Startup seeks to ‘illuminate’ writers’ publishing path


Amelia Detwiler

Startup seeks to ‘illuminate’ writers’ publishing path

By Jonathon Sadowski

It’s rigid and bureaucratic—and without help, many writers will never break into the restrictive literary process, according to Kayla Ancrum.

But instead of rolling over and accepting what she finds to be a convoluted industry, the 26-year-old Chicago writer decided to start her own business, Illuminovel—a market research platform for writers. 

Illuminovel lets authors submit partial manuscripts to more than 500 volunteer readers who provide feedback based on qualities such as genre, tone and marketability—or they can submit a query letter for review to a pool of literary agents who will similarly review it, according to the company’s website. The service costs $50 for a query letter review, $75 for a manuscript review or $100 for both. 

Illuminovel is in a preliminary beta state and is aiming for a full national launch in January. Author submissions are open, but the professional literary agent tools are still in progress. 

Connecting writers directly with readers and literary agents should help demystify the process of effectively pitching works, Ancrum said. 

“The literary agents are pretty much the gatekeepers for any sort of further publishing,” she explained, “but there are maybe 30 million people trying to get published. There are only 1,425 agents in North America, so [writers’ chances are] really severe.” 

Agents who partner with Illuminovel are also free to directly contact authors to start working relationships without going through the service, Ancrum added. Also, every manuscript submitted is protected by a non-disclosure agreement for all readers and agents who view it. 

Illuminovel reader Owen Abbott said he has high hopes that the service will change the writing industry’s views because publishers frequently go for very similar, generic stories. 

“A lot of the publishing industry is out of touch with the market,” Abbott said. “Any service that attacks that head-on and starts collecting data from actual readers might actually revitalize the industry.” 

Reader feedback is collected and put into graphs that will explain to both the author and potential agents what sort of social and market value a book has, Ancrum said. 

While Illuminovel would most likely expedite the publishing process, what it promises is attainable individually through some time invested into research and networking, said Jenny Boully, an associate professor in the English and Creative Writing Department and published author. However, that does not mean the service is without merit, she said.

“Because of the large amount of research and time that you need to do your own, if you have the money, I think it’s worth paying for someone else [to] do it for you,” Boully said. 

The feedback authors will receive from Illuminovel is transferable to future projects, Ancrum said, because the areas that readers look at are important to any work. 

“The qualifications that are listed in the review are so specific,” she said, “that once you realize it’s something people genuinely think about, you can’t help but think about that when you’re working in the future.”