Editorial Anonymous got me thinking about How to Overhaul the Slush System. The discussion so far has focused on how to deal with the number of submissions coming in, all the physical space taken up by that paper, and all the staffers’ time taken up by all those words.
But what about reducing — while not halting entirely — the number of submissions arriving in the first place?
Editorial Anonymous began her post by quoting a reader who asked, “In this day and age, shouldn’t there be a better way? An online process that allows authors to post their work on a publisher’s web site, much like posting a resume on Monster.com?”
But a recent article in The New York Times pointed out a problem with Monster.com — and, to my mind, a potential solution for children’s publishers:
Recruiters with six-figure jobs to fill know better than to post them online and start a stampede of marginally qualified job seekers. But they also know that the Web is the easiest way to find applicants.
The Web’s surprising answer to the problem? Charge them to look.
That’s right — I’m comparing children’s writers to executives on the hunt for six-figure salaries. (Our checks can have six figures, too — just don’t pay any mind to the placement of those decimals.) But as with Monster.com, there’s a big burden on the companies on the receiving end (of resumes or manuscripts) and next to no barrier to entry for the individuals making the pitch.
TheLadders.com, the high-end recruiting service profiled by the Times, charges individuals $30 a month to have a look at job postings. Wouldn’t something similar — say, a $5 fee per submission — cut down on the number of manuscripts that arrive in the first place?
Before I had an agent, I made somewhere around 300 submissions. I like to think I was on the more-professional-than-most end of the spectrum. I researched houses and individual editors as carefully as I could and made educated guesses about where each manuscript had the best odds. But I also submitted a lot of manuscripts to multiple editors simultaneously, and I sent out manuscripts that, in retrospect, weren’t quite ready.
At $5 a pop, would I have sent a manuscript to two or three editors at a time instead of to five? You bet. Would I have taken another pass or two at revising a manuscript before I sent it out? No doubt about it.
Maybe the right figure would be $2 per submission. Maybe it would be $10. Maybe the fee would rise and fall in relation to the publisher’s backlog — a relationship that could be made visible to writers via a fancy graphic incorporated into an online submissions form.
Maybe the fees would be pure profit for the publishers. Maybe they’d pay for another editorial assistant. Maybe they’d go to a sort of scholarship for financially disadvantaged writers so that the slush pile isn’t filled only with the work of writers well-off enough to pay those fees without thinking twice.
Maybe writers would avoid that publisher in droves, and the policy would be widely mocked (starting in the comments to this post) and quickly scrapped.
Maybe, but who’ll know until someone tries?