Online publisher seeks writers

Back in 1830, a little known writer, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, wrote the opening to his novel, Paul Clifford, in words that have come to signify the efforts of wannabe writers everywhere.“It was a dark and stormy night…”This spring, Time Warner Books opened a new online avenue for today’s unknown, unpublished writers. The company set up iPublish “tapping the power of the Internet to discover new writing talent”. This enterprise feeds into the electronic eBook branch of the media and publishing giant.

In the fall, 2000, Time Warner launched this line of books, available only through the Internet, publishing 50 titles each month. The company says, “retailers are currently carrying all the eBooks that publishers offer them,” so clearly the demand for more content to fill the Internet maw is there.
Impact on publishing
According to Laurence Kirschbaum, the chairman/CEO of Time Warner Trade Publishing, the new online publishing company “redefines publishing as we know it. It brings writers, reader and editors together in a new and powerful way that will permanently impact on the industry.”

The centpiece of iPublish is the writers’ community, iWrite. Time Warner says many books, and authors, aren’t getting published because they don’t fit comfortably into established print publishing models. The company says iPublish offers writers a direct way to get their work in front of other writers and, more importantly, the editors, who make publishing recommendations.

Claire Zion is editorial director for iPublish.

“We had a belief that there were many, many talented authors out there who we just couldn’t connect with because we only had time in the print world to look at things that came to us from agents. And agents only have so much time to read stuff. And we really believed that because of that, we were missing a lot of talent. But it was just an idea, just a theory we had. And it’s true. I’ve really been delighted and surprised by how good these writers are.”

Submitting work
The rules of this online publishing game are simple. In order to submit your own work, you are required to rate three works by other authors on everything from plot and character to dialogue and pacing. You have to “earn your ticket” in order to join the writers’ community.

Writers receiving high ratings from other participating writers get a reading by an editor. If the work meets standards set out by the publisher, it may join the stable of monthly eBook titles, with distribution through eBook retaillers.

“We haven’t actually announced anything yet, and won’t be for about a month. We in the process of making some decisions. We’re working with our authors now,” says Zion.

She says if the sales of the book in eBook format are good enough, the book may become a print edition, with accompanying marketing, promotion, and distribution through Time Warner’s publishing arm.

Assignments, self-study
The iPublish site includes:

  • An Assignment Board-where editors provide specific topics and information on types of works they seek to publish.
  • iLearn-an online forum with monthly live lectures with authors and publishing insiders.
  • Self-study programs on a variety of topics helpful to writers, which can be read at your leisure.
  • Message boards-which provide a venue to meet and talk to other writers and the editors.

Interactive site 
Zion says they are seeking fiction and non-fiction works by unpublished writers of any length. They’re also interested in genres ranging from romance and mystery to science fiction and business.

“The submissions in mystery, romance and science fiction are all very robust. Non-fiction in general has a lot of stuff in it. Innovation is an area where we are looking and publishing spiritual works as well as works that are experimental in form, taking advantage of what digital content can do. So we expected that to be pretty small. So that’s a genre that’s going to grow a lot. All the editors are busy. There’s not as much in business. But otherwise, everybody’s finding stuff, ” she says.

“We reimburse at a royalty earning rate that’s defined on the site. It’s 25 per cent of net revenues to $25,000 in author earnings and 50 per cent thereafter. And if we take the book into print, there’s a pre-defined advance level for that,” says Zion.

Writer feedback
One romance writer has posted her thanks on a message board: ” I’d like to extend my thanks for this useful site that gives unpublished authors a chance to display their work and to receive feedback …If any of you believe the folks here on this site are brutal in rating submissions, try entering a Romance Writers of America chapter contest! “

The editors have instituted a no-flaming policy for the give and take in the feedback section:  “We want these message boards to be a forum for constructive discussion, not a place for arguments or flame wars. Accordingly, we’ve decided to delete posts that are rude, personal attacks or simply designed to incite other members. There’s no overarching corporate plan to delete posts that are critical of us at work here. We’ve simply received enough feedback from all of you now to know that you’d rather not see acerbic posts on the boards.”

Famous lines
But would the ‘dark and stormy night’ author of Paul Clifford get the publishing nod? The complete paragraph reads: ‘It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents-except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.’

You be the judge.