Picking Your Slush Pile

No, this is not my one new thing for June post. I got sidetracked. That will be coming soon. In the meantime... I find it fascinating how many people have flocked to self-publishing. There are some big names out there promoting the do-it-yourself brand of publishing and new authors are clamoring to be part of the revolution. “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” they chortle in their joy. (All credit to Lewis Carroll for that.)

What I find peculiar is that these authors have happily traded one slush pile for another even larger one. I’m not saying don’t self-publish. I’m only saying it may not be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that some people have made it out to be.

Let’s talk slush.

The Self-publishing Slush Pile:

If you're simply a hobby writer, go ahead and self-publish, but don’t expect serious writers to appreciate you cluttering up the pipes with work you don’t take seriously. If you do want to make a living writing, then be ready to work your ass off to get there from that ginormous slush pile you just tossed your work into. You are going it completely alone unless you can afford to pay people to help you (and there are tons of people willing to take your money).

I’m not saying you can’t be successful in self-publishing. A few people have, but if you don’t have success on your side before you jump in the way people like Seth Godin did, then you’re fighting some hefty odds. The chances of making a living wage for someone starting their authorial career in self-publishing aren’t really much better than they are going the ‘traditional’ route. You’ve simply traded many big slush piles for one giant one that can be just as harsh.

For the curious, here is an Interesting Article About Recent Self-Publishing Statistics taken from Not a Gold Rush - The Taleist Self-Publishing Survey.

The Indie Publishing Slush Pile:

I often think this may be the future of publishing. Right now, it's a little scary though. So many small presses have come out of the woodwork and it's hard to know who's going to have staying power and who's going to fade back into the scenery. That said, I think it is a good way to go if you’re willing to research the publishers.

A small selection of the many resources available:

You don’t get to skip the slush piles this way. Like any publisher, indie houses need to put out quality work to gain a following so they will still reject you if you work isn't good enough. However, they are in a much better position to take a chance on work that pushes boundaries or doesn’t fit in a specific genre than the big houses are. You will have more control of your work than you would with a big house and less than you would self-publishing. You have to wait for publication, but not as long as you would with a big publisher. You still have to work your ass off too, but you now have others invested in seeing your work succeed who are willing to shoulder at least a little of the burden to get you there.

The Big Publishing Slush Pile:

Big publishing can be frustrating. Even if you make it through the agent slush piles, your book still has to make it through the big publisher piles. You can’t skimp on editing and polishing your work before you send it in. That isn’t to say that mistakes and imperfect writing don’t get through, but agents and big houses will take any excuse to reject you so they can get through their backlog. This isn’t to be cruel. It’s merely a survival trait.

If you do get a big publisher, you lose control of your work in many ways and you will have to wait a long time for publishing. What you gain is the industry experience of the publisher and agent and the power of their networks. When it comes down to it, with the right people backing your work, you have a chance to build a bigger audience faster, even with the publishing delay, than you may ever build if you self-publish. Don't get complacent though. You still have to work your ass off if you want to be successful. That just comes with the profession.

For more information on traditional publishing, I wrote Some Tips on Publishing some time ago with tips for the submission process. It's far from exhaustive, but the resources are all still useful.

Wrapping up.

You might have the feeling that I don’t like self-publishing and in some ways, you aren't wrong. I think it’s too easy. It lures people into publishing before they’re ready and it opens the door for a lot of bad writing that handicaps those authors who actually do write great books. I truly admire people who manage to rise out of that slush pile. That doesn’t mean I’m eager to jump in with them. Right now, I’ll stick with the pile I’m in and see where it takes me.

Do you agree with my brilliant assessment? Think I’m way off? That's what comments are for. Feel free to pipe in with your thoughts on the subject or share your experiences in the many slush piles of the publishing world.

Happy writing!