Wednesday, January 20, 2010

WSJ on The Death of Slush

In the January 15 edition of The Wall Street Journal, Katherine Rosman examines the accelerated demise of the slush pile and why it's harder than ever for new writers to get noticed:
Getting plucked from the slush pile was always a long shot -- in large part, editors and Hollywood development executives say, because most unsolicited material has gone unsolicited for good reason. But it did happen for some: Philip Roth, Anne Frank, Judith Guest. And so to legions of would-be novelists, journalists and screenwriters -- not to mention "D-girls" and "manuscripts girls" from Hollywood to New York who held the hope that finding a gem might catapult them from entry level to expense account -- the slush pile represented The Dream.

Now, slush is dead, or close to extinction. Film and television producers won't read anything not certified by an agent because producers are afraid of being accused of stealing ideas and material. Most book publishers have stopped accepting book proposals that are not submitted by agents. Magazines say they can scarcely afford the manpower to cull through the piles looking for the Next Big Thing.
Read the whole thing. Rosman lists a bevy of reasons why editors at publishing houses and film producers have completely shut out unsolicited manuscripts. A dearth of quality submissions and the expense of sorting through the glut both are high on the list. Some even cite plagiarism lawsuits and fears of a reprisal of the 2001 anthrax attacks. But the simple reality is that publishers have outsourced slush duties to agents, who now must wade through the flood of newbies looking their lucky break. And though Rosman is skeptical about writers' ability to break in nowadays, she admits that it still happens. Stephenie Meyer landed Twilight despite it being twice as long as the typical YA novel. Other authors have had success leveraging the new media; J.C. Hutchins, Cory Doctorow, Scott Sigler and Mark Jeffrey have all established or expanded their careers by podcasting their work. In the end, though, the game is remains the same, despite changes in the landscape. As Tony Cook of online-publisher notes, it's all about writers finding "well read, interesting and interested editors who are willing, at times, to take a risk."

(Picture: CC by
cwalker71; Hat Tip: How Publishing Really Works)


pattinase (abbott) said...

Things only get worse.

Loren Eaton said...

Uh, oh. Must not. Surrender. To pessimism!

Scattercat said...

There's no need to surrender, really. Pessimism wins in the end anyway.

Loren Eaton said...

Will. Fight. Despair!

Scott Sigler said...

Screw the slush pile. The slush pile is about groveling at the feet of the would-be taste makers, those that deem themselves the judges and experts on "what people want." Do you want to go through them, or do you want to connect to the end reader?

The internet gives aspiring authors many ways to distribute fiction, find fans and build an audience. Most of the people reading these slush piles have little or no qualifications or expertise to judge fiction in the first place -- most of them are frustrated, wanna-b writers. Screw 'em.

Make the best fiction you can, edit heavily, revise, revise, revise, then give it away as PDFs (like Cory Doctorow), in a blog (like David Wellington) or as a podcast (like myself, JC Hutchins and many others).

If you build a big audience, publishers will want to pick you up.

Loren Eaton said...

If you build a big audience, publishers will want to pick you up.

This, I think, is key. Success often can breed success. But a lot of writers seem to view the InterWebz (tm) as some magic bullet that will propel them to success. In reality, it requires just as much work as polishing a piece for the slush pile. Probably more.

By the way, I'm a little over halfway through Infected. Very curious how Perry is going to pull out of this what with a busted achilles tendon and the Starting Five. Or maybe I should say if.