You’re a Slush-Pile Slave

Some people fear the new era of indie publishing will lead to a tide of bad books, with readers swamped by millions of titles.

This fear is fed in part by fearful gatekeepers like Laura Miller of Salon, whose recent article warned of readers faced with unlimited choices and how terrible this is going to be (because Laura Miller will no longer have to tell them what they need to read from among the limited number of major titles of which she approves).

It took about 15 years for Amazon to reach five million paper titles. Last year, three-fourths of the million new titles were self-published (or indie or vanity press, whichever you prefer). Undoubtedly hundreds of thousands more didn’t get ISBNs and so weren’t counted. Right now there are a little more than half a million ebooks out, growing by the hundreds daily.

I fully expect there will be 10 million different ebooks available in two years. I am not worried at all, either as an author or reader. I am not “competing” against others and I am not lost when I want to find new writers outside the purview of New York and its specific requirements (namely, profit).

I don’t think all indies are going to “raise the bar.” Some writers are totally oblivious to their shortcomings (I’m probably among them). Writing gets into that weird land of ego and insecurity, because it is such an intimate medium. A lot of people who have multi-rejected books will throw them out there. Probably sell some. Not write any more or bother to build an audience. You probably will never know about them. A few good ones will emerge. You might know about them if they are in genres that interest you. Otherwise, you probably won’t.

What is more likely to happen is you find books in your favored genres, both good and bad, just as you did before. Some you will like, and you won’t care whether they are “good” or “bad,” only that you like them. You’ll buy more by the author or more that resemble them, or more that Amazon says “Customers who bought this also bought these titles…”

I have no idea what Lady Gaga sings like, or Britney Spears, or Miley Cyrus. I would not recognize them if they were beside me in a check-out line. I have successfully avoided them because I am not interested in them. Yet I discover just as much new music as I need in the areas that interest me, and much of it would be considered “bad” by most listeners, because it’s not mainstream popular. It wouldn’t make the cut of American Idol. But I found it, and it works for me and some other people. Maybe that’s all it was meant to do. The rest doesn’t bother me. I am not actively “weeding.” I am simply moving in the communities that interest me, and that community reinforces the interests. I trust it. A lot. Way more than I do a publishing industry whose sole purpose is to get money from me.

One-to-one. Words to reader. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.

  • lindareedgardner

    oh yeah. Finally a glimmer of common sense on the horizon. I never see gloom & doom articles bemoaning the endless number of blogs available now on the internet. No one seems worried that I will be unable to decide which ones to read unless some self-styled expert announces that she/he must be the authority figure who will sort it all out for poor helpless reader me. Why?
    Is it possible I will quickly find the blogs that interest me and let the rest go happily on their way? Imagine that. Must be pure dumb luck operating there.
    Do I think a new Paradise approaches for SP? Not at all. Books will simply be just another blog. Most will sink, a few will prosper, but each author will have had his shot at immortality. That is all most ask for in the end. Let the readers be the gatekeepers. Let the NY establishment fight over the handful of senior rainmakers until they all lie panting in the dust, and we will all walk quietly into the sunset.

  • “Some people fear the new era of indie publishing will lead to a tide of bad books, with readers swamped by millions of titles.”

    Didn’t this pretty much happen already when all these POD companies started popping up a while back and made printing and ISBNs so affordable?

    I still laugh out loud every time I hear something like this because most readers will never be swamped by millions of books…most of society wants to read what everyone else is reading. Case in point: Harry Potter. Oh, and Twilight. And the Left Behind Series. And whatever Oprah is reading this week. God, if I could just get Oprah to mention one of my books on the air before she retires! Just once!!

    When I worked in a bookstore, I was the indie junkie that refused to read Harry Potter because I didn’t want to read what EVERYONE else was reading. I was talking to local authors and searching the stacks for small press titles. And I still am to this day.

    And I pray that there are more and more people like me, and like Scott, out there who still have an opinion about what we like as a consumer and as a reader, and hell, as a writer. We read what we want to read, because we like it, and we’ll continue to do so and we refuse to swallow what society is feeding us.

    From what I hear, Twilight tastes bad anyway.

  • klcrumley

    Here here, Scott! Give the readers what they want–Variety, diversity, something beyond the same old copy-cat formulatic stuff perhaps?

    I don’t need to be force-fed literature that somebody else deemed “good.” Because guess what…The “Gatekeepers” get it wrong about 90% of the time.

    It’s intellectually dishonest, to compare the huge number of self-published/indie books on Amazon to a “slush pile.” because most of those books have never seen and will never see a slush pile. And, what about the ones who have been previously published, went out of print and then the author decides to self-publish it and keep it available?

    Also, I really hate when they make comments like “most of you have never seen a real slush pile” and “you may complain about the dreck that gets past the gatekeepers…but you haven’t seen how bad the stuff is that doesn’t make it…” Such BS. I moderated elfwood.com, with its enormous, eternally backlogged Que of Mary Sue formula fiction written by teens. I participated in critters.org and other online writing groups. And, I am also launching a small magazine with a HUGE slush pile that seems to be taking me forever to read through…Don’t assume I don’t know what a slush pile looks like, or that I don’t know bad fiction when I see it.

    And, to date: of the last 6 TP books I’ve read, only 2 were really great. 2 were “meh”, the other two were downright horrible.
    Of the last 12 self-pub/indie books I’ve read only 2 were bad (and they were both by teenagers). 9 were wonderful, and one was adverage. You do the math.

    Gatekeepers are either overly concerned with current trends/profit, or they just have awful taste.

    I am perfectly capable of deciding what I want to read without the interference of any “gatekeepers.” It’s not too hard to find the good stuff. And, guess what–it’s almost all indie published.

    The “gatekeepers” can all retire now. Their services are no longer required.

  • Scott: Well said.

    Now that the publishing (indie/pod/ebooks) revolution is here, it seems to be progressing even faster than forecast. People have been saying for a long time that indie & electronic publishing would shake up the established order (and diminish the importance of gatekeepers). For a while it seemed that the promised changes would never get here. I’ve been a self/electronic publisher for ten years, and I thought that we would see the tide change, the river gradually overflow its banks. But now it seems to me as if the dam is bursting.

    Karen, my math doesn’t work out quite like yours; I still come across a lot of horrible self-pubbed stuff (I do lots of book swaps, so that’s not a representative sample, perhaps). But in general, I agree with your point. Guides are welcome; gatekeepers can retire.