The peer review peril

<p><a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/blogs/48746-the-bestseller-business-how-pub..., the UK publishing industry is in the thrall of the celebrity at the moment, and we are neglecting our 'seed corn' of the future</a>. You would imagine then, that the new peer-assessment writers' sites are a good thing; giving new writers feedback, support and, since the quiet closure of the slush-piles, a stage on which to shine.</p>
<p>But look a little closer and the methodology starts to look eerily familiar. So familiar that you start checking sites for the <a href="http://www.sycotv.net/">SYCO</a> logo.</p>
<p>The idea of a writers' site is one of natural selection. A writer joins the site, uploads his work, and enters in to an exchange system of reviews. The better the reviews, the higher the writer rises in the charts and eventually, if he's really good, he hits the ceiling and his work is critiqued by an industry pro. It sounds civilised in theory, but it has a flaw far greater than any talent contest; it doesn't take in to account the vagaries, or abilities, of the people reviewing; in other words, the P-Factor.</p>
<p>A recent example would be a book called 'Mrs Ord', by unpublished author Shaddow (sic) on <a href="http://www.youwriteon.com/">YouWriteOn</a> (one of the best writer's sites). Shaddow is undoubtedly talented; characters, plot and narrative are all delivered with originality and verve. He has a few minor problem areas, but nothing that couldn't be addressed by an experienced editor and re-worked. It was shocking therefore to read some of his reviews; one of which was a hysterical rant about spelling and punctuation. Yes, those things are important, but because of one pedantic pedagogue hell-bent on eliminating 'typo's' (sic), a potential seed-corn has been stamped so far down that it is fossilisation, rather than germination, that is the likely outcome.</p>
<p>Added to the problem of thick reviewers is that of writerly-nepotism. If you've spent hours in forums chatting to Ink Spot (such a sweetie), are you more likely to grant him a favourable review? More favourable anyway than MayB, who slated your characterisation and narrative voice a few weeks ago. Not to mention that MayB was one above you in the ratings</p>
<p>Are Writers' Sites the seed-corn champions of the future? Well, they certainly have a part to play, but can no way be considered the definitive successor of the slush piles.&nbsp; <br />
Our authors need nurturing and investment, as much now as they ever did in the past. Otherwise, what's the next step? The general public voting on authors before a celebrity panel? Um. Crackers.</p>