Publishing entrepreneur Fred N. Grayson has launched a business that promises to help writers who don't have an agent get their work in front of acquiring editors—for a price.

Dubbed e-Literary Agency (, the online service charges an annual fee of $195 to aspiring authors who want to post their manuscripts to be viewed by editors, who can register to use the site for free.

The book has so far attracted only three submissions and about 12 registered editors, but critics are already calling it just the latest twist on the old pay-for-representation ploy.

“The Authors Guild discourages authors from paying agents an upfront fee for representation, and we would certainly discourage writers from paying e-Literary Agent their upfront fee,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. “It is, in our view, unlikely to increase the odds that a manuscript will get placed with a reputable publisher. It's really hard to see why an editor would choose to spend time poring over this digital slush pile.”

The criticism is reminiscent of the outcry over the Sobol Awards last fall, in which writers were invited to pay an entry fee of $85 to compete for the chance to be represented by Sobol Literary Enterprises. The plan was later dropped.

But Grayson said the upfront fee goes to defray the cost of running the site and that he will make money on the venture by taking a standard agent's cut of deals made through e-Literary Agency. And he insisted he has standards. He won't, for example, take porn or poetry. He added, “If I get a summary that's totally illiterate, I won't even bother with the book. We've turned down several things.”

Grayson sorts manuscripts by genre—fiction and nonfiction are divided into subcategories like SF, how-to and cookbooks. So far, the site's three manuscripts are all fiction: a historical novel, a horror book and a mystery. Going forward, Grayson plans to post a new batch of manuscripts once a month. If an editor is interested in seeing a hard copy of a full manuscript, Grayson will send one on request.

Grayson, who has been a book packager since selling Park Lane Press to Simon & Schuster in the late 1970s, hasn't made a sale yet, and said his early focus is trying to make editors aware of the site. Amber Qureshi, an editor at Free Press, is skeptical of the value of the site, but is willing to give e-Literary Agency a chance. “I don't think it would be the first place I'd look. But I'd be open to it,” Qureshi said. Qureshi is not in favor of bypassing agents, who can act as a filter and can match a manuscript to the taste of a particular editor.