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
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.