It’s the oldest problem in publishing: how do publishers and agents find and develop writers and publishable content. Jay Gale, cofounder of Inkubate, an online marketplace and manuscript review site currently in beta, may have an answer.
Inkubate is an online site currently in development that allows writers to upload content—full manuscripts, excerpts, out-of-print works and more—for review and possible acquisition by agents or publishers. The site is free to writers while publishers and agents pay a subscription fee for access to a database of content designed to provide copyright protection for the writer and an auditing system that tracks revisions, drafts and who has viewed its content.
Gale calls Inkubate, “the digitization of the slush pile,” and said the site offers a suite of database search tools and filters as well as the ability to create content categories; receive alerts on new drafts, new writers, desired genres or new material. “It’s also a commodity trading place for willing buyers and sellers,” said Gale. “Agents and publishers are inundated by manuscripts,” Gale said in an interview at the PW offices. “Publishers are fearful of unsolicited manuscripts and writers want feedback from professional editors; how do you solve this problem.” Gale said. “Inkubate offers an environment respectful of copyright with a document audit so subscribers can see who has looked at what.”
The site was cofounded by Gale, Stacy Clark and Pixel Media, a web technology firm that is developing the technology that runs Inkubate. The site has about 50 people working on its technology. Inkubate now has about 350 writers on board (including about 24 previously published authors) offering about 400 works through the site. Gale said the site is currently in beta and working with “two big publishers” and a number of agents to vet content and test the system. A full launch is still about 6 months to a year away.
Unlike online writing sites that offer feedback from a community of writer/readers, Inkubate is not a workshop site—it’s not intended to present content publicly to solicit feedback—but an online marketplace that allows agents and publishers to review content, make bids or solicit further information. “We are not a display site; writers do not see the works of other writers,” Gale said. All writers must be invited to submit content for the site and all content is vetted. Once invited to join, writers can subsequently invite other writers to join and upload content.
Publishers and agents are charged a subscription fee for access. Gale said the site is considering a variety of models: publishers can pay a flat fee or “seats,” offering multiple access to multiple editors—or a fee adjusted by gross sales. A subscriber gets access to an online dashboard that allows them to filter for genres, writers who have been published or those with no publishing history and more. “If a writer is in the system, they will know that real publishers and agents are looking at their work,” Gale said, “we don’t promise a writer they will be published, but that they’ll be seen. “
Writers receive a small payment if their work is read by subscribers and when a work is viewed it also generates a value-rating for the writer, giving them another opportunity to stand out. Works can be auctioned, publishers and agents can make bids or set limited time periods to negotiate or learn more about the content. Gale said Inkubate can be set up to become the slush pile of a publishers, allowing unsolicited works to be input online. And Gale said that while the site is focused on the book industry, it is designed to handle “for all kinds of IP, patents, software, plays and screenplays. Inkubate is a place that offers the tools to mine valuable content.”