News of the Weird: Quill Shift Literary Agency

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

So…if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I love the crazy stuff, the little nuggets of publishing weirdness that I run across from time to time. Like author reality shows. Or bidding for a literary agent. Or trying to auction your story idea on eBay for millions of dollars. Or the tale of the “literary agent” who faked her own death and turned out to be a wanted criminal.

So here’s another snippet of weirdness for y’all. Introducing Quill Shift Literary Agency (“Re-imagining the role of the literary agency by creating an environment that finds and promotes great writers, invites readers to participate, and intrigues publishing houses to purchase those writers’ works”).

Founded by Ayanna Coleman, who claims publishing experience but provides no specifics (though she appears at one point to have worked for Serendipity Literary Agency), the premise of Quill Shift is a bizarre mashup of crowdsourcing (represented mss. are posted on the agency’s website for “shifters” to read and judge), crowdfunding (“shifters” can “donate money to see it become a physical book”), and purported market testing (if a ms. achieves its financial goal “showing that the market will support it”, it’s then submitted to publishers).


Quill Shift is also raising money for itself, via an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign (“Where Harry Potter Magic Meets American Idol Power”). Funding will be used for…

Creation of online community for readers to connect and support Quill Shift Literary Agency author works

Updating and/or creating the chosen authors’ personal websites

Cover design for each chosen manuscript to be uploaded on the Quill Shift Literary Agency Website

Professional ePub formatting for each chosen manuscript

Social media marketing and outreach

All, need I say, completely irrelevant to the process of marketing books to publishers.

Where to even start with this? A bunch of random people reading manuscript excerpts online and maybe donating money a) isn’t an “online community,” and b) doesn’t demonstrate market support. I seriously doubt that publishers will be impressed. Nor is this a workable concept in the long term, unless you’re constantly refreshing your pool of readers. How many times will the same readers want to throw money at manuscript excerpts?

Also, crowdfunding your business is not a business plan. Assuming your campaign is successful, there’s not a lot of risk to you, since you’re going to be playing with Other People’s Money, but if things don’t work out it will be bad news for your guinea pigs–sorry, I mean your clients. And what if your campaign isn’t successful? What’s your Plan B? Do you even have one?

There’s also a potential conflict of interest here. Quill Shift clients’ manuscripts are also crowdfunded, with readers viewing excerpts and donating to a month-long “pre-publication platform and buzz creation” campaign. According to Quill Shift’s FAQ, proceeds are split 50/50 between author and agency. Since this is money in hand–as opposed to the uncertainties of publisher submission–how tempting will it be for the agency to extend “buzz creation,” rather than promptly sending out the manuscript? Of course, that pre-supposes that readers will actually donate, which I think is by no means a foregone conclusion.

And what about the unfortunate authors whose “buzz creation” campaign doesn’t reach its goal? After all the excitement of getting “the offer,” do they get kicked to the curb?

I don’t doubt that Quill Shift’s founder is well-intentioned. But she’s clearly inhabiting that strange alternate reality that drives so many people on the fringes of publishing to try and re-invent the wheel. Sure, there are problems in the publishing biz, but a crowdsourced crowdfunded literary agency is not a solution. It’s a hamster wheel for writers.

Quill Shift’s IndieGoGo campaign goal is $15,000. Amazingly, people are donating–$2,356 so far, with 17 days to go. Since, unlike Kickstarter, IndieGoGo campaigns get their money whether the campaigns are successful or not, donors will be on the hook for this crazy scheme no matter what.