The business behind the front page

Publishers and promoters of on-line sites use their internet presence to generate publicity for themselves, as well as income from advertising and promotion. The headline on their home page may scream, ‘Helping books to get published’, but ultimately that is not what they do, though the cost of providing a useful and fun service to writers, often for free, compares very favourably with the costs and effort of processing literally thousands of unsolicited paper submissions.

Every editor can expect to receive between two and three hundred submissions each week. So instead of allowing unsolicited submissions, most publishers rely on the services of agents, their own commissioning editors’ finds, and their contacts in the industry, to fill their catalogues. If books from any on-line site reach publication, we are not privy to the reasons why this is so, and should be very careful about drawing conclusions based around their popularity or success on site.

I suggest that, if we wish to follow this avenue, we upload some of our work, but not all of it. Please be aware that not every agent or publisher relishes the thought that we have put your magnum opus out on the internet. This is a central dilemma for a new writer, and one that deserves careful consideration: if we upload our work, we may indeed gain an element of recognition from the wider public and demonstrate that we have an on-line following, two aspects of the publicity game that publishers and agents are very keen for you to demonstrate. Even so, uploading our work can act as a spoiler, putting off agents and publishers who might otherwise be interested. Yes, a few works are “discovered” on-line; and I’m assuming that most publishers and agents take the view that a demonstrable public following augurs well for future sales. But there remains a sizeable community of traditionalists who feel uneasy about what they might see as premature publication. Upload only small portions of work that you edit and improve frequently. (So, if someone does express an interest in publication, you can say in all honesty that the version they have read was a very early draft.)


Have fun, but do not expect to obtain a publishing contract as a result of your involvement on-site. From a list of perhaps ten thousand manuscripts, it may be that three or four are talent-spotted by the publisher, with another half dozen being picked up by other agents and publishing concerns. That is a small percentage to pin your hopes on, so I suggest that you don’t. Instead, learn about your craft, make friends and read widely. If you gather an army of supporters, this will feed your self-belief and give you courage to keep going when industry insiders are telling you “no thanks”. As a commercial proposition, getting a publishing contract from on-line involvement is very unlikely. But that doesn’t mean your work is no good, it simply means that the editors are either interested in different genres, are not looking for submissions at the moment or haven’t noticed what you are offering. Don’t let that discourage you. If writing is what you enjoy, just keep on going.

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