Saturday, 9 May 2009

Centralising The Slush Pile

This piece is one of a group of posts which appeared on my blog some time ago but then decided to remove themselves from public view and hide in my drafts folder instead. It was probably because I did something foolish, but I'm not quite sure what! Here it is again, for your reading pleasure. And apologies for the confusion.


I’ve seen it suggested that a centralised slush-pile might help some of the bigger publishers consider reopening their doors to submissions. The reasoning goes that by centralising submissions, duplicates could be avoided and the whole system could be streamlined. On the face of it this idea is appealing, but it could cause all sorts of trouble.

First, the pile would have to be separated into fiction and non-fiction, and then further, into genres. So you’d need a team of readers to handle this, who would have to be experienced in all different genres, and who could separate the good writing from the bad.

Once the good work was separated from the bad, and sorted by type and genre, it would have to be read by specialist readers to decide which list/imprint would be best. To do this, the readers would need a detailed knowledge of each and every imprint’s requirements, what each one had bought (both published and as-yet unpublished), and what would fit into the gaps that were left. As this is a centralised slush-pile there are no list-specific editors available, this work will have to be done by general readers, who are not likely to have all of that information available to them. And as the editors employed by the scheme would not be involved in directly editing or publishing any of the work involved, good editors are unlikely to even consider taking on the task.

Because of the volume and nature of submissions, lots of time-intensive, soul-destroying work would be involved in filtering a central slush-pile: but who would pay for it? Publishers have a system that works for them already: why would they stump up more money for a system that wouldn’t necessarily give them any further benefits? And just suppose that a book from this centralised slush-pile was sent to one imprint and subsequently became a huge best-seller: what sort of reaction would you expect from the lists which weren’t given a chance to consider it?

7 comments:

BuffySquirrel said...

If you edited the post, then clicked "Save" rather than "Publish Post", that might have sent it back to the drafts folder.

If there were generally-agreed standards about what makes good and bad writing, this might work. But there aren't. Admittedly the readers might be able to perform a simple redirection service--sending books to publishers who actually publish that kind of book, for example. But that's about it.

DanielB said...

It seems a daft idea. Has anyone with any influence seriously suggested it?

Jane Smith said...

Buffy, I don't think I did anything to the posts which moved themselves to my drafts folder: they just went there one day all on their own (I could be wrong, though, as I am hopelessly inept).

As for the centralised slush pile: I can't see it working at all as the readers for it couldn't possibly know what everyone wanted, or if they were looking for anything at that time: it's just too big a job. And who would fund it? Pah. I also don't like the way it would absolve the writers from researching agents and publishers, or the way it removes that element of choice from writers.

As for who suggested this idea: I've seen variations of it ALL OVER. On blogs, writers' message boards, even on a few news and opinion websites. Not on any publishers' blogs, or agents' blogs, though: you know, the people in the industry who know how the submissions process actually works. Which is quite telling.

emmadarwin said...

I think it comes from people who see being published as some kind of degree, or qualification: you work hard enough, you eat your greens, you do the revision and then you'll pass the exam. Whereas even the process is odd, and counter-intuitive, and rules are said and then turn out not to be rules (like the one or two agents who've said, "Oh, it only says we're not taking submissions to keep the slushpile down. We do read them". All except the sensible, well-mannered people who did their research and took the statement at face value). And that's before you've considered the fact that one man's fictional meat is another woman's memoir poison...

If the booktrade WAS tidy, and all parts of it knew what they wanted, wanted the same qualities as everyone else did, and could tell you about it, a UCAS for aspiring writers would work. But, actually, they don't know what they want till they see it, and they need to be able to make the decision themselves. It's basically the equivalent of every single person who wants to go to university having to have a personal interview with every single department they want to enter. No wonder the slushpiles are huge. But as aspiring writers, we do just have to be prepared to get on the train...

DanielB said...

That's as I suspected, Jane - I can't see any agent or publisher going for it, and with good reason! (Even if I do like emma's analogy - UCAS for aspiring writers. That made me chuckle.)

BuffySquirrel said...

Eh, well, Jane, blogger is hopelessly inept too!

Jane Smith said...

As usual, Emma Darwin has come up with the most beautiful and appropriate analogy. Thank you, Emma!

(And yes, Buffy, Blogger might well be inept sometimes, but I am inepter.)