Jericho Writers, site review

I first came across Jericho Writers when searching for information on agents. For a number of years I’ve been tinkering with a sci-fi novel, and this recently reached a point where I had a draft I could send out on submission – which is why I first came across JW’s Agentmatch. You have to be a member to access this, but there are free trials available, and so I signed up. At some later point, I noticed that they were also offering a free year’s membership in return for an honest review – and so here we are!

There are various sites that provide lists of agents, but Jericho Writers’ Agentmatch is by far the most comprehensive and easy to use – you can search by genre, country (UK or US), the agent’s experience, who they represent, and a host of other handy criteria. There are however some minor downsides: there are some typos and formatting issues (lots of the text looks like it’s been cut and pasted from agent websites, etc); some of the information is out of date (I’m still listed under my old agent, for example), and as a consequence, I wonder how meticulously and frequently it’s updated (a huge task, really, but then this is a paid service). Ideally, it would be nice to combine this with something like Querytracker, where writers can get slightly more feedback on agent response times, samles of the feedback they provide, etc (Querytracker is free, although there are agents on Agentmatch which I can’t find on Querytracker). Overall, however, it’s a very handy feature.

Another feature I’ve found useful is the forum (‘Townhouse’). It’s not a busy place – nothing compared with AbsoluteWrite, for example – but responses do come eventually, and they tend to be thoughtful and helpful, often provided by other would-be authors, professionals or JW employees.

A lovely feature of JW is the Cinema, which is a collection of videos of varying length that focus on different aspects of writing and publishing: the Feature videos, between 30 and 60 minutes long, contain interviews with leading agents, publishers, writers and other literary professionals; Spapshots focuses on a range of specific topics (cutting ties with an agent, writing unlikeable characters), and tend to be less than 10 mins; and then there are a few longer, in-depth interviews with various professionals working at the publisher Orion (which are fascinating). Although at the time of writing (March 2019) there aren’t a great number of videos in the Cinema (though more are being added), they are all high quality (in terms of sound, audio and general production values) and well worth working through.

Aside from this, JW members receive access to various instructional videos. These range from Masterclasses with professionals (dealing with diverse topics), Conversations (live events – such as agents going through their slushpile, or plot doctor livestreaming), to the more structured Video Courses, which help writers acquire the necessary tools of the trade, or handhold through the steps towards publication (or self-publication – which there’s lots of good information on). Many of these are fascinating and insightful, and in the few months I’ve had access, they have yet to exhaust my interest.

In addition to this, there are a similarly diverse range of text-based resources (in the Library), signposts to various JW public events, and a selection of personally tutored online writing courses (the latter are not free, but members are eligible for a discount). Among the other paid services are editing, manuscript assessment and copy-editing, which, judging by the roll call of industry professionals, is something that might be well worth paying for (for those who can afford it).

I’m sure there are other features that I haven’t mentioned here – there is a lot on there which I’ve yet to work through – and I doubt anyone who signs up will be disappointed by what they get. In terms of the site’s credentials, its driving force seems to be Harry Bingham, a successful author in both traditional and self-publishing terms, and someone who can speak authoritatively about all aspects of a professional writer’s life. The site also seems to be well connected and regarded (judging by the people that submit to interviews, etc) and any prospective member should have no qualms about the legitimacy of the enterprise.

Is it worth signing up? Membership options range from £30 a month, or a discounted annual fee of £195. The former option would allow a person focused on submission to get the most from some of the site’s most useful features (Agentmatch, agent submission preparation) for a month or two, and would I think be money well-spent. The latter option would perhaps appeal to someone more dedicated to working on aspects of their craft over a longer period. That said, both options are competing with the deluge of free information that is available elsewhere, and while signing up would take the legwork (and guesswork) out of assembling information useful to a writer, it certainly can’t be said that comparable and equally useful material does not exist in a free form.

One final observation would be that, whilst its scope is broad – all genres of children’s and adult fiction and non-fiction are considered, even screenwriting – the primary focus of the site is on the commercial aspects of writing: producing saleable manuscripts, finding an agent, getting published, etc. This is fine; publishing is, after all, a business, and most aspiring writers want to earn a living, which is probably what will draw them to the site. And of course, many of the considerations and techniques discussed here are applicable to both commercial and literary writing. Occasionally, however, in advice relating to plot and character, and other technical aspects of writing, I do feel that this is skewed slightly by this commercial focus, whereas more literary aspirations are sometimes humorously disparaged (in a tongue-in-cheek way) – such as the fact that Robert Musil’s literary doorstop, The Man Without Qualities, was never finished, is more often bought than read, and its author died in penurious despair (ha ha). All of which does make me wonder slightly whether advice that focuses chiefly on getting published, on considerations of what the market wants or what agents are looking for – as sound and well-informed as this is – is for every type of writer. I also worry that its ultimate effect may be to narrow the market itself, and the type of books that are considered worthy of being published – or in fact written. But this is a minor gripe. Jericho Writers is a valuable resource, professionally put together, a reasonably priced investment for the seriously committed, and well worth checking out.

[Disclaimer: I was given a free year’s trial (November 2018-19) in return for publishing a frank and honest review on this site.]

Gareth Southwell is a philosopher, writer and illustrator from the UK. He is the author of the near-future sci-fi novel MUNKi, which concerns robots, the hunt for the Technological Singularity, and people swearing in Welsh.

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