This is a long one, so I’m going to insert my comments within the letter itself. You’ll know it’s me because it’s in red and it’s not italicized.
First, thanks for your great blog. Great information that can't be found anywhere else.
Here is my question: have you seen [a site that allows authors to post their stories on the Internet and receive feedback]?
Yes, I have seen the site, but I haven't read any of the posts.
I'd really like your opinion on the site and the concept. The intent is to provide a convenient place for aspiring, and published, LDS authors to post their work for others to review and provide feedback. The site is completely free and includes auto-notification to let those who are members know when new content or comments are posted.
My assumption is that the typical "publisher" response will be negative. Maybe something along the lines of, "Free content on web? We're doomed!" But I'm hopeful that more progressive publishers will see it for the boon that it can be.
Yes, many publishers will see it that way.
Here's how I think it can help publishers:
1) Market Development - Publishers want to sell more books. You posted a great example recently of an author building some viral buzz for her book.[website] can get the buzz started. Would publishers rather publish the work of an author with no email list or with a long list of avid readers? [website] provides a way for authors to start building their list.
Yes, in this way the site is a positive thing--IF the authors are able to capture the e-mail addresses of everyone who visits or registers on the site. If there is no way to contact those avid readers when the book is released, then it really doesn't help.
2) Market Understanding - I know publishers are really good at what they do, but they could always use more market intelligence. Reviews and comments on [website] could provide one more--actually several more-- data points to judge the potential market acceptance of the work.
Yes, if there was a way for the publisher to determine the demographics of the people who post comments--who liked it, who didn't--and use that info to target their audience, then it would be helpful. However, I am guessing (and this is just a guess) that most of the people who come to the site and post positive comments already have a vested interest in the author--friends and family, fellow writers, etc. Unless your site was getting lots and lots of hits a day from a large cross-section of readers and most of those readers were posting comments, then the comments may not be helpful.
3) Author Development - There is a no doubt a lot of junk out there. [website] provides a free platform for authors to get their work out for the world to see and comment. The reviews may not be professional quality, but practice is practice. Why not a sentence at the bottom of the standard rejection letter: "You might consider posting a portion of your work on [website]..."
This is the best reason for having a site like [website]--to help inexperienced writers hone their craft and to practice getting it out to readers they might not normally have contact with. For that reason alone, I am glad to see that this site exists.
One of my concerns is that the writers may not be getting helpful or correct feedback. A comment that says, "I loved this" or "This stinks" is not productive. Comments that say why they liked/disliked it are more valuable. However, you can't know the expertise of the commenter. When someone suggests doing something differently, do they know what they're talking about? I see suggestions on other sites (and hear them at writers conferences), sometimes by experienced published writers, that are so off track I hope no one follows them.
So to those who have posted on this site, great. Just take the comments with a grain of salt.
And this concept is too new for me to even consider recommending it as part of my standard rejection letter. (See also my last comment.)
4) It is Never Going to Replace Print! - It is a rare individual that is willing to sit in front of a screen and read an entire novel. With the cost of ink and paper, it is much cheaper to go down to your local Deseret Book and buy the book than try to print it out yourself. [website] will never replace traditional book publishing. On the contrary, it will create a number of vocal advocates that will help drive sales as the book goes into print.
You are right, this is not going to replace the printed book. However, I know from experience that it does have an impact on sales. I had an author post his entire manuscript on the Internet--after I had already published his book. His business cards referred readers to the Internet site. Sales dropped almost immediately--enough that I seriously considered suing him for breach of contract. I decided against it for other reasons, but I was really ticked and I absolutely, positively will never publish anything else that this man writes. And if I hear that other publishers (my friends and colleagues) are considering publishing a book by him, I will definitely share my experience with them.
Well those are my opinions, but what I would really like is yours.
I reserve the right to change my mind at some future time, but as it stands right now, I personally, would not have a problem with an author posting short stories or works they didn't intend to publish. This gets them some experience and name recognition. But if they are posting works they intend to publish, my biggest concern is the protection of the author's copyright. Someone could steal the work and publish under their own name before the true author was able to publish or be publishing simultaneously with the real author. I would never be able to determine if that was happening. If that were to happen, it would really cause a sticky and very expensive mess. For that reason, I would have to think long and hard about publishing a book that had been published in its entirety on the Internet.