How many people decide whether or not the public will like a book before the public even gets a vote? Maybe a publisher, editor, and agent? These people are professionals who stake their careers and livelihoods to some extent on knowing what the public will like, and certainly they are often right.
But is it efficient to have so many steps between writer and reader? We have all heard the stories of books being rejected repeatedly before eventually breaking through into the market and becoming instant best-sellers. Even more disturbing are the minions of crappy books which find themselves on bookstore shelves just to remain there until they are tossed in the garbage (most often where they belong).
Ultimately, the readers are the only ones who unerringly know what they want to read. The more steps a manuscript has to take in order to find life in the hands of an enthusiastic reader the more chances the process will get screwed up. Yet, the last few decades have only added the extra barrier of the agent.
But rather than inventing new gatekeepers to decide what the public wants to read we need some sort of alternative system of checks and balances that puts the power back into the hands of the readers. With the accessibility of the internet and software to help any joe schmuck write a book there should also be some sort of grassroots level, social media sort of screening… like a manuscript cage match.
What the world needs now is a Thunderdome on-line application for perspective books. Currently, hundreds of wanna be authors are clambering for the attention of agents and publishers everyday. Many talented individuals struggle. Many hacks find parley. Instead, envision the future. Perspective writers submit their manuscripts (maybe the first chapter or a select excerpt) and their reputations into a gladiator-style, winner-takes-all, battle royale allowing readers to decide which manuscript is buried and which moves on to the next round.
After a defeat a perspective author is banished from competing for a year while they either quit or hone their skills for a return. Once a manuscript advances beyond a regional level it is guaranteed a small publishing contract, but with each successive victory its glory increases as does its contract. It would be the American Idol for books (not authors, cause let’s face it, most of them are boring people).
Not only could this be the solution to our current predicament, but this could also open up a whole new form of reading entertainment! And every Joe Schmuck like me can sit at his/her computer and just image what awaits them beyond thunderdome.