The New World of Publishing: A New Slush Pile

The slush pile is dead. Long live the reformed slush pile.

Or some mangled old saying like that.

Lots and lots of things have changed in publishing over the last five to ten years, and the slush pile for publishers certainly hasn’t missed that change. In fact, I would wager there are young editors in traditional publishing houses that have no idea what the term “slush pile” even means. And if ever explained to them, they would shriek in horror at the very idea.

Slush piles were where writer’s manuscripts went to sit and wait for a baby editor to take a look at them, and maybe buy them for their publishing line. Some small slush piles still exist, but not in the old traditional sense by a long ways.

So I figured it was time to give the term “slush pile” a quick update and let you know where the manuscripts are piled these days.

Some History

The term “slush pile” came about way back, after the Civil War, when editors got all their stories directly and personally from writers. You had to live close to the magazine or book line you were writing for, or visit it frequently. During the pulp era of 1920-1950, editors would be in these old office buildings in New York without air-conditioning. Over the top of the door was a transom and a window that could be opened to help cool the room. So when writers went to see the editor and the editor wasn’t in, they would toss their manuscript “over the transom” through the window.

If the editor was gone for any length of time, he would come back and push his door open to find a pile of white paper with black typing on his floor. It looked like dirty New York slush, thus the term “slush pile” came about.

When I came into publishing in the early 1970s, New York publishers had vast rooms for manuscripts arriving from all over the county. They would hire young editors to cull through the massive piles hoping to find something of value. If the young editor found something in the slush pile, it often meant a promotion out of the slush pile reading and to a real editing job.

But going into the 1990s, the expense of having rooms and young editors living in New York and only culling through slush became too much for many traditional publishers.  But they had a problem: Their guidelines of “No Unsolicited Manuscripts” just didn’t hold back the flood.

So near the end of the 1990s, the traditional publishers switched to “No Unagented Manuscripts” and shut down the few slush rooms that were left. In other words, they outsourced the slush to the writer’s own employees. A really, really bad idea since it had the appearance of putting an employee in charge of the employer.

This outsourcing also dried up a lot of the publisher’s new, creative work. At the same time the distribution system that had been in existence since the late 1950s was collapsing and thus publishers didn’t notice the lack of new creative work since they were also cutting back book lines and only looking for bestsellers. (Realize this was still ten years ahead of the ebook revolution.)

Young editors laid off in the cutbacks flocked to become agents. Most of those editor/agents have failed since, buried under the piles of slush and the desire to be an editor and rewrite everything they saw. No income that way. The older, established agencies just ignored it all and only took on new clients in the old traditional way of referral from an established client.

And the same writers who had figured out a way to ignore the previous road block suddenly (for unknown reasons) bought into the myth of needing an agent to sell books and things turned even uglier for an entire generation of new writers. The new writers were blocked completely (or so they thought. Reality has nothing to do with anything in publishing, remember? I’ve done entire articles on how the “agent-only guideline” is just false.)

Then in 2009, as midlist writers and new writers were fleeing the ugliness that was traditional publishing for real world jobs, here comes the ebook revolution. Suddenly, with very little learning and almost no money, writers could get their work directly to the readers.

Traditional publishers, too locked down in their huge corporate problems at the time, ignored the fact that they had lost their monopoly on the distribution system thanks to the KDP program, the Pubit program, and places like Smashwords.

The indie publishing revolution had started.

Writers were not only able to sell e-books, but because of the advent of POD publishing, indie publishers could do paper books as well very cheaply and with little or no upfront costs. And just this spring, with the start of Ella Distribution (and possible other indie paper books distributing companies coming), indie writers can offer their books directly to indie bookstores.

The reasons to go to traditional publishing have vanished. And with the reputations of traditional publishing being tarnished by traditional publishers like Simon and Schuster and Random House going into vanity press scams, even going to traditional publishing for a rubber-stamp of quality has vanished.

Add all that to the fact that many, many writers have made a lot of money and are hitting the major bestseller lists with their indie published books means there is no clear choice for a writer anymore. Go traditional or go indie?

At least writers have a choice now.

But because of the slush pile aspect of things, that choice for many writers now seems to be what many call a “hybrid” model for writers. In other words, do both indie and traditional publishing.

So Where is the Slush Pile Now?

The slush pile is broken up into parts, actually. But mostly it has evolved into a brand new form.

Tiny parts of the old-style slush pile are sitting in editor’s actual offices in traditional publishing. Those manuscripts are the ones by writers who ignored guidelines or met editors at a conference. In most editor’s offices, it’s not much of a pile. Usually less than twenty or so, since they cull out the ones that don’t fit on the day they arrive in most cases.

Tiny parts of the old-style slush pile are sitting in a few genre-publishing electronic-submission programs. These submission programs are as bad as the old slush rooms. It usually take a year or more to get a manuscript through, and are not, in my opinion, worth a writer’s time or energy.

Tiny parts of the old-style slush pile are sitting on agent’s desks that allow such things. These agents are not really an agent you would want if they did like your book because editors know them as slush readers. Usually these types of agents have no clout and wouldn’t know a good contract if it nipped at their high heals. Of all the methods to try to break into traditional publishing, sending a manuscript unsolicited to a slush pile in an agency is the silliest. Agents can’t write checks. And any agent who would take an unsolicited manuscript to look at isn’t an agent you want if you get an offer from a publisher.

So Where Did Most of the Slush Go?

The slush pile morphed into a brand new form, a brand new way for traditional publishers to see work and have it be tested before they even made an offer.

The slush piles of old are all now indie published. And the readers decide what is good or bad.

Instead of costing a writer money to mail it to a huge room in New York as we did in my early years, or send it to an agent, writers now can indie publish their work both electronic and in paper and make some money in the process. It might not be a lot, but it is some money. And if the book starts to sell, it will draw the attention of traditional publishers and they will come calling with an offer.

In other words, if you wrote a good book, readers will find it and then traditional publishers will come calling.

It puts the responsibility squarely on the writer to tell a great story in a great fashion.

And if traditional publishers come calling, the writer has a good bargaining position and can get decent contract terms. And the writer knows the money they are making with their indie book, and how much of an offer would make the writer switch over to traditional publishing.

In other words, there is hard sales data for both sides. Win. Win.

And a win for the readers, because unlike the decade from 1999 to 2009, great books are not getting lost to the stupidity of an old and antiquated system.

Summary

I’m going to be blunt now, so hold on.

If you follow an old model, you send your manuscript to either an editor or an agent:

In essence, this is what you are doing: Imagine yourself standing at the door of a restaurant in ragged clothes, hat-in-hand, begging for some food. You have no bargaining power, no position to try to get a decent contract (meal). And if you are with a slush-reading agent, imagine that you now only get a part of what little bit of food they are willing to toss you.

If you follow the new, indie-publishing model: 

In essence, this is what you are doing: Imagine you own your own business. You have money coming in the door, have customers, and a growing list of products. A representative of a major corporation shows up in your store and asks to buy some of your product for their company. You know what the product is worth and you know you can get decent contract terms. They have come to you, into your business, and it is an even bargaining position for both of you, business to business. They want what you are selling. You can decide if the money and terms are worth you selling it.

I have no idea in this new world, with constant reports of indie writers being approached and getting great money and contracts from traditional publishers, why anyone would even think of sticking with the old model of begging at a publisher’s door with a manuscript in a  slush pile.

I have no idea why any writer would spend so much time writing a book and then not allow that book to earn for them while it was being looked at by traditional publishers.

I have no idea why any writer would (in 2013) send any manuscript into a traditional, old-style slush pile.

Just as we had to learn how to do cover letters and synopsis of novels that would help our books sell, the writers of today need to learn how to do covers and cover blurbs and tag lines that will help their books sell.

The slush pile is dead.

Long live the new system of getting books to traditional publishers. And making some money in the process.

As a person who has lived with both the old and the new systems, trust me, the new is a ton more fun.

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Copyright © 2013 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
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44 Responses to The New World of Publishing: A New Slush Pile

  1. I agree with much of what you’ve got here, Dean. As far as books go, the slush system is pretty much getting a much needed replacement. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t really address the short story magazine slush piles, which are alive and often more efficient than the novel slush.

    I read slush for Clarkesworld a couple of years back. A lot of people (20-30 per day) sent their stories in, hoping to nab one of the two fiction slots per month (and since one of those was filled with solicited fiction, they were really competing for one slot per month). We had an incredibly speedy turn around time (on the order of days). Now, CW is publishing three stories per issue, doubling slush’s chances. I’m sure the slush remains pretty constantly stocked. I found a lot of great stories in that pile, as well as authors who have gone on to do some incredible work.

    I didn’t translate the experience into an editing gig (wasn’t interested in doing so at the time), but the year+ I spent with CW gave me some pretty invaluable insight into how stories work, why they sometimes don’t, and how to improve my craft. It also made me appreciate how damn lucky I’d been to have made it through the process and into publication (not for CW, but other markets).

    • dwsmith says:

      Daniel, I agree. In one form or another, slush is still alive in the short fiction markets, at least some of them. I was talking about novels. Guess I need to tweak that to make that clear. Thanks.

      And I also agree that getting a chance to read slush will help your own writing greatly. I know it did for me as well.

  2. Jeremy says:

    TL;DR version: The slush pile is now for sale at Amazon, and readers pay for the privilege of searching for gems amongst the chaff.

    • dwsmith says:

      Jeremy, searching is free. It only costs when you find a gem to read.

      • Jeremy says:

        A reader often doesn’t know which is which until they purchase and read–that’s where the “cost” comes in. Plus their collective time searching, reading and giving reviews. Time which is at least as valuable as the time of some 20-something English major working in a Big 6 slush room.

        Basically, the market is the quality filter–there is no longer a “pre-market” quality filter. We can debate how effective that pre-market quality filter was to begin with (“Snooki”), and perhaps it’s not to be missed.

        I have a bias towards letting the market figure things out on its own, unless the market comes to decisions like abusive child labor and whatnot, then society needs to crack down.

        Therefore, I see getting rid of pre-market filters as a good thing. But it’s still not “free”, though we could argue that the value of the good books that get through the unfiltered marketplace outweighs the costs of readers identifying and warning others of the bad books.

        TL;DR : Oursourcing the slush pile to Amazon customers probably net benefits society and the loss of Big Pub’s slush rooms will not be mourned.

        • “…A reader often doesn’t know which is which until they purchase and read–that’s where the “cost” comes in….”

          And that’s where the samples come in. If a book is terrible, you can usually tell in the first few pages. If the editing is bad, again, the first few pages will show that. The reader is the one spending the money, so it’s their responsibility to check what they are buying. If I am shopping for a dress it’s my responsibility to try it on before I buy it, not the store’s responsibility to make sure it fits me. As a reader I find it insulting that the industry by and large doesn’t think I am intelligent enough to decide what I like on my own and must instead tell me.

      • Stephen Couch says:

        Searching is free, plus most every book has a ‘Look Inside’ option, *plus* any ebook purchased can be returned within seven days for any reason.

        Not seeing the ‘pay for the privilege thing,’ not even a tiny bit.

        • Jim Johnson says:

          Plus, just about every book available (on Amazon anyway) in a Kindle format has a “Get Sample Now” button. If the sample holds my interest and engages me as a reader, I move that book to my ‘buy’ list. If it doesn’t, it gets deleted from my Kindle and I move on to the next sample. No cost there.

          • Jeremy says:

            A person can incur costs even if he doesn’t write a check or have his credit card charged.

            Having to spend hours to “Look Inside” 50 pieces-of-junk ebooks on Amazon to find one good book worth reading one IS a kind of cost to the readers, even if Amazon doesn’t ding their credit card.

          • Jeremy:

            I think you’re taking the “slush pile” analogy too literally. Every reader isn’t going through every book. Readers are only looking closer at books that gain their interest. And each reader sets his or her own criteria — some will not look at a book at all until they’ve been assured by friends that the book is worth their time. Some use reviews, some will browse through a dozen or so new, unfamiliar books a week. Others won’t look at a book until it’s famous, or they’ve seen the movie made from it.

            But nobody does even the slightest bit more work than they want to.

            Most readers, after all, won’t even click to look at the blurb of the vast majority of books out there. But many readers will, once in a while, come across something new that they’ll check out, and that will lift the book into the peripheral vision of a new, small, group of people.

            There are a thousand tools out there cranking away on the internet that lift a book into the line of vision of potential readers. Readers don’t have to go looking — Google and Amazon’s algorithms will manage that flood of slush for them.

            It’s slow, but it’s distributed, which makes it a powerful system.

  3. Roscoe says:

    Unrelated to the topic at hand, but related to publishing:

    How do you record your books and stories on the balance sheet? Since they can technically keep earning forever, how do you value the IP you’ve got on hand in the journal and the accounts?

    • dwsmith says:

      Roscoe,

      That’s a question someone with accounting background is going to have to answer here. Since in this new world, a property can earn for the life of its copyright and longer, that math has to be done on some projected earnings calculation figured over a basis of earnings over a certain time and I am already past my depth of accounting knowledge. Help???

  4. I don’t know if this is the kind of answer you’re looking for. It’s not formal.

    But informally, I value by return, as I would any dividend paying investment. T-bills have been paying around three percent lately. So a book that earns average $300 a year would be like a $10,000 investment in bonds.

  5. froderic says:

    I’m looking at it the same way (although I have not yet started). A story placed on the market seems to me to be an investment. The great thing about this is that the market is either up or “stable”. Unlike with stocks you never actually “lose” money. The cost of editing,artwork etc are just the cost of initial “purchase of your own investment vehicle. When your stock is up,you may even make a short term sale (licensing) to another entity with an agreement that your stock will return to you.

    • froderic says:

      So I see it more akin to stock than a bill,but still,as an investment with a one time purchase.

      • I used a bond for comparison because no matter how you count it, a book is an “income” investment, not a “value” investment.

        While some stocks pay good enough dividends to be considered income investment, for the most part, your actual in-hand gains from stocks come from market price and trading. You have to sell it to realize the gain.

        With intellectual property, you can’t simply call your broker and sell out at market price. Sure you might find a buyer, but they set the price they want, and they won’t value it with the efficiency of the market, they’ll want a bargain.

        And you can’t buy it back when the “market” dips either.

        IP is much more like investment property — bonds, real estate, certain kinds of dividend paying stocks — in that your gains come from the income that the property produces while you hold it.

  6. Here’s a scenario I’ve been wondering about.

    A new writer puts their first novel up for sale via indie publishing. It does poorly, but they don’t stop writing. Novels two, three, and four go up. In the process, the writer’s skills significantly improve to the point where the amateurishness of novel one is now apparent.

    So… leave it up, even if it’s barely selling, because sales are sales? Or take it down because it’s giving a poor impression of what readers will get if they read novel four?

    In other words, in the old system, that poor quality first novel would just die in the slush pile(s). But now, it’s out there for everyone to see, even if its quality doesn’t measure up to what the writer is currently producing.

    • dwsmith says:

      Big Ed, that’s up to the writer/publisher, but trust me, my first novel is still out there and selling. And I still enjoy signing it at conventions, and I write a ton better than that book. No difference. And the second short story I ever sold professionally is still available in Writers of the Future Volume #1.

      My second question is “Who decides it’s not up to the standard of the new stuff?” Can’t be the writer because all writers think their own stuff sucks. Period. (grin)

    • Carradee says:

      The first short story I ever wrote—which is my oldest piece of writing—still gets me comments from friends who read it years ago, who really really liked it, more than my more recent stories.

      I look at it and see, “Oh, my. I was obviously still a teenager whose main exposure to science fiction came from Star Trek and Star Wars.” But a reader who likes the type of story that story is? Doesn’t read it through that filter, enjoys it, and tells me as much.

      Now, the first “short story” I published, I ultimately pulled down, because I screwed it up. It was flash fiction, not a short story, but I was calling it a “short story”. (Classic “What was I thinking???” story.) When the only reviews hitting it were from people who hated it and wanted their time back, I did a palm-meet-face, thought That’s what my first readers meant!, and decided ultimately to pull it for eventual re-release in a package with some other related stories.

      But I could’ve just as easily changed up the packaging to target it properly. (And sure enough, after I pulled it, I got some readers contacting me to say “Hey, where’d it go? It was funny!”)

      So I do believe there are times to pull something down. But believing it to be a bad book isn’t a great reason, because you aren’t the best judge of that.

      And if the book’s only moving a few copies, compared to your more recent, better-written stuff… Who’s likely finding that, new readers or current fans? :)

  7. Mark says:

    It occurs to me that another alternative to self-publishing as a way to avoid the black hole of publisher slush-piles is to make a name for yourself by building up a portfolio of pro market short story sales. That way, either traditional publishers will take a lot more notice of your submissions/queries, or you will have a bigger potential readership (fan-base) for any novels you self-publish.

    The worry I have about self-publishing a novel without some sort of garaunteed readership, is that there is potentially quite a big financial investment: line-editing and cover services could add up to several hundred dollars if you are not confident to do everything yourself. I would probably be happy to do my own cover, but I am not sure if I would trust my own proof-reading skills over a 100,000 words.

    I guess the evaluation needed is how many sales are required for break even. You are probably looking at 2-300 sales would be my rough guess if you invest in editing etc.

    • dwsmith says:

      Mark, part of learning these days to become a writer in this modern world is learn how to do it yourself. And you can barter proof-reading with other writers. Your costs should be $15 for the art.

      As for having a portfolio built up, sure, it would help, a little, if you wrote a fantastic book they wanted and such. But you write a regular book, a genre book, a ten-thousand advance book, just imagine that homeless person standing hungry in front of a restaurant and you have the position you are in.

      I sent novels to a traditional publisher starting off with the line “I have sold over 100 traditional novels, thirty-five your company alone…” and gotten a form rejection from some low-level editor. I called her boss on the phone after I got that and got a different response, but after working with that company for 35 novels, I knew her boss really well. The offer still sucked. The book wasn’t that good I guess. And I never sold it to them.

      • I’ve been thinking about these 5-10K advances that are mentioned lately. Assume 100,000 words. That’s 5 to 10 cents per word.

        In other words, about the same as pro rates for short stories. I can’t say it means anything, but the coincidence surprised me.

    • Jeremy says:

      Based on the comments here, it’s clear that far too many aspiring authors have zero concept of the value of time.

      Who in their right business mind would spend 1,000+ hours writing a book–which even at minimum wage is foregoing $7,000+ in income–and then be so pennywise as to not risk a “big financial investment” of “several hundred dollars” to have it edited and a cover designed?

      The big financial investment was spending the equivalent of six months of full time work WRITING THE FRIGGEN book—to let that investment rot because you don’t want to spend “several hundred dollars” is insanity. This causes authors to give away 95% of their copyright to some publisher because the author won’t invest “several hundred dollars” in making their intellectual property the best it can be.

      If you don’t think your book sales are going to earn back “several hundred dollars” in hard costs for editing and cover design, why in the world did you spend 1,000 hours writing the dang book in the first place???????? If you thought your book would only sell a hundred copies at $2.99 each, your time writing the book would have been better spent as a Chinese factory-slave assembling iPads for 25 cents an hour.

      Honestly, it would probably be easier to teach MBAs and attorneys and businessmen and insurance salesmen the craft of basic fiction writing than it is to teach authors common business sense.

      • Speaking as an MBA who’s busily learning the craft of basic fiction writing, I am forced to concur.

        That said, your estimate of the writer’s opportunity cost is a little off. It does not take 1,000+ hours to write a novel. Right now I’m just over 80,000 words into a novel that I project will run to about 100,000 words or so. I have so far spent 55.15 hours writing it.

        Don’t believe it when someone says it took a year, or two years, or six, or whatever to write a book. They most definitely were NOT writing that whole time.

      • Mark Lord says:

        I think you have to consider that most writers starting out are doing it in their spare time – I certainly am – so I’m not forgoing a wage to do it. I would like it if my book is good enough earn money, but as I am relatively new to writing I don’t have the confidence to know what it will earn – so actually spending several hundred dollars of my savings on something that might not earn back is actually a big decision. If I decided that I needed to earn back for my time spent as well, then I guess it would be better not to start writing at all as there are more certain ways to make money in your spare time. Now that’s a depressing thought, as I enjoy writing, I hope to get better at it, and if I can earn a bit of money while doing it that’s great – but I’m not sure if I do want to spend a lot of actual cash on producing something that maybe just isn’t good enough yet. If I were a publisher (whether indie or traditional) with capital to invest (i.e willing to risk losing) then maybe I could make that judgment, but I don’t.

        I think Dean’s suggestion about bartering proof-reading is a good one – so if anyone does want to do that – let me know!

      • You assume writers write for money. Some do, but some write because they enjoy the writing, and then try to sell the results.

        • Jeremy says:

          You assume publishers publish for money.
          Some do, but some publish because they enjoy the publishing, and then try to sell the results.

          You assume agents agent for money.
          Some do, but some agent because they enjoy the agenting process, and then try to sell the results.

          • dwsmith says:

            Seriously? And what is the “agenting process” in your mind? And I assume by “publishers” you mean indie writers, correct? And not corporations?

            Head-shaking…

          • Jeremy says:

            @DWS — Clearly my attempt at sarcasm / showing the absurdity of “authors writing for love rather than money” didn’t work.

            If Martin thinks authors should write for love rather than money, does he also think publishers should publish for love rather than money? Should agents “agent” for love rather than money?

            Of course not. But authors should write for love instead of money because….well, because authors let themselves be exploited by this mentality.

      • Dan Meadows says:

        I think you’re actually over-valuing the time spent here. Writers don’t generally write on a time clock, admittedly some do, but not most. Very few are saying, “I’m going to take off work today and write,” which would constitute a practical loss of value. But if I spend a few hours writing in the evenings that I otherwise would have spent on the couch watching Mad Men on DVD, that resulting work is a pure profit on that time. Time is money, but not all time can be valued equally. Writing, in particular, is almost tailor made to fit into open periods of anyone’s time that would otherwise be relatively non-productive. That and the time-cost is entirely front-loaded, with the resulting work having the potential to earn over an infintely longer period than it took to produce with minimal to zero additional time expense.

        • dwsmith says:

          Interesting, Dan. I’ve heard lots of writers devalue their own work and their own time before, but not exactly in that way. Wow.

          Sorry, my time is valuable. Period. If I am spending it resting, writing, publishing, or with my family. It all has a value to me and when I am writing, that time costs me.

          I value my work and my time and so much of what I have been doing on this blog over the last two years is exactly opposite the silly notion you have that your time writing is not valuable. I have been trying my best to get writers to value themselves, their art, and their time.

          So, sorry, if you think that way about your writing, might want to spend longer on the couch with television. Why not, your writing has no value?

    • Swap books with other writers. Go on Google and type it in something like “need beta reader” or “book swap”. I emailed three and got two responses. I’ve got two books out with them now. If you’d like to book swap, please get in touch. No need to pay for proof-reading.

  8. froderic says:

    Wasn’t talking about “dividends”. :)
    Copies of a book are sold individually. And dips are not losses unless they gobeneath your investment. When big publishers make an offer for use of your work I am sure that they try to get a “bargin”. That’s when you refuse ;) . Anyway, I was not trying to with you. I really like what you said. I was merely trying to deepen your very nice analogy for myself. Nothing that you said is “wrong” in my opinion.

  9. Ellin says:

    All this may well be true for fiction, and genre fiction in particular. But what of literary fiction that doesn’t fall into any particular genre or, even more problematically, high-end non-fiction?

    The latter often requires a legal read, which raises the author’s pre-pub costs dramatically (unless you have a cooperative suitably qualified friend). You could go commando, as it were, but unless everyone in your book is dead, the costs of running this risk could end up being even higher. And forget the cost of the time spent writing – it’s the time spent marketing and doing PR that really costs.

    Don’t get me wrong – self-publishing and letting your book find its audience is definitely better than not getting it out there at all. I would just say for certain types of books, traditional publishing still offers some advantages.

    • dwsmith says:

      Ellin, sorry, but literary fiction is a genre. A poor-selling genre, but still a genre.

      And literary fiction is still just fiction.

  10. Jim Johnson says:

    Dean, I have to think this topic also touches on the idea that many writers still want to be ‘taken care of’ by big publishing. Instead of getting an editor and art for their book themselves, they’d rather spend months or years submitting and looking for an agent or editor to pick up their work and then have the publisher handle the details.

    One could argue that submitting and then having a publisher pick it up costs less than self-publishing and paying for an editor and art, but is it fair to say that those costs are something the writer will indirectly pay by virtue of the generally lousy traditional publishing contracts vs. 70% self-pub royalties + whatever expenses one takes to get the book to market? I’m thinking the overall long term ROI on a self-pubbed book has to be better than a traditionally published book (unless a writer is smart and has a good IP lawyer helping them, I guess).

    • Veronika says:

      It’s not only the cost in reduced royalties, but also the cost of time spent submitting to agents and editors, which, judging from all the stories about 200+ rejections out there, can be considerable. And the cost of time spent on online promotion, which publishers and agents now seem to expect from authors as a matter of course.

  11. Awesome article and blog, thank you!
    I just ventured for the first time into writing, publishing, and loving it thus far!

    Question: The only reason I hesitated to going self or indie vs. traditional was when the latter publishers say “any submitted manuscript must be unedited work (or forget about us)”. Any thoughts?

    In Europe e-books are just 2% total sales, Asia and Latam may just be around that number as well. The US is the only one respectable number with 25%, so no fast dying for traditional houses, not just yet anyway. Obviously they are doing what they can to keep their own business not only alive but growing, and agreeing to a good deal if they see one is a healthy and kind of secure way of accomplishing that.
    Point is, they are indeed still strong enough to control a big chunk of the business. so yes, I want a piece of that party as well. Any thoughts?

    • dwsmith says:

      M Yero Morris,

      Seriously, a publisher won’t want a book edited and clean of mistakes??? Seriously. I would avoid that kind of stupidity at all costs. Wow.

      Not sure what you are meaning about who controls what??? You can get your books to bookstores just as any traditional publisher can. In fact, if you use CreateSpace or LightningSource, it automatically goes into the two big bookstore distributors, Baker and Taylor and Ingrams. So not a clue what you are talking about. Try that question again. I can be dense. (grin)

  12. Great post, Dean. Having been through the traditional publishing wars with three books in two different genres, I need no convincing that indie is the ONLY way through the pass and my thanks to you and Kristine in helping me saddle the horse. But some things I fear won’t change with the new slushpile. Sure, it makes terrifically good sense to have a publisher come after YOUR ‘good’ book–you have truckloads more leverage than waiting on the street corner, hat in hand: please, please publish/agent my book. But what actually comprises a ‘good’ book? Here’s where the fear comes in, because your book may be well-written, well-crafted, the story well told but it it isn’t of a type currently popular, it’s likely they won’t come a-courting. Yes, there are the actual sales numbers (and I’d be curious to where you think that threshold of interest is), but that also plays in with readers: just because a book is ‘good’ is no guarantee that readers will ‘find’ it. Anyway, if you do sell enough copies to attract a publisher (or agent) then you sure as hell don’t need ‘em at that point. Eat my dust!

  13. “The slush pile is dead.” Thank goodness! The same books that agents and publishers told me weren’t good enough a few years ago are now happily selling on Amazon, being enjoyed by readers all over the world. I can’t imagine why anyone would choose the traditional publishing route first now that they can self-publish and build up their own reader base. Loved your article – it was spot on!

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