Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Tale of Two Blogs

One of my favorite things to do in literature class was compare and contrast. It's such a simple little exercise, but it does a great deal for sharpening your observation skills. Today, we are going to compare and contrast a pair of anonymous industry blogs that were recently brought to my attention.

One is called iUniverse Book Reviews and the other is called The Rejecter. One works for a literary agent in the capacity of sorting unsolicited manuscripts into "no" and "maybe" piles based on cover letters. The other one is an amateur blog dedicated to reviewing the best iUniverse books submitted to her notice. Guess which is which.

In theory, both of these blogs are dedicated to improving the quality of the content available in the publishing industry. And, in theory, both blogs reflect the respective viewpoints of their ends of the industry. On the one hand, the mainstream publishing industry operates as a model of exclusivity where the entry-level employees are taught how to say no as forcefully as possible – which is very similar to how drug dealers work, as I understand it. On the other hand, the self-publishing industry operates on an inclusionary model, where most everyone is encouraged to contribute.

The message of the exclusionary model is, from the name of the blog on down, negative. You will probably not succeed. Your submission is considered to be one step above junk mail. Most submissions will not generate any interest whatsoever. Most submissions will not make it past the cover letter and those that do will rarely make it past the first few pages of the manuscript. These are the stark and brutal facts and if you do not have the ability to deal with them, then you are shit out of luck.

The message of the inclusionary model is more mixed. The iUniverse Reviewer assumes that anyone who submits a book to her attention will have already published something and are now looking for wider exposure. True, there are limitations to the kinds of things that the reviewer is looking for, but that’s just plain honesty – what kind of realistic author would want someone who isn’t a fan of historical romance to review that kind of work? The most important portion of this site is that it can actually do something for the people that submit – unlike The Rejecter, who just says no.

In truth, I feel sorry for The Rejecter. It must be difficult to have an entry-level career as a junk mail sorter. There are some that probably feel sorry for the iUniverse Reviewer (imagine having to read all of those terrible books and then getting to feature the best ones!), but anyone who has ever done a good deed for a stranger out of the goodness of their heart knows that the benefits are often intangible. And the best part is that the books that get reviewed are selected on merit, not rejected on whim.

It’s very difficult not to see these two as the past and future of the publishing industry. As long as the self-publishing industry remains open-ended, with no real content filter to speak of, there will always be a need for people who are willing to review the best books and bring them to the attention of a willing audience – the farm team I spoke of earlier. And as long as the slush pile exists, there will always be a need for someone whose job is to sit and sort through it, throwing away vast piles of other people's hard work with a jaundiced, callous eye. But how much longer will the slush pile endure once writers realize that contributing to it does little more than give people an entry-level job in waste disposal?