And what on earth is a pre-agent anyway?
Once upon a time, many large publishers decided (or at least their corporate owners decided) that they were impossibly swamped with manuscripts. 85% of them, any slushpile reader will tell you, are unpublishable by any publisher, and the next 13% are competent - even very good - but just not saleable enough. And with the turmoil in the industry the goal posts of "saleable enough" get narrower every year.
So it was a logical step, in business terms, for most of the big and corporate publishers to close their doors to unsolicited manuscripts direct from writers, and to rely on literary agents to do the filtering for them and to forward the few which are likely to be saleable.
In parallel, literary consultancies have grown up to serve the market of aspiring writers who want help to improve their novel or non-fiction manuscript. The consultancies' basic purpose is to match individual writers with editors who specialise in working with such writers, trying to make the manuscript both better and more saleable, to improve its chances of being taken on by an agent and bought by a publisher.
Quite few agents close their doors totally to unsolicited submissions direct from writers; they know that the slushpile may be, in practical terms, a nuisance to deal with, but it's also the source of the new blood that all agencies need.
But slushpiles are large and agents must spend their working hours on their existing authors: they read the slushpile at evenings, weekends and on the bus. One very well-known agent tweeted, late on Easter Saturday: Reading, reading, reading all day. Have responded to MANY unsolicited submissions. Expect some abuse soon. and later Responses ALWAYS include some abusive ones unfortunately. 'Kill the messenger' type.
So anything which helps a new writer to be noticed seems like a good idea - and the literary consultancies and editors-who-help-aspiring writers do, of course, see manuscripts which have developed into something really exciting and saleable, and the literary agents began to know that the manuscripts which come from the consultancies are, on the whole, more likely to be saleable than the average.
So to some extent, the kind of filtering that publishers look to agents for, the agents are beginning to look to the literary consultancies for. The notion of the pre-agent is born. But, of course, everything has to be paid for somehow, by someone.
Each consultancy does it (and makes its money) a different way. WriteWords has always got its eye on the publishing and allied industries, and in the forum this week WWers are being asked what they'd like to ask such companies.
If you're thinking of using one - and wondering whether it would be worth it - and what their take is on how useful they are - now's your chance to find out. Just click through to the thread here, and add what you'd like to ask.