These days, the task of first sifter generally goes to agents – but even they are feeling overwhelmed. Curtis Brown proclaims on its website, as a point of difference: “We are one of the few agencies who do accept unsolicited manuscripts.” Anyone who begins to feel this publishing business is a closed shop has good reason.
But there are other ways to get a hearing. There is The Literary Consultancy, for example, established by Hannah Griffiths and Rebecca Swift in 1996, at a time when many independent publishers were being gobbled up by conglomerates. They began to see, as Swift puts it, that “bottom lines had become all-important, meaning that writers who were perhaps too literary or too experimental are judged with extreme caution by anyone interested in profits first.”
In the slush pile Swift saw not guilt-inducing dross, but “a great big neglected pile of people’s efforts. Everybody needed and deserved attention.” But at the same time, “what they needed to understand was that that was very highly skilled attention, and that to get a really good response should cost money.” They charge £75 to read stories of up to 3,000 words; £250 for a one-or two-page synopsis up to 100 double-spaced pages; £1.50 per double-spaced page for the first 300 pages of a longer manuscript, and £1 per page thereafter, providing for that a detailed, thoughtful critique of the entire submission. If they consider a work exceptional, they will recommend it to an agent. They are doing well.