The Writer’s Edge: Cheap Literary Agent, Electronic Slush Pile or Scam?

Several times a year, a new writer will post a question in an online Christian writing group, “Have you heard of the Writer’s Edge? Is it legitimate?” This leads to a debate between editors and authors with years of experience in the industry over whether services like Writer’s Edge and 1st Edition, which post book [...]

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Written on November 23rd, 2008
Read more articles on Become a writer.

Several times a year, a new writer will post a question in an online Christian writing group, “Have you heard of the Writer’s Edge? Is it legitimate?” This leads to a debate between editors and authors with years of experience in the industry over whether services like Writer’s Edge and 1st Edition, which post book proposals online for editors to read, are worth the $79-$95 fee.

What are you getting for that fee? ECPA’s 1st Edition, places the book proposals on its site without any evaluation. Their only service is the posting of the book proposals. According to several editors who’ve seen the newsletter, 1st Edition’s collection of proposals contains few “jewels” and a lot of mess.

In contrast to the posting-only approach, The Writer’s Edge offers a critiquing service, in addition to hosting the book proposal. The value of that critique depends on what you’re looking for. According to Chip MacGregor, an associate publisher at Warner Faith, “I’m not all that impressed with the evaluations given by Writers Edge. Some of them might be good…but not the ones I saw.” Pamela Dowd found out the hard way that her evaluation from the Writer’s Edge hurt her. “I changed my whole writing style as a new writer based on a Writer’s Edge critique… Now, years later, the thing that I hear most is that I need to add back into my writing more of what I took out based on that critique.” Her advice to writers submitting to the Writer’s Edge is, “It’s only one reviewer’s assessment of your work.”

Others find a benefit to the general assessment provided by the Writer’s Edge. Lin Johnson, who runs the Write-to-Publish conference for Christian writers, says, “It’s worth the money to find out if your proposal is ready to be seen by an acquisitions editor.” She adds that they give you some suggestions, “but not a thorough critique.” Rebecca Miller submitted a book proposal to the Writer’s Edge years ago and although she didn’t make a sale, she’s thankful for the experience. “They ‘graded’ accepted material, so I had a chance to see how professionals ranked my book.” She learned that her writing was good, but needed work. That was the encouragement she needed to continue improving her writing skills.

If you’re looking for a thorough evaluation and critique to make your proposal ready for publication, the Writer’s Edge service isn’t what you’re looking for. There are many reputable editors and groups who, for a reasonable fee, will help you make your book proposal one that grabs the attention of editors and agents. If you’re willing to pay $95 for a professional’s assessment of the marketability of your work, then you’ll appreciate the Writer’s Edge’s service.

Will you sell your proposal if you post it online? According to the statistics provided by The Writer’s Edge, they place about 2% of the book proposals listed on their site, but they don’t say how many were bought by traditional, as opposed to vanity, publishers. Traditional publishers bought nine book proposals from listings on 1st Edition last year. Most of the publishers that contact authors through these sites are vanity or subsidy publishers that charge writers a fee to print their book. Shelley Hussey, author of “I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK, But That’s OK With God” states, “I’m puzzled as to why authors would require the fee-for-services of 1st Edition to obtain a contract with a self-publisher or subsidy publisher.” What’s more astounding is that 1st Edition and The Writers Edge consider these to be sales.

Elaine Wright Colvin, publisher of the WIN Informer, which keeps tabs on the Christian publishing industry, says, “I have long warned writers to save their money – both of these are just another huge slush pile that give editors an escape so they don’t have to handle the paper piles or deal with manuscripts from uninformed writers.” Many others, like literary agent Janet Kobobel Grant agree, “Most editors have a hard time keeping up with submissions that come to them from agents, authors the editor already has relationships with, and authors the editors meet at writers conferences.” She adds, “One editor said to me, ‘Sure, there might be a fabulous manuscript in Writer’s Edge, but I can’t take the time to ferret it out. I’m willing to miss it because I already have all the manuscripts I can buy in my office.”

Margaret Buchanan is an elite member of the small percentage of writers who receive contracts with traditional publishers through the Writers Edge. She says, “I sent my first book manuscript to the Writer’s Edge… and 5 reputable publishing houses contacted me within 2 weeks.” Broadman & Holman published her book, “Famous Jerks of the Bible”. Randy Ingermanson, publisher of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine states, “With a terrific title like that, even an editor with minimal time to scan Writer’s Edge would jump on it.”

The overall opinion of 1st Edition and the Writer’s Edge by writers in online groups is that these companies aren’t scams, and the reason they don’t work is that most writers who use them aren’t yet ready for publication. Deborah Gyapong submitted a proposal to the Writer’s Edge several years ago and received a request from an editor for the completed manuscript. Although no contract resulted from the experience, she says, “While many may argue that it’s extremely rare for anyone to see a contract come out of Writer’s Edge, I would say it’s probably more due to people like myself who think they’re ready long before they even realize how much more work is needed on the manuscript.”

Terry Whalin, fiction editor at Howard Publishing, does look at the Writer’s Edge listings each month. “I did request several entries at my previous publisher and tried in a couple of cases to pitch the books but never contracted a single one.” Like Deborah Gyapong, he thinks the problem with slush piles, electronic or printed, is, “the large volume of poor submissions.” His suggestion is to, “produce quality submissions for publishers and your material will stand out.”

If you think your proposal is ready for publication, go back and edit it again using books about book proposals to find new things to add. “Book Proposals that Sell” by Terry Whalin is a great choice for non-fiction authors. Fiction authors should buy “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Browne and King. While polishing your proposal, make sure you’re doing everything you can to market yourself as a reputable writer on the book’s topic. Then, send your book proposal to a manuscript critique service. Find publishers who print books like yours and accept unagented proposals, tailor your proposal to their guidelines, and start sending it out. Submit your proposal to the Writer’s Edge or 1st Edition if you feel confident that their service is for you.

Seven years after Deborah Gyapong unsuccessfully submitted her novel, “The Defilers” to the Writer’s Edge, she won the 2005 Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for the same novel. Augsburg Fortress is publishing it in Spring 2006. “I’ve spent hours and hours on it since then,” she says. “The basic story is the same, just far more polished.”

You may not sell your first book, but if you keep working and improving your skills, you, like Deborah Gyapong, will reach your goal of publication.

About the Author

Years ago Terri Pilcher almost joined the ranks of writers who spent too much money to post a badly written book proposal on the Writer’s Edge. Thanks to wise advice, she spent time learning to write with articles that have appeared in Spirit-Led Writer, Byline, Brio & Beyond, numerous regional parenting magazines, and more. Visit her website: to learn more about how to get published.

Written on November 23rd, 2008
Read more articles on Become a writer.

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