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A Novel Solution

The amount of effort that goes into writing a book is enormous. It’s hard work, and to me a kind of method acting where I do my best to be the characters for a short while. I let the characters figure out what they are doing and let the story flow like water. If you’ve ever written a novel, you’ll know how draining that is.


And after you’ve finished all that hard work? Ah, there’s the problem.

The difficulty is that a lot of people want to be authors. I hate to sound elitist, but not everyone is ready to slog through all of this work right now and make a really good story out of it. Some might be ready with some time and coaching, but what do they need to do to make it happen?

They may never know. I’ve written about the problems in the publishing industry many times here on this blog, and I stand by everything I’ve said.

Now that I’ve carped at length about what’s wrong, it’s only reasonable to propose a solution. Before I do that, I want to get to the heart of the matter, which is that there are simply too many manuscripts and Print-On-Demand books out there and absolutely no system to tell which ones are any good. The result is that there is little which falls between a publisher or an agent saying, “No, thanks, we’re not interested” and a POD publisher saying, “You can be an author for just $499!” One takes everything, the other takes almost nothing. It’s not about novel writing, it’s about pitch writing – or putting your money down.

Granted, booklocker and iUniverse pre-screen their submissions and don’t publish everything. They are trying to build brands that rise above the POD world. But what they need is the same access to marketing and distribution channels that big publishers have, and it will take years to build the cred to have it. While POD publishers give authors access to the press and to amazon.com, they don’t give us access to mainstream news outlets and bookstores. We all have to build cred to gain access. That access is the domain of the big boyz, the ones who almost always say “no”.

In order to sell your book to a big publisher, you have to prove that you can write but that you know how to sell books as well. You have to show that you have all the skills necessary. So why do you need a big publisher to sell books? The only thing they have is the access. That’s why you have to impress them.

In all honesty, I have to say that I’ve tried to get to know publishing house reps and agents here on the web. I just don’t understand them. Hanging around at their websites I feel as though I’m at a cocktail party where everyone is smartly dressed and laughingly twirling martini glasses, while I’m all alone in a corner terrified that I am about to unleash a long, loud and odiferous fart. They just aren’t my people, and it’s clear that they’re never going to like me. But I can defend them all the same, since it goes without saying that getting dozens of queries a day that pitch an entire novel in a few paragraphs creates an impossible task. They simple can’t evaluate them, period. So they just reject everything, save the one that hits their personality and mood just right.

That’s not much of a system, but it’s what we have right now. I would like to propose an alternative.

I believe that a comprehensive and systematic review site can generate a numerical system that allows for easy comparison of a work’s quality regardless of genre or style. This would be done by scoring novels according to a rubric that includes all of the elements of good writing. For example, with a maximum of 20 points for technical issues such as grammar and sentence structure, a novel that has a few mistakes might score an 18 and one that needs a lot of editing a 10. Other elements such as plot, characterizations, conclusion, and so on would be similarly scored. By taking this across 5 reviewers, a reasonably objective evaluation with an averaged final score can be found.

In addition, comments on each section should be provided to the author to show where improvement can be made. The idea is not simply judgment, but the identification and development of talent. A score in the 90s would identify a book that would generally be considered a good book, and a score in the 80s one that might need a little help. By identifying quality works, there will finally be an adequate filter between “no” and “pay me!”

These results should be published on a searchable website for the world to see. The biggest problem, however, is the cost of maintaining the operation and who should pay for it. The only identifiable revenue stream I can come up with is to charge authors for the privilege of having their work reviewed. I don’t like this idea, but if the cost is a nominal $300 or so it may be considered worth it to authors who have spent or are considering spending money to go with POD.

By identifying quality clearly and concisely, such a site should raise the profile of POD books and identify clearly and distinctly which are a good read. It may even create something of a “Minor League” for authors who can then be picked up by big publishers, or it may make big publishers largely unnecessary. But over time, a successful site like this will make it possible for POD authors to have access to the normal channels of advertising and distribution, as the competitive world of books will want to have a good read. That is the goal. The writers, who are the primary means of production, will have control over their own destiny for once – assuming they are any good.

I would like to hear from everyone who has considered this idea. Please tell me what you think about:
* The idea of a rubric based “scoring” system
* An authoritative review system in general
* Whether POD authors can or should pay for it
* Other ways of gaining access to the channels which sell books
* Whatever else is on your mind

Please send any comments, no matter how much you hate what I say or feel snarky about it, to wabbitoid47(at)yahoo.com

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