Why Display Sites Are Useless

What exactly, you may ask, is a display site?

The idea of a site displaying your finished fiction manuscript to potential agents and publishers is an old one. Writer James D. MacDonald came up with an acronym for this tired old concept: YADS.

Yet Another Display Site.

After reading all the evidence (blog and board posts), why do I agree with Mr. MacDonald that they're useless?

I'll give you two - count 'em, two - reasons why it's not worth a writer's time.

Plenty of Manuscripts Out There

With the thousands of manuscripts that are handled by agents and some publishers day in and day out, do you really think agents and publishers have the time to look at something like a display site?

Right. They receive plenty of manuscripts already. Publishers that only take agented work are looking at those from agents they know and trust to give them good stuff to look at.

Yes, agents act as slush piles for publishers. That's because although publishers have editors to edit manuscripts (yes, Virginia, editors still EDIT manuscripts, from the high and mighty to the first timers), editors are already stressed out enough as it is to wade through slush (or, rather, have an intern or an assistant do it for them).

Which is where the agent comes in.

Which doesn't mean there aren't publishers that still accept slush; nowadays, it's the smaller publishers, but there are still a few bigger ones that do (Tor comes to mind).

Same thing applies there as to agents, though.

The Time Factor

Then, of course, there's the time factor. Although I alluded to it above in talking about editors, seems everyone at publishing houses these days are busy, busy, busy. As are agents, who get hundreds of queries a day.

So do you think they even have the time to look at YADS?


Agents and publishers are receiving plenty'o'queries and manuscripts every day. They don't need to go looking anywhere else but their own in bins and email boxes for stuff.

So Who Uses Display Sites?

Typically, bottom-feeder agents.

You know the type:

"I deal mostly with first-time authors."

Hell's bells, people! ALL legit agents and publishers deal - and sign - first-time authors. Happens every day. Don't believe me? Check out Publisher's Marketplace sometime. I get their free email daily, with one email a week reserved for just the deals (although it's a small list because it's the free email version of PM).

There are usually 2-3 debuts in that particular email all the time, and I'm sure there are plenty more at the paid on-site version.

Don't you think agents and publishers want the next big thing? Of course they do! Both are in business to make money, and if they think your voice and storytelling ability has a certain something to it - of course they'll sign you/publish your book.

Final Thoughts

So here's the dealio.

Work on your story until it's the best it can be. Send off queries to agents. If that doesn't go anywhere, have someone paste their eyeballs on your query letter and see if it can be improved. Send out more queries. Once you've gone through a slew of agents, then turn your sights onto publishers.

And what have I said until you probably want to stuff a sock in my mouth? Research, research, research all of your agents and publishers ahead of time so no one takes advantage of you.

Oh, and ignore YADS. You and your novel deserve better than a look-see from a scam agent who will try to come between you and your money.

~Nancy Beck


Billy said...

I have always wondered why people post work (or announcements), as if the agents have a few spare moments to surf the net. As far as big publishers accepting unsolicited queries, TOR is the only one I've come across (and imprints), but none of the major houses anymore (independents--yes, as you noted). Even posts at Absolute Write by some authors advocate sending straight to publisher, but maybe I missed something along the way. Perhaps some sci-fi or fantasy houses, but not most. Great post.

~Nancy said...


True, most big publishers can't be bothered with slush anymore. But, yes, it seems that at least Tor and I think Baen (also a fantasy publisher) still accept slush.

But people should be prepared to wait up to 2 years(!) for anyone to get to their ms.

Thanks for stopping by. :-)