Image courtesy of life serial, via flickr

One of the more sobering realizations you might have upon completing a pitch or a book is that generally, no one asked you to write it. There are no agents, publishers or readers out there waiting with bated breath.

Whatever. No one asked Steve Jobs to start Apple. No one asked Rosa Parks to sit up front. No one asked Hendrix to pick up a guitar. In fact, most of the exalted moments of humanity are the result of people starting off on ventures that no one asked them to pursue.

With today’s technology, it’s easier now than at any point in the history of the world to create content. But that doesn’t mean the best content is getting to the right audience. That’s why editors and publishers need better tools to help them separate the wheat from the chaff.

Cognitive surplus

Cognitive Surplus author Clay Shirky has touched upon the fact that we are currently dealing with the down sides of living in an era of excessive creative content. There are more of us producing more content than ever before, which has resulted in ever-increasing competition for our attention. Books and ad campaigns now compete with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, even your mobile phone.

Historically, as Cory Doctorow pointed out in an article he wrote for The Guardian, there have been three steps in the publishing paradigm: identifying stories (curating); writing them; and connecting those stories to the right audience. While most technological advances have focused on making steps 2 and 3 easier, the first step (identifying stories) has gotten exponentially harder.

Publishers and editors now deal with more unsolicited manuscripts and pitches than ever before, not just because there are more of them coming in, but because there’s absolutely no tension on the process. It’s just too easy for writers to click send.

It’s become a numbers game. Writers send out more and more pitches because they’re competing with more and more pitches from other writers. Ultimately, this model is unsustainable.

Tension and curation

The simplest way to cut down on low-quality pitches is by imposing a $2 to $3 charge to put some “tension” on submissions. That will decrease spam and ensure editors only receive manuscripts and pitches targeted at them.

The other way to make life easier for editors is through technology. Cloud computing has drastically decreased the cost of creating powerful curation tools that empower editors to curate and edit.

Once editors have these processes and tools in place they’ll be able to realistically engage with unsolicited content and get back to the business of finding and publishing unique and unknown voices.