Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Public Slush Pile


The dreaded slush pile.

Writers view it as the place where manuscripts go to die, a symbolic elephants' graveyard of writers' aspirations. Slush piles are physical or virtual collections of unsolicited manuscripts that accrue in the offices of literary agents and smaller publishers. With luck, some manuscripts are reviewed by assistants or contract readers for literary merit and, if found worthy, passed up the food chain to an agent or editor for consideration.

At the end of my last post, I stated that I understand why writers turn to self-publishing after having their work validated by others – and after receiving multiple rejections from agents, the traditional "gatekeepers" of the industry. Although self-publishing precludes the need to add to traditional slush piles, they still exist in self-publishing – as the public slush pile.

One of the oft-noted results of self-publishing is the...how do I put this?...mass of amateurishly written, poorly presented, and/or ineptly marketed works offered to the public through self-publishing sites[1]. To be fair, that mass also certainly contains some of the best writing of this century[2]. So, the result of self-publishing is offerings that span the spectrum from some of the worst to some of the best writing available.

Some of those who would disparage the accumulation of self-published writing, from the shoddy to the shining, would also defend to the death the concept of capitalism, one of the basic tenets of which is free market competition.

Such competition is the connection to the public slush pile of freely-published short stories, novels, essays and other works available on sites such as Smashwords, Createspace, KDP, and others. Implied is the freedom to offer any product, within legal constraints of course, to the market for consideration.

In the tradition of free market economics, the consuming public will decide if a product is worthy of consideration and outlay of cash. The slush pile is open to the public and not hostage to the judgment of literary agents, publishers, and editors. Granted, one can question the judgment of, at least, American consumers when considering the sales of pet rocks, invisible dog leashes, viewers of "reality" shows, and the like; however, the freedom to make those buying decisions is pivotal to the free market system. Like Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, wrote in a 12/23/12 blog post, "Readers are our gatekeepers."

It would not surprise me to see the self-publishing industry, barely out of diapers at this point, evolve to the point that, if left to its own devices, it becomes a self-correcting outlet for deserving writers and a source for consumers who wish to slog through the public slush pile.

[1]  A cursory review of offerings on self-publishing sites will confirm the existence of such writing and therefore are not referenced  separately here.
[2]  A simple search with Google® will uncover debut and previously published authors, who have been highly successful and critically acclaimed, on self-publishing sites and therefore are not referenced separately here.

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