Friday, 16 October 2009

The slush pile switch, and its consequences...

Time was, when you'd finished your novel, you would submit it directly to publishers, who, if your book was good (or passable, but they thought you'd write excellent ones in the future) would give you a contract. These days, overwhelmed by the size of the slush pile since the advent of the PC, most publishers leave the task of sorting through the slush to agents. They no longer accept unagented submissions.

For new authors, this is a Bad Thing, for two reasons:

1. There are now two hurdles to leap where there used to be one

2. Agents naturally prefer to take on writers who are going to earn a big advance

Most writers I know would be pleased to get a publishing deal of any sort (MacMillan New Writing, which offers twelve basic contracts a year with no advance, receives 500 submissions a week). But an agent would be unenthusiastic about such a deal; if she can't see immediate profit for herself, forget it.

So the publishers are missing out on good books judged by agents not to be flavour of the month, or sufficiently commercial - and let's not forget, this is something they frequently get wrong. Many best-sellers have had a terrible struggle to get into print, and other books which gained a six-figure advance have gone on to disappointing sales. I think publishers need to reclaim the initiative.

The current situation is rather as if I decided I was fed up with going round the West End looking for new clothes. I'd appoint someone to do it for me, and pay her 15% of the cost of each suitable garment she found. Would she battle with the crowds to seek out the odd terrific pair of boots in Primark, costing £22? Or go to Selfridges and select a pair for £295?

Which would be to her advantage? And would I be better off?


  1. It feels like you have that dead right, but what the hell do we do about it?

  2. There you have me, Rod.

    But market forces will sort it out eventually, I hope. If enough good books can't get conventionally published, then someone will sort out a system to showcase the best of self-published books to make them accessible to the public.

    The public like good books.

  3. A "Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing" thread on Kindleboards got a bit antagonistic until the moderator slowed things down. But it prompted me to ponder just how we got to the point of according one method of bringing books to the public as the only recognized legitimate way to do so. When you look at publishing history, the model everyone calls "traditional" really is a fairly modern invention, and one whose institutions are having definite problems keeping with the realities of today's world. It's kind of like the studio system that cranked out all the movies we watched for a few decades. Did their size and clout make them the only legitimate way to entertain the public? Same with the recording industry.

    It seems the more these behemoths consolidate and morph the more they make room for smaller (sometimes much smaller) enterprises to step in and try to fulfill the mission that has been left behind or stamped into a bloody mush in the accounting offices of the conglomerates.

    And its the smaller publishers, which include the single author, sole proprietor imprints, that don't legislate "submissions accepted through agents only".

    So either we are moving away from the agent to huge house model or we are simply diversifying and making them only a part of the entire picture.

    In any case, it does get a little old seeing folks on either side slinging mud at each other. The energy could be spent in much more fruitful pursuits.

  4. The BBC had an interesting article this morning on the subject.

    While publishers charge almost as much for an ebook as a printed copy, there is an opportunity for the self-published to undercut them and get read. Which is what you are doing...

  5. Yes, that is what I am trying right now. The big fence to climb is Where To Get The Word Out That It (Boomerang) Exists. No matter how low the price, until someone hears about it, they are not going to add it to their ebook library.

    And all the lovely ideas for marketing on a budget of zero are great, but they do take time, which is the writer's enemy as it is.

    Still, in less than a month Boomerang has been downloaded by more than 150 readers through either Amazon or Smashwords. One hundred and fifty readers it otherwise would never have had.

    Gotta start somewhere.

  6. 150 is a good start in a short time!

    I have no patience with those who suggest we should be happy with writing a book, and not be so presumptuous as to hope for it to be read.

    Or those who maintain that all books of sufficiently high quality can get published (it's usually people in publishing, or the published who say this).

    If only it were true...

  7. Hi Lexi

    Could make some sage comment about slush piles etc... but I'm probably the last person you'd want to hear from on that subject at the moment (grrr!).

    So instead I'll just say how much I like your new profile picture (pointed to it as I was by postcardsfromK).

    I'll write a proper email soon...


  8. Hi Guy!

    Oh dear...

    Thank you, I took it myself last month.

    I look forward to it.


  9. I don't think it's such a wonderful photo. I mean, we can't even see your face. And the boots are a bit 1960's, don't you think?

    Oh, the pic for this latest blog entry is not you? And I was about to mention you have very nice knees.

  10. They're not the boots I'd have chosen were I your personal shopper, Lexi. (Is that job available? Do I have to get an agent to put my name forward?)

    I have no useful thoughts to share on publishing. I do however think it's wonderful that Alan has 150 readers who've downloaded Boomerang. More power to your pen, Alan.


  11. Hi Katherine,

    I am quite tickled to say that we are up to 172 now, between Amazon and Smashwords. And so far no lawsuits alleging misrepresentation of product.

    And I'm glad I followed the clicks to your own blog. You've a good eye with the photos.


  12. Alan, my family is renowned for the excellence of its legs. We do not do bad legs.

    K, I agree re the boots. You should see the lovely excessively-buckled pair I bought last year at Peacocks for less than £22...

    Both: an off-the-peg image was quicker than taking a photo of the Revellian legs and boots.

  13. Well darn it. Here I was almost inspired to recreate what I thought was your 2/3 self portrait featuring my own remarkable stems. Knobby, I think, is the word most often used to describe my knees. I am told that in many cultures that is considered quite the compliment.

  14. Knobby is better than dimpled, unless you are a tiny tot.

    (Do people often feel called upon to describe your knees?)

  15. Only when I ask in a good natured, non-threatening sort of way what they are chortling about. Remember where I live and the fact that short pants are the casual uniform of choice during much of the year.

  16. Aha.

    Because of London weather, and my lifestyle (including riding a bike each day) the Revellian knees seldom see the light of day.


  17. Sounds like we should swap locales. My physique is much more appropriate for full ooverage.

  18. Would that be ooverage as in, 'Ooh, look at those knobby knees!'?

    (I'm not at all sure about that exclamation mark combined with the question mark...)

  19. Oops.

    Meant "coverage".

    Although I do rather like "ooverage".

    Shakespeare made up words, why not us?