, I might be skeptical of the claim. So much hype is fakery. How would I know if it was true? If I was internet savvy, I would probably wonder what that number means. Lots of readers will try something if you give them a free sample. There’s no sales resistance. It’s quite another thing to ask them to commit to buying a book. I hate to be the devil's advocate.

It’s very hard to overcome people’s prejudices, even with cold, hard numbers. Could I recount two of my experiences? I wrote a book proposal in early 1997 for an annotated directory of web sites devoted to TV shows. At that time, there were lots of web directories in print, including ones devoted to various special interests, like “The Book Lovers Guide to the Interenet.” I had two agents and they could never sell my book. At the height of the internet boom! One sentiment I heard from two other agents was that publishers assumed that people could look things up online through search engines for free, that web directories in print were superfluous and didn’t stay in print long.

My last proposal was for a James Dean encyclopedia. I flogged it relentlessly for years. I tried agents to no avail. I didn’t give up there. I approached editors directly. A few even requested my proposal. I assumed that with Dean’s status as one of the most visible pop culture icons and the 50th anniversary of his death this year, someone would agree with me that it was a no brainer. No one agreed with me. Some told me there were too many other book about Dean in print. I argued with one editor that that showed how much interest there was in Dean. Then she looked up the numbers for those books in BookScan and said they were too low to warrant an offer. I didn’t bother to go back to her and point out that those were backlist titles that couldn’t even be found shelved at most bookstores, that my book would be new, would get the benefit of all the aniversary hoopla. That was all in the proposal anyway. It didn’t sway anyone.

I grant you that being able to demonstrate some level of interest in your book should be a plus. But it may not be able to surmount the prejudices of agents or editors, a lot of whom are hidebound and conservative.

I hate to be relenlessly negative. You’ve already experienced enough frustration as it is.

Have you tried approaching editors directly? I would, and not just at small presses. If that doesn't work, some serious soul searching is in order. Maybe serializing it online on a pay as you go basis?

Like you need my advice. Reminds me of a joke I read in Mad magazine as a kid in the 60s. There was a man who read so much about the bad effects of smoking, he gave up reading. This whole publishing game can kill one's desire not just to write, but in books and reading.

9:13 PM, September 11, 2005  
Blogger Elektra said...

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)

8:27 PM, September 28, 2005  
Blogger Elektra said...

antibookner.blogspot.com shows all the negative aspects of joining with Bookner

10:31 AM, October 04, 2005  
Blogger W. S. Cross said...

OK, and just what is your goal in undertaking this crusade? I don't mean that sarcastically, but sincerely: who's being harmed?

10:50 AM, October 04, 2005  

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