Today’s Wall Street Journal article article on “The Death of the Slush Pile” made me go, well, at least “Aaarrrgh!”
Before I vent specifically, allow me to point out:
- *I* take unsolicited manuscripts (aka slush).
- So do Tor and Ace/Roc Science Fiction & Fantasy. Maybe others.
- Genre magazines take slush, too.
- Of the current Pocket/Juno line-up Stacia Kane, Linda Robertson, Maria Lima, Laura Bickle/Alayna Williams (yes, yes, she’s the same person — more on that later) all initially came from slush. Carole Nelson Douglas was/is represented, but our first contact was personal and not through her agent. As for the original small press line-up, almost all came from the slush pile.
Now, to the WSJ article:
1) They mix screenwriting and book publishing. They are comparing apples and oranges and shouldn’t have. I won’t address the Hollywood side of things.
2) The article completely ignores that there are simply more submissions these days than ever. Wordprocessing and the Internet have made a great many more people think they should be authors. So has the “starification” of popular authors — since the media play up blockbuster authors, huge advances, and the tiny minority of writers who make big bucks, folks think becoming an author is an easy road to riches. Nothing could be further from the truth.
3) WSJ: “As writers try to find an agent—a feat harder than ever to accomplish in the wake of agency consolidations and layoffs…” Is this true? I don’t think it is in publishing.
4) WSJ: “Book publishers say it is now too expensive to pay employees to read slush that rarely is worthy of publication. At Simon & Schuster, an automated telephone greeting instructs aspiring writers: “Simon & Schuster requires submissions to come to us via a literary agent ….Company spokesman Adam Rothberg says the death of the publisher’s slush pile accelerated after the terror attacks of 9/11 by fear of anthrax in the mail room.” Okay, treading softly here since Pocket is part of S&S and Juno is part of Pocket. Yes, I am sure that it is not worth paying employees to read the amount of slush they get. No arguing. However, as many smaller publishers are learning, you can automate email submissions and avoid even compute viruses, so anthrax and mailrooms need not be a concern.
5) WSJ brings up rejections of Rowling, Meyer, etc. What articles like this never point out is that often many rejections come because the manuscript is submitted to the “wrong” publisher or editor. You may have a wonderful YA novel — well, don’t send it to me. Pocket Juno does not publish YA novels. Or short story collections, or horror novels, or space opera, or thrillers, or novels with male protagonists, or…etc. Want to count that as a rejection? I don’t. I count it as a misguided submission.
One plus for the WSJ article: In a sidebar, a Random House editor mentions that editors “travel, they get around. They look at writer’s conferences, at MFA programs. They look at magazine articles and at blogs. That’s what editors do, they sniff things out from so many different sources.” This is true for me, at least. Especially about personal contact. I wish I still went to as many conferences as I used to. I find it a valuable way not only to meet potential authors, but to make contact with readers and “sniff out” the future vibe.
One more thing: The WSJ article is subtitled: Even in the Web era, getting in the door is tougher than ever. Is it? At least in in sf/f, authors have been discovered online via blogs. Romance and erotica writers are often starting out in ebooks these days. And the networking — what you can learn from others and who you “know”, in any career, is always something to consider — you can now do as an author due to the Web is a whole new universe for authors.
And yeah, that’s where I got started, too, online.