Creative Byline: Hope or Hype?

There’s been some online chatter recently about Creative Byline, a manuscript submission service that promises to streamline the process for writers seeking to approach publishers.

With Creative Byline, now in beta, writers can easily and affordably get their work in front of the editors who are interested. Editors can bypass manuscript overload to spend more time on those that match what they’re looking for.

A new method is long overdue. We think we have a revolutionary idea; we hope you’ll agree.

A shortcut past the slushpile? Even better, a shortcut past the “agented submissions only” policy that’s so common nowadays with the big publishing houses? As someone who has seen manuscript display websites–most of which made similar promises to transform an outdated submissions system–come and go since the late 1990’s, it doesn’t seem so revolutionary to me. But let’s take a closer look at how it works.

For a fee of $19 per adult book manuscript, and $9 per children’s book manuscript, writers can upload a query package (for adult books, cover letter, synopsis, chapter-by-chapter outline, and the first three chapters; for children’s books, cover letter, synopsis, and the full manuscript) to the site. The package is then vetted by first readers (who according to the FAQ, “have subject-matter expertise, advanced degrees in creative writing, and/or experience in trade book publishing”), and the writer receives feedback as to whether or not the package is submission-ready.

If it’s ready, the writer can choose an editor to receive the package, or send the package to the Manuscript Library, where it’s available to all editors. If it’s not ready, the writer receives suggestions for improvement; once these are implemented, the query package gets a second read (though not necessarily approval). Creative Byline guarantees that approved submissions will be seen and responded to by their chosen editors within three weeks. If they aren’t, writers can submit to another editor at no additional cost.

That’s what’s in it for writers. What’s in it for editors? Basically, the same promises made by any display website or submission service–manuscript pre-screening, submissions targeted to the editor’s interests, and relief from “manuscript overload.” Creative Byline’s blog provides a more detailed exposition of what it considers to be the advantages it offers editors.

So far, Creative Byline has lined up only three participating publishers–but they are impressive names: Dutton Children’s Books, St. Martin’s Press, and Tor/Forge (publishers must pay an annual fee to use the service). The first readers have some degree of relevant expertise (according to Creative Byline’s blog, most are graduate students pursuing MFA’s in writing) and receive training in assessing and responding to query packages. The software available to both writers and editors (there are screenshots on the site) looks professional, well-designed, and easy to use. The submission fees are relatively modest, as is the membership fee of $8 per month (while the site is in beta, new members get 3 months free)–and though not all query packages will be judged submission-ready, all writers who use the site will at least get feedback on their packages. As the blog entry linked above points out, this is more than most writers can expect when submitting in the ordinary way to publishers (or agents).

As always, though, it’s important to read the fine print–in this case, Creative Byline’s Terms and Conditions.

According to Clause 3.2.2., First-Reader Reviews, “The first review does not constitute a full Query Package critique, but instead abbreviated feedback on areas of the Query Package that need improvement by the User prior to submission to publishers.” So the feedback writers receive may not be as comprehensive as the website might encourage them to hope.

According to Clause 3.2.3., Publisher Criteria, “User acknowledges a publisher is under no obligation to view or read any portion of the Query Package even if User meets the submission criteria of that publisher, the User’s Query Package meets the Query Package submission criteria of that publisher, and Creative Byline submits the Query Package to the publisher selected by User.” So though a query package may be approved and submitted, the chosen editor may not actually look at it.

But wait–doesn’t Creative Byline guarantee timely feedback on submissions? Well…according to Clause 3.2.4., Credits, “If a User submits a Query Package to a publisher and the publisher does not view any portion of the Query Package within the specified time period, Creative Byline will provide a credit to the account of the User to submit the same Query Package to a different publisher. This credit must redeemed within one year of when the Query Package was submitted to the first publisher, and may not be redeemed for cash, or a cash refund, unless there are no other editors or publishers to whom the Query Package may be submitted.” So it isn’t really timely feedback that’s being guaranteed–just that if there is no timely feedback, you get another shot. In other words, it is quite possible that writers who submit via Creative Byline will get no feedback at all.

This, by the way, is perfectly reasonable. Whether or not a service like Creative Byline can change the submission process, it can’t change the balance of power, which still resides with editors–and editors are not going to be enthusiastic about using a system that compels them to respond to every submission they receive. Creative Byline, therefore, must leave its participating editors the freedom to respond or not, as they choose. But the belief that editorial response is guaranteed is what will attract many (if not most) writers to Creative Byline. So right away, we have a gap between expectation and reality.

Also a concern: not having seen a sample, I have no idea how thorough the first-reader feedback will be. But if it’s not thorough enough to truly screen out substandard or inappropriate manuscripts, editors are going to stop bothering with Creative Byline. This is the bottom line that every manuscript display site or submission service runs up against: if they can’t guarantee good material, all the bells and whistles don’t mean a thing.

According to this article in the Grand Rapids Press, Creative Byline’s founder, Brad MacLean, created the service because of the submission frustration experienced by his wife, commercially-published children’s author Christine MacLean. Creative Byline definitely has the edge on software, and has already shown success in attracting reputable publishers. Depending on the quality of first-reader reviews, it may offer writers a useful and inexpensive critique service. But will it actually revolutionize the submission process, or change the way publishers acquire manuscripts? I’m not holding my breath.

UPDATE 9/8/12: Creative Byline did manage to add a number of publishers to its lineup, but that wasn’t enough to save it. As of sometime in mid-2012, it went dark, and remains only as a placeholder notice.


  1. Anne, thanks for sharing your experience. It wasn't a matter of getting published, though, it was a matter of going through all of the proper steps, and then having it sent to Globe Pequot, and waiting far, far beyond the stated time-line for an answer, which never came. By Byline's own admission, Globe-Pequot never responded. You're right, they're customer service is absolutely top-shelf, and they will edit and guide, and they even apologized profusely and said there was a "mix-up in the communication", so if a new writer doesn't have access to objective editing and guidance, and can afford a few bucks — no problem. And there are obviously growing pains which will go away, but getting published? Only time will tell, as we have both stated. Writers need all the help they can get. Good-luck in all your endeavors. -Dan

  2. Hm, I've tried Creative Byline and before I gave it a shot I thought it was just like every other idiotic, empty-promises website like it. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised. They take customer services very very seriously, and while I still have not had an acceptance, I understand that it will take a while to get off the ground. I mean, think about it. The more writers who join, the more publishers will join. Then more writers will join, and more publishers will join. It'll just take a few years to get into a consistent cycle. I don't believe that it is fully fair of you to criticize it for not getting you published (No offense intended).
    As a parting comment, I would reccomend Creative Byline to any writer who wants to avoid the sticky mess of query letters.

  3. Thanks Victoria, it was one of those late nights where the temper got me, so I didn't mean to go off on Globe Pequot quite so hard (you're right, Travis). I had called them after not hearing (Eugene said they'd contact me), and they said to just stop by. Eugene thought the humor awards I had won at made the work worth looking at, and I always take people for their word. I'm sure they got swamped, or maybe I'll still get that rejection card in the mail, or whatever. As for Creative Byline, time will tell, eh. Tough business; still learning, still trying, still trying to hold it together. Thanks for valuable time again. Back to the keyboard.

  4. Dan, thanks for the update.

    I sympathize with your frustration over Globe Pequot's lack of response to your direct submission, but unfortunately this kind of thing goes with the territory–nonresponse, not just by publishers but by agents, is very common. Plus, Globe Pequot says right on its website that it's not obligated to respond to unsolicited submissions.

    I also wonder whether you might have done better to submit to the address given in Globe Pequot's very specific online submission guidelines (did you follow these? If not, it could be another reason for the lack of response)–which at least would have ensured that your submission went to the place where submissions go–rather than giving it to the receptionist, who may not have done the right thing with it.

    Since I checked last, Creative Byline has added Chicago Review Press to its lineup. Chicago Review Press is an established independent publisher that accepts submissions direct from authors (i.e., no need to use Creative Byline, or any other submission service, to get your proposal to this publisher).

    Still no news of any book deals made via Creative Byline.

  5. Thanks for the update, Dan. Be careful about burning bridges though. Victoria, thanks for adding linkage to my previous post. I wasn't sure if I would be crossing any lines by doing that. My review of the latest features from the site can be found here. Really appreciate your blog.

  6. You know — just another late night observation as I break from writing till morning — Globe Pequot sucks like any scammer, and after the efforts I made, for them not to even send a quick "no thanks," reeks of arrogance, and all I saw at the CAPA event was Eugene B. passing their stuff around to sell more copies. So there you go. Death to the fat cats and all that.

  7. It's really amazing how 90 degrees with humidity sweats the toxins right out . . . so back to Creative Byline, but also Globe Pequot. I met Eugene Brissie at the Connecticut Association of Publishers and Authors this past spring. Eugene is an associate publisher at Globe Pequot – Lyons Press, and he said that yes, they use Creative Byline, and I gave him a note for his friend Keith Wallman at Lyons to please check his Byline submittals, because mine had been turned-in for weeks. A month or so later I drove down to Globe Pequot in Guilford, CT, and submitted a query and sample diectly to a very friendly receptionist, who may have thrown it in the trash before I left the building, right? That was over three months ago, and nothing, so there's a problem somewhere and I'm moving away to the countless other options (slush piles, contests, and permanent self-abuse). Questions? I promise to check-in regularly and direct writers to Writer Beware and the best hit squad since "Kill Bill". You rock. -Dan

  8. Anonymous is me, Dan McGinley, craaaaaawling into the bottle, unable to even think about passwords and all that. Sorry.

  9. Hi Travis and Victoria, I'm very sorry I haven't responded in a timely fashion, but I've just checked back, and am glad you asked about Creative Byline, as a lot has developed since I submitted my piece, which is to say nothing has developed. My work has been passed on to another reader, who has a big problem with my promotional package (the writing is fine, but my sales approach is not), months and months have slipped by, they want more money, and I'm presently embarassed out of my mind. God I'm an idiot. Run for your lives, and thanks for the heads-up on Robert Fletcher and Co., as I almost considered the WL Literary Agency's flattering words, and am now going to crawl back into a bottle, and hide for awhile. Thank-you and good-night. What a desperate world.

  10. Adding linkage to Travis's post.

    Creative Byline has been open for more than a year now, and as far as I can tell, no writer has yet made a sale as a result of using it. It also does not seem to have added any new publishers to its lineup since fall of last year.

  11. Just to expand on my request from last week regarding Globe Pequot's response to Dan's submission. I received a favourable initial review and also felt quite flattered. I duly submitted my MS and waited for the required three weeks without even getting a look. Since then I've been in touch with another writer who had a similar experience. It's one thing to say "Creative Byline guarantees timely review of submissions." It's quite another to actually have one's submission reviewed. You can read my full review of the experience here if you're interested.

  12. So Dan, it's been a couple months. Can you give us an update on your Globe Pequot submission?

  13. Hello Ms. Strauss,
    Regarding Creative Byline; I decided to go ahead and try them, to get objective feedback for my submittal and samples of a manuscript, and really just a strong gut feeling, and I’m very impressed with their professional methods, and flattered by the reader’s comments. I had submitted the package to the reader, and in my usual confused way of doing things, freaked-out the next morning and told them I could do much better. They returned the unfinished piece and gave me full credit to re-submit, which I did after a week of edits and rewrites, and now it’s been sent to Globe Pequot, so we shall see, and I will let you know what happens. Since I can get lazy without having someone that kind of depends on me to come through, I really needed a service like that, and they have been extremely professional so far. Good people, I’ll keep you posted.

  14. Thank-you very much, Ms. Strauss, I’ll take your advice and try submitting directly to Globe Pequot. I’ve been doing marathon writing sessions to finish this thing ASAP – I figure a completed work has a much better chance than samples and a proposal.

  15. Anonymous, bear in mind that you can submit to Globe Pequot yourself, directly. If you get no results from Creative Byline, that’s what I’d suggest you do.

  16. Dear Ms. Strauss,
    I’m a burned-out writer who turned his back on the game ten years ago during the writer’s strike. I also like long walks on the beach, but would rather drive — oops! Wrong blog. Lately I’ve been writing because it’s more fun than television, winning nine placements (including one first place) at “America’s funniest Humor” bi-monthly contest. The Hartford Courant and local Chronicle are writing me up, and it’s all good, but I hate the next step — the slush piles. A news photographer suggested Globe Pequot, and they now mention Creative Byline, so there I go with an outline and three chapters. I’ll keep you posted and all that. Tally Ho. Thanks for a very helpful listening – sounding board!

  17. I am a writer with the manuscript of my very first novel almost ready to submit. I’ve been working on this thing for over two years now, and have completely lost all ability to be objective about it. I need help! I think it’s good, and I believe it’s publishable, but I’m sure it’s not in appropriate shape to go directly to publishers or agents yet. I desperately need informed feedback and so far cannot find anyplace that offers free critiques, such as mentioned in previous comments. And I don’t have hundreds of bucks to shell out for reading services.

    So, I’m going to give Creative Byline a try, and see what happens. This blog post was very helpful, however, in preparing me for what may happen – good or bad. I’ll let y’all know what happens.

  18. I am a muti-published author currently between agents.

    I was intrigued by Creative Byline and decided to give it a try. I have found their service to be incredibly easy to use, professional and helpful. Though I didn’t need much input on my chapters, I certainly appreciated the thoughtful suggestions of my reader regarding my synopsis and outline.The feedback was minimal but I did receive specific examples.

    I was also thrilled that the reader acknowledged the genre restrictions (yes, I was concerned about MFAs possible literary bent).

    I wasn’t excited about the mandatory outline yet it turned into a very helpful exercise. This stage helped me analyze my entire manuscript – something I hadn’t done for a bit.

    I’m looking forward to my submission being forwarded to an editor. I have been out of the market for a few years so this seemed to be a wonderful way for me to get back in the swing of things.

    The only concern I have is the limited number of publishers offered but I will assume Creative Byline is actively soliciting others.

    I’m not convinced this will replace agents but am willing to take a shot.

    I’ll keep you posted.

    Rebecca Forster

  19. Since I last checked, Creative Byline has added another publisher to its lineup: Wilderness Press, which accepts submissions direct from authors, and thus wouldn’t appear to have much need for a submission service.

    This brings the total number of publisher participants to five–but in exchange, Creative Byline appears to have lost a publisher. Tor, one of the initial group of three publishers, is no longer in the lineup.

  20. Victoria, I received this today via Facebook:

    Peter Jurmu
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    Today at 2:32pm
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    Dear Ms. Farley:

    I stumbled across your comment in the CSFF group regarding Creative Byline (stemming from Ms. Strauss’s article of 8 March), and wondered if you’ve taken a look at our Facebook Page. If you haven’t, here’s the link: There you’ll find various articles, discussion topics, YouTube clips, and the RSS feed for our blog, Literary Magnet.

    We’re growing slowly, but steadily, and our available blog/Facebook content is regularly updated. Since Ms. Strauss’s article, we’ve signed three more publishers (St. Martin’s Press, Globe Pequot–and all imprints of each–and Wilderness Press), and will shortly release a revamped main page for our website that give a snapshot of the member/writer and editor activity going on inside.

    We’re very serious about our mission–and our guarantee–and hope you’ll appreciate these new developments.

    Peter Jurmu

  21. I’m a published writer (Canadian) who has used Creative Byline. I found the first readers’ comments extremely helpful, polished up my submission as instructed, and sent it to an editor on their list. I had a lot of choice, and chose someone from St. Martin’s.
    Within two weeks (an incredibly short period of time) I got a response, asking to see the whole manuscript of my adult novel.
    I have been in contact with the very real editor, who has asked me for an additional week to consider the ms. She has now taken two weeks but, in this business, that is speedier than a jet plane.
    She has been polite and considerate in her correspondence with me.
    Of course, I am hoping against hope that St. Martin’s will publish my book, but I know this business well. Even if they ultimately reject the ms., I consider my $19 well spent. At the present time, I have no agent – St. Martin’s would not ordinarily have considered my work at all, under the circumstances. Also, as a Canadian, the cost of an international reply coupon would have been considerably more expensive than the fee.
    So far, I have nothing but praise for Creative Byline. As someone here mentioned, ordinarily it can take six months to get a standard rejection.
    If you don’t expect miracles, and you have some experience with sending your work to publishers, I think you’ll find Creative Byline an excellent service.
    Sheila Dalton

  22. Peter, thanks for your comment.

    But I think you’re setting up something of a straw man here. If writers are indeed sending out “ill-formatted query packages (attached to sub-par manuscripts)” their likelihood of getting interest from publishers is slim, no matter what submission avenue they choose. Nor is Creative Byline a fix for this: its readers see only your first three chapters. They may help you polish those chapters to a fine shine, but if the rest remains sub-par, your chances haven’t changed.

    For other publishers, such as Globe Pequot, which don’t require authors to be agented, I have a hard time seeing the value of using an intermediary. Why not just submit direct?

    As I noted in my post, Creative Byline may provide a useful and inexpensive critique service. But the bottom line is that the submission process is what it is–and what “is” is, in this context, is that agents take priority. For writers who use Creative Byline as a way to gain access to agented-only publishers like St. Martins Press, this means that there will always be an author with an agent in front of them. Maybe one day Creative Byline, or services like it, will change all that (though frankly, I’m skeptical)–but for now, if you want to access larger publishers, looking an agent is still the best place to begin.

  23. So how does a young author or poet navigate these waters? Some simply make a trip to their local library branch and copy down as many publishers’ addresses as they can, and fire off scattershot copies of their ill-formatted query packages (attached to sub-par manuscripts) and cross their fingers. I know more than a few aspiring writers who have done exactly that without tangible yield. In the meantime, they’ve dropped a chunk of their savings on something that not only won’t receive any editorial attention or feedback beyond what it takes to dismiss a bad manuscript, but that probably wasn’t ready for submission in the first place.

    Or said young writer can avail themselves of the numerous places online where they can get free feedback from professional writers and occasionally agents and editors, and send their queries to agents instead of editors, which is really a much better way to go.

    Why are they querying editors to begin with? Why aren’t they bothering to do any research at all about how to submit and how this business works?

    That information is everywhere online. Easily and readily available, seriously. Ten minutes research is all that’s needed.

    And it’s free.

  24. Being a young writer who recently began interning at Creative Byline, perhaps I can add an additional perspective on the company and the place it might occupy in the life of an author. Creative Writing students, such as myself, receive very little education regarding publishing at the undergraduate level (I’ve recently obtained my B.A. and will move on to a M.F.A. program within the next two years), and what they do know is the standard horror story: publishers are distant, floating-city behemoths that laugh at one’s pitiful, twine-bound manuscript before dousing it in flames. Whether this idea comes from their professors, classmates, or authors they admire, this untrue, though amusing, assumption is, unfortunately, the idea of publishers I had until I began looking into getting my own work published. (An event still, I imagine, quite distant.) Yet it is becoming more regular for institutions with M.F.A. programs in creative writing to look kindly upon writing samples, and applications by extension, that have, in whole or in part, already been published or are on their way.

    So how does a young author or poet navigate these waters? Some simply make a trip to their local library branch and copy down as many publishers’ addresses as they can, and fire off scattershot copies of their ill-formatted query packages (attached to sub-par manuscripts) and cross their fingers. I know more than a few aspiring writers who have done exactly that without tangible yield. In the meantime, they’ve dropped a chunk of their savings on something that not only won’t receive any editorial attention or feedback beyond what it takes to dismiss a bad manuscript, but that probably wasn’t ready for submission in the first place.

    When I heard about Creative Byline, the idea behind the company gave me a feeling approaching relief. Fellow authors with whom I’ve shared the company website and details are also intrigued, even though I’ve also told them that Creative Byline certainly doesn’t guarantee publication, or even satisfaction among writers about the ultimate fates of their manuscripts. But it does offer, as a recourse to a process that, at least to many young writers, is tremendously intimidating, an opportunity to explore the publishing world and gain access to experienced editors at low cost without the additional headache of hiring an agent. This is certainly not the full scope of Creative Byline, and others have above addressed other aspects, but I wanted to add to the discussion my perspective as a member of a certain demographic I feel can benefit greatly from what Brad and CB offer.

    Peter Jurmu
    Internet Marketing Associate
    Creative Byline, Inc.

  25. This post from Slushblog includes one writer’s report on his experience with Creative Byline. In a nutshell, he went through three review processes before he got cleared to submit, and the editor to whom he submitted looked at his package three times but never responded.

    His conclusion:

    In theory, I suppose it does work. I mean, ultimately, you want to get your work in the hands of an editor, and this does actually do that provided you jump over enough hurdles. Whether the editors take it seriously or not, I suppose we’ll never know. But I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

    Creative Byline has added two new publishers to its lineup: Globe Pequot Press and Orange Avenue Publishing (both of which accept submissions directly from authors).

  26. You know what would REALLY be useful to beginners in the field? A professional service to critique (and coach / assist in the preparation of)queries.

    Such a service would at least help take the butterflies out of one’s stomach.

    Although – and I believe ACC said as much in a recent blog – it would be a great dis-service to agents & publishers everywhere since it would probably help mediocre writers with wretched grammar skills create knock-out queries.

  27. One more thought…

    I have not found it to be true that fiction requires a platform.

    A background in subject matter can help (I can see why it might be good for a writer of military suspense to have once been in the military). But what kind of platform is needed for Sci-FI/ Fantasy/ Romance/ Paranormal/ Urban Fiction/ Mystery/ etc.?

    The writing, the voice, the ability to capture an audience with the power of the story – that is the platform. Good writing trumps all. (which might be a Snarkism – I definitely stole it from somewhere.)


  28. On the critique / review…

    What it comes down to for me is that you get what you pay for. In my experience as a contest judge, it takes a good three to four hours to do a thorough critique with comments on the first 15 pages of a MS. How much time will $19.00 really buy you? I mean realistically? How much do you pay your lawyer, dentist, lawn service per hour of work?

    Keep in mind that the company has to take their overhead out of that $19.00 too. I bet the money gets you about 10 minutes for a review of absolutely everything you sent in. Is that wrong? Well, like I said before – you get what you pay for.

    Having said that, this service does not sound like a scam to me, especially since it appears they are putting work in front of editors.

    The one thing I would like to see and didn’t on my cursory glance at the website is a listing of editor names. If I was going to use this service, I’d want to know up front which editors (not just publishing houses) I have to chose from.


  29. Oneraceonelove, it’s very possible that the editor didn’t review your entire submission. She may just have glanced at it long enough to decide that it didn’t pique her interest. A flip side to Creative Byline’s easy-to-use software may be that it also makes it easier to glance-and-dismiss (this, I would imagine, is also true of email submissions). On the other hand, reading just a few paragraphs often is enough for an editor (or agent) to determine that a submission isn’t suitable.

    Was the editor who looked at your submission too cursory? Was it immediately obvious to her that she wasn’t interested? It’s impossible to know. This is the same dynamic you have in any query situation.

    I said this in the body of my post, and I’ll say it again here: however innovative a submission service’s methods are, it can’t change the balance of power, which resides with the editors. For many authors, Creative Byline will simply be a streamlined way to discover that.

  30. I’ve done the entire creativebyline process. I would NOT recommend the service. This is why—the initial 1st reader received my submission and reviewed it in less than 24 hours. Normally this is good thing—except the feedback was rushed, generic, and contradictory. If you charge $19 make sure the people offering a manuscript critique are qualified! Second they never asked for a synopsis—they asked for an outline—any author, agent, editor knows the difference. Fiction and Non-Fiction.

    On a more positive note the first reader was qualified enough to approve the submission. I never received and an email telling me it was ready to go—I had to go in and investigate on my profile. Perhaps just an oversight—but they just brag how easy the process is for a beginner. The site says it will take three weeks for an editor to respond. I can understand that—normal turn around time is six months. Big time New York editors are busy—except in the world of creativebyline. The “editor” took less than two hours to read a ten page synopsis, outline and the first three chapters of my submission. Then she updated my creativebyline profile to say… Thanks but not interested.

    Rejection is certainly a way of life in the publishing world. But for all we know—creativebyline is run a “funny” web designer that has no contacts with the publishing world. I just find it hard to believe an editor from New York can review an entire submission and get back to the author the day after receiving the submission. Sound fishy?
    It gets better. Now that one of their editors has rejected the manuscript they want me to pay another $19.00 and send it another one of their imaginary editors.

    It was worth it just for the experience I suppose.

  31. Anonymous – I’m pretty sure you’re overstating this; I believe the trend is toward things becoming pretty much the same with fiction.

    Only an impression, however. I’ve written no fiction so this hasn’t been my focus.

  32. Frankly it’s hard for me to imagine “adding value to a submissions process” that has zero value if one is an author without a significant marketing platform – and that’s the status of most people who visit writer-related websites and send manuscripts that come back untouched from trade publishers which, if they’re serious, they keep hoping, sooner or later, someone will finally read and judge on the merits – until some years later they realize it won’t happen.

    As I read several years ago in LMP: “If you are submitting a nonfiction book proposal without a marketing platform, you are wasting your time.” I didn’t believe it, gave it my best shot anyway, but as far as I can tell, LMP was right.

    Mr. MacClean, I’m quite certain that the success of your system will depend not on receiving quality manuscripts – at best, a secondary consideration for the marketing teams of trade publishers – but on receiving manuscripts from authors with marketing platforms.

  33. Mr. MacLean, thanks for your informative response. I look forward to seeing the reader feedback samples.

  34. Thanks for providing a fair & balanced review of this new business. If Creative Byline holds the line on allowing only quality MS to get sent through them, then they may do quite well.

    I was especially impressed by Mr. MacLean’s level-headed & informative response, and appreciate the fact that he offers to answer any questions & address any concerns that his response may not have covered.

    Very professional (I think we can all respect that after some of the hot-headed, insane responses this blog has received in the past from both scammers & legitimate yet ill-conceived businesses).

    Sounds to me like this gentleman has a good head on his shoulders & enough sense to have considered at least some of the potential problems/ draw-backs of his business.

    Good luck, sir!

  35. Dear Ms. Strauss,

    Thanks for the balanced and thorough, thoughtful review of the Creative Byline site and service. If you don’t mind, I’d like to clarify just a few things.

    • Creative Byline isn’t a posting board, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. We’re not open to the public and writers can’t peruse other writers’ manuscripts. Additionally, editors must be subscribers (through contracts their publishing houses sign with us). They don’t need to remember to check for manuscripts the way they do on boards. Our system sends the editor an e-mail with links when there are qualified manuscripts that match that editor’s criteria. No manuscripts show up in an editor’s e-mail box, ever. The manuscripts remain on our system the entire time. Our contracts are with traditional publishers only.

    • There is no separate software license; our system is entirely web based.

    • Our first readers are not MFA students, although 80% of our first readers have some type of advanced writing or literature degree. This alone does not qualify them to be first readers, but it means they have at least some training in the mechanics of writing. (We’ll clarify this on our blog.) You brought up a good point about examples of the type of feedback a writer can expect from our first readers. We’ll incorporate some examples on our site over the next couple of days.

    • You’re right about editors: We can’t make them respond quickly (or even at all), but we believe our system makes it easier to respond, and so far we are off to a good start. Although we just recently launched, editor response rates are over 90%, and for those writers whose manuscripts make it past the first reader screen, the average time from initial upload to our site, through the first reader, to a response from an editor is a little over two weeks. And even if the answer is “no” at least the writer knows that quickly and can try another editor, either through Creative Byline or through snail mail.

    Finally, you’re absolutely correct that whether or not our system succeeds depends entirely on receiving quality manuscripts to pass to our publishing clients, and doing that in a way that is more efficient for everybody. We’re eager for more people with quality manuscripts to give it a try and see for themselves whether they think we add value to the submission process. I’d be happy to discuss any of this with you further.

    Best regards,

    Brad MacLean
    CEO and Founder
    Creative Byline, Inc.

  36. But do the editors even have to pay? There isn’t any mention of a charge to publishers.

    According to the article linked in the last paragraph of my post, the participating publishers pay a fee.

    Did anyone pull the terms and conditions/licensing agreements for the software?

    This didn’t occur to me, but I can’t find anything at the site to suggest that this info is available.

  37. Thanks for writing this up. This is an interesting idea, but I am leary of the MFA student bit.

    Did anyone pull the terms and conditions/licensing agreements for the software? Sometimes those differ substantially from the site terms and conditions.

  38. But do the editors even have to pay? There isn’t any mention of a charge to publishers.

    I think if editors find this system appealing at all, it won’t be because the manuscripts are pre-screened or that they can filter according to preference. It’ll be because it allows editors to read and respond to online submissions the same way they read postal mail submissions. Most editors HATE using email to receive and respond to submissions–it’s too direct, they have to download attachments, and very few publishers are willing to have an online slush pile.

    I bet the software will wind up being the most successful thing about Creative Byline, not the service. One possible outcome for all this is that publishers see the Creative Byline interface, like it, and commission CB or someone else to build something similar for their company. In which case they wouldn’t charge writers to use it.

  39. Good point, Susan and anonymous 8:28, about the possible limitations of critiques from MFA students. On the other hand, I wonder if the first-reader feedback won’t mainly be focused on mechanical problems, such as poor query letter format or grammatical mistakes, rather than on the content of the writer’s manuscript.

    Ian, you make a great point also, about equerying, and one I hadn’t thought of.

    About–some solid book sales are listed on its “Success Stories” page, but there are also a couple of placements with non-advance-paying publishers (which you don’t need a special submission service for)–and one book is published by Tate Publishing, a vanity publisher.

  40. What’s in it for the editors? It doesn’t sound as if they’re receiving anything that differs from what a good agent would send them – so why would they be willing to pay for it?

  41. I second the above. I work in publishing and I’m highly suspicious of the idea that MFA students know what publishers are looking for. Because when I was getting my MFA, I sure didn’t know.

    They’ll be able to weed out the truly awful writing but they might be wasting the time (and money) of good writers whose books don’t have a strong hook. There are better ways for those kinds of writers to get feedback, like writers’ conferences and professional organizations.

    I think publishers are willing to try Creative Byline because it’s the first place that appears respectable enough to be worth the gamble. I’m sure it’ll attract at least a few more curious publishers who are wondering if this will tap into some treasure trove of good unagented manuscripts. But if all they find are well-polished duds, they may not stick around.

  42. I have an MFA in creative writing and that experience makes me leery about using MFA students to critique non-literary packets. MFA programs are notorious for leaning heavily toward literary fiction and while it sounds great that someone with an advanced degree will be looking at the work (btw, which is it? Someone who HAS a degree or is WORKING TOWARD it?), it doesn’t mean that the critiquer knows diddly about the genre the writer is writing in.

  43. If I could point to the one thing that’s revolutionized the submissions process, it’s the widespread acceptance of email submissions by so many agents. Now I don’t have to wait weeks and weeks to get a rejection – sometimes it’s only minutes! LOL I don’t take them personally; it just means the agent can make a decision quickly and it doesn’t waste his or her time and it doesn’t waste mine.

    I’m not sold on the idea of submission services, although a friend of mine has apparently had very good success with one called I haven’t been able to find out any information about them so far.


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