Survival of the Fittest (Book Proposal)

Hi Writers,
You knew it had to happen. The “American Idol” concept has filtered down to the book world. Internet company is partnering with the Simon & Schuster imprint Touchstone to launch a contest wherein the public gets to vote (with $5,000 in virtual cash) on book proposals most likely to succeed.

Read about the contest in full, here:
“Touchstone Imprint of Simon & Schuster Teams with New Website Media Predict for Its Project Publish Literary Contest

And here:
“Welcome to Project Publish.”

And you may want to read The New York Times article on the contest.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the NYT piece:
“Being able to predict the performance of something is key,” said Brent Stinski, founder of Media Predict. A prediction market, he said, “is a very powerful tool.”

In the case of Media Predict, traders are not voting on the book they like best, but rather are placing bets on which they think will do well. According to Mark Gompertz, publisher of Touchstone Books, Media Predict could do for book publishing what focus groups do for soap and soda and what screening audiences do for movies.

“Since Gutenberg first printed the Bible, critics have always said publishers don’t know what they’re doing. Just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks is a crazy way to do business,” Mr. Gompertz said.

Well, the rights issues seem a little tricky here (authors allow MediaPredict to act as temporary literary agent if not already represented). But there’s no entry fee. And, of course, you can’t really argue against free.

This seems to me, though, the latest manifestation of what I wrote about in my last blog entry, which our WD forumites weren’t wild about, to say the least. Testing consumers to try and predict which books might actually sell doesn’t seem to be something writers want to believe is important or even useful.

Anyway, I’d love to know your thoughts on this contest, so drop me a line. Remember, I have $5,000 in virtual cash and I’m not afraid to use it.

Until next time…

Keep Writing,

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3 thoughts on “Survival of the Fittest (Book Proposal)

  1. Tatiana

    Considering S&S’s change to their contracts as to what constitutes out of print (e.g. nothing, your book is never out of print and S&S owns it forever and ever), I wouldn’t touch this contest with a 10-foot pole, let alone let some media company in bed with S&S negotiate a contract!

  2. Bob

    Hi Maria!

    I believe this American Idol concept applied to books will achieve the results the publishers are looking for
    ( Books that sell and make money). I’m not so sure this translates to anything positive for the writers
    ( Has it ever?) I agree the public knows what they want now, five minutes from now is anyone’s guess. Anytime money or profitability is involved you can be sure that the higher value of books will be tossed to the wayside.

  3. Olga Livshin

    I think publishing is too close to being a business as it is. That’s why marketers (sales professionals) make publishing decisions instead of editors (language professionals). That’s why most literature published in North America seems to be crafted by the same software, using the same algorithms. Nothing new (almost) gets through.
    It starts from the beginning, when new manuscripts are read by ‘readers’ instead of editors. The readers are trained to reject everything that is different. Every book on writing, every website that gives writing advice, recommends the same: in a query letter a writer should compare her new novel to something the agent/editor/publisher had seen before, preferably to a writer they have already dealt with. Anything new is destined to fail. Nobody professional reads it, much less considers publishing it.
    The situation leads to abolishing anything unique or innovative. If the same principles applied to out our technical development, humanity would still be living in caves. Fortunately, in technology, professionals and not the marketers make decisions.
    I think literature, like art, should be subsidized. Nobody expects a museum of fine art or a classical orchestra to generate profit. They all come even with the help of donations. So should literature, if we ever want, as a society, to produce books that are ‘food for the soul’ instead of packages of words on paper, generated by a computer.
    And public voting is even worse. General public is conservative by definition. New views and new ideas had always been nurtured by art and literature. If we let the masses vote on what is good in writing, we’ll end up in a literary morass, going nowhere. It’s a dead end.


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