Fresh off the non-success of their affiliation with the Sobol Awards, the pay-to-play literary contest that got scuttled after it turned out to be more of a lighting rod for bad press than an exciting episode of "Who Wants To Be America's Next Top Author," Simon and Schuster imprint Touchstone is at it again. They've teamed with MediaPredict.com to create "Project Publish," a stunt whereby they'll publish one of the stock-market style site's submissions, with the caveat that they don't have to go through with it if none of the submissions are of "publishable quality." "According to Mark Gompertz, publisher of Touchstone Books,"—Jared Paul Stern's publisher!—"Media Predict could do for book publishing what focus groups do for soap and soda and what screening audiences do for movies," says the Times. Hey, maybe this is the kind of net-savvy move that will turn this dinosaur of an industry around! Except, maybe there's a tiny flaw or two in the plan.
For starters, the site advertises that the batch of proposals it's currently hosting come from their "core group" of "agent partners," which includes Matthew Guma of The Guma Agency, Mollie Glick from the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Melissa Chinchillo and Christy Fletcher from Fletcher & Parry. However, these agents told Publisher's Marketplace that their relationship with the site was "informal and advisory."
Why would agents be leery of affiliating themselves with the site? Well, maybe because if they do, it'll be obvious that they're using it as a last-ditch effort to unload proposals that have long since made the rounds and gotten turned down by everybody. Like, for example, former Miss America Kate Shindle's pageant roman a clef Crown Chasers. We remember reading it lo those six months and 21 days ago when we worked in book publishing! [Ed Note: Umm, but who's counting? Eek.] Apparently, Christy Fletcher thinks that the using the site will mitigate publishers' initial resistance to the book: "Some of my big successes were the books that were the most difficult to sell because they were going into places that people hadn't gone before," she tells the Times. Funny, "roman a clefs are over" was the reason most people we know originally rejected the book.
Also in the Times article, a business professor points out that the site isn't really measuring reader response, just tallying the self-perpetuating results of a popularity contest. "If they say we find it really persuasive that everyone bet on book A, they're just looking at a book that everyone bet that everyone else bet that everyone else thinks is the best book. So you don't end up with the wisdom of crowds, but the infinite reflection of crowds looking at crowds."
Other than that, though? Great idea.