There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently, written by Katherine Rosman. The article was about some writers' shiniest dream and gloomiest nightmare. It's that repository of rapidly diminishing hope: the traditional publisher's slush pile. That's the enormous pile of unsolicited manuscripts that publishers and editors -- in the good old days -- waded through in their search for the next BEST SELLER.
Alas, the Slush Pile today is, for all practical purposes, extinct. None of the big traditional publishers will even accept manuscripts unless they come from reputable agents, preferably agents that work out of NYC or LA. And trying to get an agent, as some of us FWA-ers know all too well, is just as hard as trying to hook up with a traditional publisher. That's one of the main reasons so many writers are using independent publishers, or small presses, or POD publishers. They're about the only ones accessible to non-famous writers anymore.
For instance, Katherine Rosman says, 1991 "was the last time Random House, the largest publisher in the U.S., remembers publishing anything found in a slush pile. Today, Random House and most of its major counterparts refuse to accept unsolicited material."
For those of us who are not counting -- 1991 was almost 20 years ago!
Rosman goes on to say, "Book publishers say it is now too expensive to pay employees to read slush that rarely is worthy of publication.
"A primary aim of the slush pile," Rosman continues, "used to be to discover unpublished voices. But today, writing talent isn't necessarily enough. It helps to have a big-media affiliation, or be effective on TV."
Laurence J. Kirshbaum, former CEO of Time Warner Book Group and now an agent says, "From a publisher's standpoint, the marketing considerations ... now often outweigh the editorial ones."
Kirshbaum the agent goes on to say, "We are being more selective in taking on clients because the publishers are demanding much more from the authors than ever before."
Rosman also quotes Jim Levine at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. "These days, you need to deliver not just the manuscript but the audience ... More and more, the mantra in publishing is 'Ask not what your publisher can do for you, ask what you can do for your publisher.' "
Are things different on the web? Is marketing much easier and quicker and more efficient and effective for writers today?
Rosman says, "In 2008, HarperCollins launched Authonomy.com, a Web slush pile. Writers can upload their manuscripts, readers vote for their favorites, and HarperCollins editors read the five highest-rated manuscripts each month. About 10,000 manuscripts have been loaded so far and Harper Collins has bought 4."
"One slush stalwart," Rosman says, "the Paris Review, has college interns and graduate students in the magazine's Tribeca loft-office read the 1,000 unsolicited works submitted each month. Each story is read by at least two people. If one likes it and the other doesn't it is read by a third ... The [Paris Review] literary journal publishes one piece from the slush pile each year. That leaves each unsolicited submission a .008% chance of rising to the top of the pile."
If you want more bad, but nonetheless realistic news about writing, about traditional publishing, and about slush piles, you can contact the Wall Street Journal's Katherine Rosman at Katherine.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schedule and Location
Welcome to the Sarasota Writers Group Blog. Meetings are held the first and third Wednesday of the month at the Nokomis Fire Station, located just a few blocks south of Albee Road (where Matthews-Currie Ford is located) at Pavonia Road. We are on the west, or bay side, of U.S. 41, by the Fire Station's flashing yellow caution traffic light. If you are coming from the south on US 41, we are just north of Dona Bay. Turn on Pavonia and pull to the far end, or west side, of the firehall. Please do not block the fire doors! We meet in the training room on the far side of the complex. Gathering time: 6:00 pm Meeting called to order: 6:30 pm Ten minute break: 7:50 pm Meeting Finishes at 9:00 pm