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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Confessions of a Big Six Editor: The Triumph of the Slush Pile

Thanks to everybody who came by and/or commented on last week’s post on Amazon reviews. You gave the blog its own Black Friday, with a record 1200 hits on Friday alone. 9000 visits, 140 comments, and counting. It’s now our #1 post of all time!

But I seem to have seriously miffed a lot of professional reviewers who thought I was lecturing THEM—telling them not to give negative reviews.

Major, major apologies, reviewers! NOT what I meant to say at all.

Without negative reviews, the positives wouldn't mean a thing.

NOTA BENE, SCRIVENERS: BOOK REVIEWERS ARE DEITIES WHOM WE ALL LOVE AND ADORE. They are our helpers, not the enemy. They are the new gatekeepers. To learn more about how phenomenally important they are, read my post THE NEW GATEKEEPERS and my interview with book reviewer Danielle Smith here

The purpose of my post was to tell the non-Amazon-savvy readers in my own demographic they now have more power than they realize, and that it’s easier to exercise than they may think.

But it seems the non-savvy Boomer was me. I talked about review conventions that are kind of obvious to anybody who’s been to Amazon a few times, but are apparently (sotto voce) THE FACTS THAT MUST NOT BE NAMED. 

I didn't know. Seriously. Sorry.

But, since humans are always more likely to be more vocal with complaints than with praise, I will continue to urge fans to support their favorite authors and reviewers. 

If that gets me more cyberbullying, so be it. I still think that if you love a book, it's good to say so. And it only takes a minute. 

As I said in last week’s post, if a review is useful, whether positive or negative—say that too. Good reviewers need our support just as much as good authors. Publishing is a business, and professionalism should be rewarded.

I also want to apologize to any Boomers who got their feelings hurt when I said some of us don’t automatically think of leaving an Amazon review and may not be acquainted with online review conventions. Ruth and I are both Boomers ourselves, specializing in what Ruth laughingly calls “biddylit”—that is, women’s fiction for grown-up ladies--many of whom tell us they're terrified to leave reviews.

I assumed this was because most of us born before 1965 treat tech as a second language, and don’t have the automatic tech instincts of Millennials and Gen X-ers, but to the Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses (we’ll miss you, dude) out there: sincere apologies.

Yes, the whole durn computer/Interwebz thing was invented by us Boomers. Yay Mickey Mouse Club, the Beatles, and Woodstock!

A number of people argued that, with Amazon becoming one big slush pile, the reviews should have stricter guidelines.

I agree. 

There’s no doubt a lot of not-ready-for-prime-time stuff is getting uploaded to Amazon every day, and (OK, I'll whisper it: A LOT OF AUTHORS DO GET FAUX RAVES FROM THEIR SISTERS AND THEIR COUSINS AND THEIR AUNTS.) Those are just as unhelpful as the ones written by trolls who leave semi-literate 20-word negatives for 1000s of books they’ve never read. (Which, BTW, happens to Big 6-ers as much as indies.)

The Kindle revolution means that we bypass the gatekeepers. Which turns us—the readers—into gatekeepers.

So how do we tell if a book is part of the Konrath’s tsunami of crap  or a brilliant new find?

We have to learn a new set of skills. 

Readers can learn which one of these is more positive:

“*****5-stars: The author is a friend from church who got me to write this in exchange for bringing her tuna surprise hot dish to the Sunday social, and I guess her book is OK if you like a bunch of filthy sex in a romance novel.”

“**2-stars: This is the most brilliantly written romance novel I’ve ever read. Strong, believable characters, eye-opening insights, and a page-flipping story, but hey, it’s a romance--not exactly A la Recherche du Temps Perdu.”

But unfortunately the Amazon algorithms can’t read between those lines. They only read the stars, so that leaves more work for us, the readers. A 3-starred book is going to be way harder to find, but keep looking.

As a customer, you can also look at the book description, the blurbs and, if you’re in the US, get a hefty sneak peek into the book—usually several chapters.

That makes you a new version of the old gatekeeper: the publishing house slush reader.

So who is better to teach us than Ruth Harris, former slush reader for Bantam?

Ruth went on to become a senior editor at both Bantam and Dell—and then publisher at Kensington, as well as the author of a whole lot of NYT bestselling novels. She knows the business from all sides.

In this piece, she reminds us of three hopeful things:

1) Great careers DO start in the slush pile.

2) There are a lot of seriously clueless people out there, so if you can read and write English, know how to follow directions, and are taking your meds, you’re way ahead of the game.

3) Somebody does actually read your submissions, (although nowadays that somebody is unlikely to be paid.)

by Ruth Harris

Back in the twentieth century when I started out in publishing, publishers did not insist that all submissions be agented, and direct submissions, aka the slush pile, served as training wheels (more like hamster wheels as it turned out) for young editors.

Beginning a new job at Bantam, I was assigned a desk in the secretarial bullpen where a monster stack of manuscripts waited for me. My job was to read them to see if any might be worth passing on to one of the older, more experienced editors.

Conscientious and wanting to impress the senior editor who was my boss, I began to read, at first assiduously finishing one manuscript (I had learned by then they were referred to as “ms” in written communications) after another.

The quasi-literate (they were the ones who loved "big" words and used them incorrectly), sub-literate and illiterate were sandwiched at random between the religious visionaries, the sexually shall-we-say peculiar, and the politically febrile.

There were the demented, the deranged and the delusional, submissions from jails and penitentiaries.

Most of all there were would-be writers who had never met a comma or, sometimes, even a paragraph, who had no idea how to shape a scene or introduce a character much less write a line of dialogue that any human being might actually have uttered. To those wannabes (that word didn’t exist then), quote marks also often seemed a galactic mystery as did sentences containing both a subject and a verb.

I was no literary snob and my reading choices embraced the entire range from Willa Cather to Mickey Spillane—but the slush pile did me in.

No matter how fast I plowed through the mss (that’s the plural of ms), attaching Bantam’s form rejection letter to the top and placing them in the required SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope), the pile never diminished.

Every morning and every afternoon (two mail deliveries a day back then) the mail room guy dumped another stack of mss on my desk.

They were typewritten, smeary, sometimes single-spaced, sometimes sans margins, punctuation or paragraphing; some were hand written, scrawled in old-fashioned school notebooks, the kind with the marbelized black-and-white cardboard covers. They were held together by rubber bands, string, yarn and, once in a while, ribbon.

The pages were occasionally pristine but more predictably smudged, dog eared, defaced by icky, unidentifiable substances, or dotted with coffee stains and cookie crumbs left by previous editors who had read—or made a valiant effort to read—the submission in question and, as they say in the trade, “passed.” 

I quickly learned to read the first one or two pages, maybe scan a few more, then flip to somewhere around the middle to see if anything had improved and, if any shred of hope remained, look at the last page or two to see if a more careful reading might be called for. (Dream on.)

The only further communiqué from these would-be authors was an occasional complaint that they’d left a piece of white thread on page 125 and, when the ms came bouncing back, the piece of white thread remained in place.

Why, they wanted to know, hadn’t the entire ms been read? How could we (the nameless editors because no one ever signed a name to a form rejection) reject their masterpiece without reading it in its entirety?

Let me count the ways.

I moved on and so did the slush pile: to agents who weren’t about to pay a young assistant to get the slush sorted—by now, it was their unpaid interns who slogged through the mess. (As opposed to the mss.) There was to be a double benefit: publishers no longer had to pay salaried employees to sift through the slush pile and, in the bargain, submissions had now been vetted before appearing on an editor’s desk.

As time passed, we arrived somewhere in first decade of the twenty-first century and reading the slush pile had gone from paid labor to unpaid labor.

A sort of progress, I guess, but one last glimmer of progress beckoned:

The Internet.

The quick and easy upload that earned Amazon a 70% cut every time a 99c book was purchased. Amazon had managed what once had seemed the impossible: it turned a huge time and money sink into a profit center.

Or, as my Mom would say: Someone had finally figured out how to turn shit into Shinola.

And guess what? The same problems that beset me years ago at my piled-to-the-rafters desk persist today in cyber-ville.

  • Mangled grammar? Check.

  • Run on sentences and run on paragraphs? Check.

  • Typo infestations? Check.

  • Terrible formatting,

  • No discernable plot,

  • “Characters” unrecognizable as human beings,

  • Blobs, clunks and chunks of back story bulldozed in,

  • Hopeless attempts at description,

  • Even more hopeless efforts at narrative,

  • Character names that change from one chapter to the next.

  • And so on. And on.

About the only thing that’s different is that today’s digitized slush pile comes sans icky unidentifiable splotches and the coffee stains and cookie crumbs left by previous readers.

...and the little piece of white thread on page 125.

PS: Lest you think me excessively bitter and cynical, I will add that the SP is not absolutely, totally 1000% hopeless.

There are writers who have made it out. Stephanie Meyers (Twilight) was rescued from an agent’s SP. Philip Roth back in 1958 from a Paris Review SP (you can look it up on Google). And, IIRC, Kathleen Woodiwiss, one of the queens of the Bodice Rippers, was originally pulled out of the SP as was Rosemary Rogers. At Avon. By a talented editor who knew what Freud didn't: she knew what women wanted.


Please Note: We are very much aware there are lots of thoroughly professional indies, who are producing work as good or better than what was vetted by those slushpile readers of yesteryear. (Ruth is self-pubbing these days, and Anne is with two small publishers.)

But because self-pubbers aren’t vetted, it’s up to you the reader to learn to weed out the bad ones—but I’ll bet you won’t have to read as far as that “white thread” page to spot them.

How about you, scriveners? Do you feel competent to do your own vetting, or do you think interns do a better job? Do you want your book to get the stamp of approval of the Big Six before you’ll feel OK about seeing it for sale?

This week, MWiDP is launching its second Saffina DesforgesPresents anthology: Kindle Coffee Break Collection. Anne's story VIVE LA REVOLUTION appears in the anthology (caution: very noir Hollywood humor there. For fans of dark satire only.)

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Blogger Lexi said...

Having read your description of the slush pile, I wonder why my typescripts weren't pounced on with cries of relief and glee. (Personal stats in a year of submitting Remix: forty submissions, two requests for the full, two further requests not via the slush pile, no offers.)

But the answer is also in your article - publishers' readers quickly become so jaded and fed up that they miss the odd gem in the pile. The writer who does succeed by conventional methods has done the literary equivalent of winning the lottery.

November 27, 2011 at 12:30 AM  
Anonymous Shah Wharton said...

Hearing this makes me join a ton of other nervous writers in walking the indie route to publication. I have shitty luck and would almost certainly not make it out of the SP. Not because I'm illiterate, but because I'd be the last one for the ever so jaded intern to read on the last Friday eveing of the month.

So, indie publishing it is then.

Regarding our own experiences reading the slush pile ourselves on Kindle. Yes. I can see why the intern became jaded. Thankfully, most of those were free reads. Although in all honesty, I have read LOTS of paid for rubbish from publishers too. They were just better edited. :D X

November 27, 2011 at 1:31 AM  
Blogger Spook said...

The prospect of a slush pile terrifies me, but I must say the prospect of relying on reader reviews is even scarier for me! Still, it's rather exciting to have the power in the reader's hands for once, not someone we've never met. For all we know, they could be throwing out books we would love simply because they don't personally like them - now it's all up to us.

Scary, but kind of awesome...

November 27, 2011 at 2:38 AM  
Blogger Cathryn Leigh said...

I'm with Spook on this. It's scary and wonderful at the same time.

I think I'm still tossed up between discovery on the slush pile versus publishing myself, though I think I'm heading away from big 6 publishing... I really would like to see my stories in print. It could be the only way I could share them with some family members.

:} Cathryn

November 27, 2011 at 4:40 AM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

I've read some books that have come out of New York in the last couple of years, and I'm wondering who's vetting those?

Sure the grammar's correct and there are proper margins, but the plots are shoddy and contrived, historical accuracy is a thing of the past (I read and write Regency romance) and as for the writing, I did better in 7th grade English class with Sister Mary Margaret.

Then again in New York, it's all about who's going to make the most money. With the big 6 falling apart, I don't really think they care anymore what they publish as long as money's coming in.

As far as the Kindle revolution, I think the writers who are putting their books out there, are those who are sick of getting rejections from New York, who've been writing for years, with good books, perhaps in niche genres, who don't get the chance they deserve. Sure there are writers who are just popping stuff out flinging it against the wall, so to speak, to see what sticks. Truthfully, I also think it has a lot to do with the economy. People who can't find work have to "do" something so they say, "I think I'll write a book". The gurus, like Konrath and Hocking make it sound so easy to become a millionaire. And there is that old saying, "What do I have to lose?" Absolutely nothing, but time and energy.

I don't think reviews make or break a book. I've read books that people have RAVED over and I thought they were trash. I've also read books that people have panned and I thought they were pretty good.

To me it's all subjective reading.
Just like with interns. Just like ourselves. What we like, someone else might not. But if we find something we adore, I agree we should give it at least 5 stars.

Then again, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Great post, as usual. Thanks Anne, Thanks Ruth. You guys are da bomb!

November 27, 2011 at 5:14 AM  
Anonymous Laura Pauling said...

I have no problem being my own gatekeeper. I know after reading the first chapter whether I'll enjoy a book. I haven't purchased a self published book yet that I regretted!

November 27, 2011 at 5:51 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Lexi—I was reading the SP back when it was much, much easier to get an agent and to find a publisher since many more books in a much wider range were being published. Publishing has changed so much that it's a different world now. Back then, over-the-transom submissions were almost always from would-be writers who hadn't been able to find representation or another publisher.

As to becoming jaded, the opposite happened. I became almost desperate to find the hidden gem. 1) For the sheer pleasure & relief of reading something terrific and 2) It would make me look like a star to my bosses. (The editors/readers who rescued Kathleen Woodiwiss, Stephanie Meyer etc. from the SP were well-rewarded.)

Shah—The big plus of going indie is that the writer now controls the quality of his/her own work. As you point out, publishers put out drek, too, and I see books from the Big 6 that aren't even that well edited. So many proof readers, copy editors and editors have been laid off that the quality of the finished book has suffered.

Spook—Fact is, for the most part, your readers are also people you've never met. ;-) Just as depending on today's reader reviews is scary, so was risking the knives and bludgeons trotted out by the old time pro reviewers who really knew how to drive a stake through a writer's heart. Publishing is not now & never was for the faint of heart!

Cathryn—Whatever route you decide to take, your family members will be thrilled to see your stories in print. Good luck...I know it's not an easy decision to make.

Anne—Thanks for the kind words.

You're so right! Lots of successful, bestselling authors (Konrath, for example) just got sick and tired of being rejected AND of having their books poorly published and presented. Those writers have turned to Kindle and they are the ones who lift up the entire indie world.

I also agree that reading is subjective. Love Grisham/hate Grisham—the exact conversation that went on at Thanksgiving just a few days ago.

Laura—WTG! The reader doesn't have to slog through an entire book to make a decision. A chapter or sample will just about always do the trick.

November 27, 2011 at 6:19 AM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

I've found these last two blogs absolutlely fascinating. I come at this from the Art Biz point of view, but the concerns, problems, complaints are very much the same. As a (former) gallery director, I had a slide slush pile to get through and like Ms. Harris, quickly developed an instinct and "eye" and knew in an instant when I saw something that caused that "click." But I don't think the problem is quite so bad in the Art Biz because most average/normal (Muggle?) people somehow understand that painting involves both talent and hard, hard work. But for some reason a whole lot of normal/average people think writing's easy and think they've got the great American Novel in them. So the sheer numbers of people adding to the writing pile is likely much larger. But the core problems remain -- too little quality; too much crap, too many books, so little time, and too much product chasing the same limited dollars in a marketplace as fecund and filled as a field of wildflowers and weeds.Where do you even begin?

Well, no matter how you slice it, being an "Artist" is a tough, tough job.

November 27, 2011 at 6:30 AM  
Blogger Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Reader reviews for me every time! It's why I write. I just want to get READ!!!It's a hard enough life as it is...

November 27, 2011 at 7:26 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Churadogs—Thank you for the very interesting & à propos analogy to your work as a gallery director going thru slides. One of the ways young assistant editors learn their jobs is to read a lot of bad--as you say, you quickly learn to spot what's good/publishable. Sort of like the girl who had to kiss a lot of frogs before she found her prince!

People who aren't writers really don't understand what writers do. Back when we were still using typewriters, my very intelligent father-in-law was visiting one day while I was working. He heard the typewriter and said: "NOW I understand what you do—" Essentially, he—and most non-writers—think that what we do is type.

If only.

Pat—Yay! Let's hear it for readers who review. We need & love them. Where would we be without them?

Churadogs—Thank you for the very interesting & à propos analogy to your work as a gallery director going thru slides. One of the ways young assistant editors learn their jobs is to read a lot of bad--as you say, you quickly learn to spot what's good/publishable. Sort of like the girl who kissed a lot of frogs before she found her prince!

People who aren't writers really don't understand what writers do. Back when we were still using typewriters, my very intelligent father-in-law was visiting one day while I was working. He heard the typewriter and said: "NOW I understand what you do—" Essentially, he—and most non-writers—think that what we do is type.

If only.

Pat—Yay! Let's hear it for readers who review. We need & love them. Where would we be without them?

November 27, 2011 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow, reading through the slush pile sounds awful! Was there really that many horrible manuscripts? I really didn't think my first one was that special, but it was better than most of what Ruth described. (And obviously good enough for a publisher to say yes.)
I guess the one nice thing about eBooks - I can read the first few pages for free and decide if it's worth reading more.

November 27, 2011 at 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Marilyn Peake said...

I feel both competent and thrilled to do my own vetting, or at least to use the new gatekeepers – reviewers and book awards – as guides. I’ve found hundreds of fantastic self-published and indie books this way, most at prices significantly lower than those coming out of the Big Six publishers. After reading indie books that are unique and without typos, I’m now reading an expensive Kindle novel published by one of the Big Six publishers that has a wonderful premise, but quite a few typos and a cookie-cutter plot that has left me mostly bored. This year, three out of four of the National Book Award winners were published by independent presses. TINKERS by Paul Harding, also published by independent press, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (the Pulitzer!), after receiving lots of rejections from the traditional publishing industry. And, after Andrea K. Host waited for ten years for a traditional publisher to make a decision on THE SILENCE OF MEDAIR, she finally self-published it and this novel went on to being short-listed for the 2010 Aurealis Awards. TINKERS and THE SILENCE OF MEDAIR are two of my favorite novels, two gems that I discovered in the world of indie books. :)

November 27, 2011 at 9:52 PM  
Blogger evilphilip said...

Stephanie Meyer did NOT come from the slush pile. She was picked up by Jodi Reamer at Writers House -- an agent -- who then put the book up for auction and it got a $750,000 advance.

The idea that she came from the slush pile is false. She only had 9 agent rejections before she was picked up by Writer's House.

November 28, 2011 at 8:07 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Alex—Believe it or not, reading the SP wasn't awful. For one thing, I was just starting in publishing & thrilled to have a job that had some actual responsibility—even if it was just working my way thru the SP. For another, I kept hoping, dreaming, wishing that I'd come upon a gem--altho that didn't happen I never gave up. Of course, in the end, reality dawned. It almost always does!

Marilyn—As you've discovered, indie doesn't equate to the SP. Not at all. Lots of really good writers who have been shut out by their publishers have turned indie—and with joy! They have profited & so have readers...

EvilP—Thank you for the correction. I knew that Jodi Reamer was SM's agent but had always understood that she'd been plucked from the SP. I believe this canard has even been memorialized on Google but I'm happy to have the record set straight. :-)

November 28, 2011 at 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Rebecca Burke said...

Having taught freshman composition and creative writing at a major Midwestern university for over a decade, I well know the pain of reading bad writing. The slush pile at a major publishing house would have nothing on most of my old grading piles. And believe me, it's worse when you have to comment and then slap a grade on a piece of writing, and doubly worse if the shiny-eyed writer thought a story or poem was pretty darn good, as was the case with so many young and delusional creative writing students. (I dis them because at one time I was one.)

If I were to vet new self-published books, it wouldn't take much more than a glance at their accompanying blurbs. Most are dead giveaways as to the professional quality of the books.

November 28, 2011 at 11:02 AM  
Anonymous Dave Cornford said...

I think with being able to download a 10% sample for free to your kindle, it's easy to quickly work out if something isn't up to scratch.
With one "indie hero" book I tried, I was deterred by the sample but bought it anyway, thinking that all those reviews and all those blogged about sales (in the thousands) must say something. Nup, it just got worse, and I only finished it say that I had.
But hey, I chose to keep going, and it only cost 99 cents.

November 28, 2011 at 11:44 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Rebecca--I absolutely believe what you had to do was much worse than my piddly chores. I know all about young & delusional writers because I was one of them once, too. Just about all of us start out that way. Welcome to the crowd!

Dave—A 99 cent lesson teaching you to follow your own instincts sounds like a good investment to me. ;-)

November 28, 2011 at 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Mari Passananti said...

I think the watershed moment, when I knew I could feel great about going the indie route, was when one of the big six published a novel "by" Snooki.
Plenty of great editors will do freelance work. I believe the editing argument against self publishing is a red herring. It's distribution and access to big reviewers that give the big houses an edge. Of course the Internet is changing that gradually.

November 28, 2011 at 3:21 PM  
Blogger Bri Clark said...

As a reviewer I give 4 stars to the books I just love because I ignore 5 and know other reviewers do too.

As for the editing bit you forgot head hopping. It's the worst. And how about we all quit being so flipping sensitive?

Jiminey Crickets we are all on the same team. Team readers against crap!

I'm indie and I don't get all ruffled over every little thing.

Great post thanks

November 28, 2011 at 7:55 PM  
Blogger Kelly McClymer said...

Funny blast from the past. I've been a writing instructor for 10 years and have seen those ms you talk about -- the ones with no margins (or too wide), no quotation marks (or too many), that feature no real human beings (or that sacrifice the human heart on the page). I've never understood how so many writers don't go to the library and look up proper submission format before they submit. The power of dreams is blinding, I suppose.

No. I know it is blinding, because I'm still doing it after all these years, and I've embraced indie publishing with a happy heart...and had to go back and change a few embarrassing typos and format quirks myself.

November 30, 2011 at 6:51 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Mari—Ah, yes, Snooki! A watershed moment indeed. And hideously depressing but seems to be what publishing has come to.

Bri—Thank you for reminding me about head hopping. Aaaargh...drives a reader crazy.

Not getting all ruffled over every little thing is superb advice...& not just for writers.

Kelly—The classic quality of these mss is epic! They probably have been on this earth longer than cockroaches! ;-)

November 30, 2011 at 2:12 PM  
Blogger Carol Riggs said...

Ugh, the slush pile. This is why an agent is absolutely necessary these days!!!

December 1, 2011 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wow, talk about slush pile hell. And now that NaNo just finished, the nightmare is about to get worst.

And this is why I'm neither an editor nor an agent. :)

December 2, 2011 at 6:19 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Carol—I would suspect that escaping the slush pile is even more difficult today than when I was looking for pearls in the SP. As for needing an agent, there's quite a bit of controversy about that, too, now that epublishing has become so accepted.

Stina— I try to be a good girl so I'll just call it slush pile heck. lol

December 2, 2011 at 8:10 AM  
Blogger Rachna Chhabria said...

Slush pile scares me. I would hope to get an agent who can then champion my work, but my CP's are urging me to go the indie publishing way. According to them Agents are on their way out with epublshing,Indie and Self-publishing.

December 2, 2011 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Diana Stevan said...

Now, that indie publishing no longer has the stigma it once had, it is very attractive. At the same time, it's also very scary.

As an avid reader, I am quick to reject a writer if he or she doesn't speak to me. But if the prose sings, then I'll pick that author up again.

How many of us writers are that objective about our own work that we can see the flaws in our own storytelling? I know it's discouraging pitching to agents, waiting for that acceptance, but agents can be incredible voices in our favor. They can help polish the gems we have. They can also enhance our reputation, as they know the key people in the industry.I wouldn't be too quick to discount their value, even in today's quickly changing marketplace.

December 2, 2011 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Rachna—Lots of controversy about agents these days. You'll find advocates both pro & con—TradPub has been upended by epub & the dust is still settling.

Diana—Your points are excellent but be aware that an agent can ask for revisions and then decide to turn the writer down anyway. Has happened a lot more than once after the writer has put in a great deal of work & time. The next agent may have completely different ideas about revisions!

December 2, 2011 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger Amy Neftzger said...

Every month I get contacted by at least half a dozen individuals who want to get published and tell them that being an author is like owning a small business: you not only make the product, but you have to market and sell it. Even with a large publisher a new author has to help move books.

The illusion still persists that writers simply turn over the finished manuscript and start on another one while the magic of selling books takes place behind a curtain.

December 4, 2011 at 5:46 AM  
Blogger Madeleine said...

Wow what a long post!

Your sentence 'Let me count the ways' sums it all up really and made me chuckle.
It's interesting that some successful MSs can fail the slush pile, but I can appreciate why the process is carried out the way it I and I don't envy you the task.

December 4, 2011 at 6:38 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks to everybody who has commented. I so much enjoy Ruth's insights into the realities of this wild and crazy business.

Amy--You've put your finger on the problem--so many people don't have a clue this is a BUSINESS. It's not a creativity class where everybody gets a gold star for effort, and it's not an ivory tower where you can write pure art for art's sake and expect somebody else to worry about stuff like getting reviews and "moving units."

Madeleine--The length is my fault entirely. Ruth's post was a perfect length, but I felt I had to address some of the angry members of the Amazon review Taliban who thought I was telling them how to do their job. (NOT my intention.) It's been crazy. Who knew book reviewers were such a violent bunch? I mean, sending death threats? It's been an eye-opening experience.

December 4, 2011 at 11:23 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Amy—Publishing is definitely not for anyone entertaining gauzy fantasies about Art and Creativity. Writing the book is only the beginning of a lot of hard (and often discouraging) effort.

Why on earth do people think writers sit around drinking champagne & eating bonbons? Fact is, we sit around & bitch—about agents, publishers, the cover, the print order, the advance, the distribution—and so on. And on. ;-)

Madeleine—It's mostly the very young who slog through the SP. Young enough to have the energy—and young enough to absorb all the truly valuable lessons the SP inadvertently teaches.

At the time, it didn't seem awful at all. In fact, I was thrilled to have the job. Summing it up years later, though, adds some needed astringency. Like just adding the right amount of vinegar to olive oil for the perfect salad dressing I suppose. lol

December 4, 2011 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger One Womans Eye said...

So much to say here. I just self-published my first novel, The Secrets The Kept. It took a while to get there. For so long I desperately wanted the "approval" of a Big Six House. But the world is changing. So change or be changed. People like Snooki get "approved" which for me diminishes the luster I once sought.
I hired a professional editor with industry experience which is what I would advise anyone who wants to self-pub. And then listen to them and make the changes. Good product will be found. In the case of self-publishing, it can just take a while longer.

December 6, 2011 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger Meghan Ward said...

Great story about the white thread! I wonder if it's possibly to insert a digital white thread into an e-book. As for the slush pile, I think the competition is pretty fierce just to get an agent. Removing all the crazy rants full of typos, I think there are a lot of mss that are well written, typo-free, and perfectly formatted that will never make it through the traditional publishing process. One editor said of 250 ms she reads each year, about 100 are publishable, and only 2 get deals. Those stats make me want to self-publish.

December 10, 2011 at 8:38 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

One Woman--I do feel that Snookibooks and political books written only to be bought up by PACs give traditional publishing a less than pristine image. A bigger problem I have with Big 6 publishing is the overpricing of ebooks. When you have to do your own marketing, and you've got something too expensive for your readers to afford, but you get blamed for bad sales...it doesn't work for me.

Meghan--I think the agent query pile IS a slush pile and a lot of people in publishing refer to it that way. Queries that come through references get priority, but the others are "slush." And yes, I think any agent will tell you that a whole lot of those are excellent books that are totally publish-ready, but they know they cant' sell them because they're not trending. That's why many agents suggest self-publishing these days

December 10, 2011 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Meghan—Anne said it perfectly. As to inserting the infamous white thread into cyber submissions, I don't doubt that some future Mark Zuckerberg is working on the code as we speak. Legions of slushers are lined up, waiting to pay for the app. Which will be called "White Thread" of course. lol

December 10, 2011 at 10:26 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

One Woman's Eye—It sounds like you are approaching self-pub intelligently & your advice about seeking quality editing is excellent. Good luck!

December 10, 2011 at 10:30 AM  

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