On a related note, earlier this year John Warner offered to take over the massive pile of unsolicited, unagented fiction submissions at The New Yorker after Deborah Treisman, the current fiction editor, famously alleged that writers who submit to the slush pile aren’t very savvy about the business of publishing and therefore must not be very good writers.
This was the substance of Mr. Warner’s proposal:
Dear Deborah Treisman: for the purposes of a contest, I want you to subcontract your slush pile to me for one month. In keeping with the New Yorkerâ€™s political leanings, perhaps itâ€™s best to think of the idea as affirmative action for writers. We shall call it â€˜Great American Writerâ€™ after a popular television show airing these days.
During that month, I will personally screen the approximately 4,000 unsolicited manuscripts you receive. Conventional wisdom says that 90 percent of the slush pile is unreadable, irredeemable crap, dismissed quickly and easily. Weâ€™ll ask Norman Mailer to make cutting remarks about the very worst submissions. (People seem to enjoy that.) Since an additional 9.5 percent of the stories are likely to be competent, but ultimately uninspiring, that will leave a field of 20 potentially excellent stories. These 20 semi-final stories will be picked over by the New Yorker editorial staff to choose a fortunate final five.
The final five manuscripts can be excerpted for public comment and 1-800-number voting, with the winner announced live at the 92nd Street Y (Iâ€™m thinking Steve Martin for host) and broadcast on C-SPAN. Binky Urban can agent the ultimate champion, with an auction on the winnerâ€™s unwritten book to immediately follow the ceremony.
Think of the anticipation and excitement, the breathless profiles of the final five on the Today show. Weâ€™ll have people interested in reading again (they stopped when Oprah terminated her book club). The ultimate winner (and likely more than one of the other finalists) will be launched into a promising career, you can make good on your pledge that you publish the best manuscripts you receive, and your magazine can shake its reputation as being staffed by a bunch of narrow-minded snobs unable to see past the shores of Manhattan.
Interesting that the U.K. Lit Idol contest should pop up less than a year later, no?