Categorized | General

The Slush Pile Flood

Posted on 28 March 2012 by Michael Matson

It seems to be the issue that won’t go away. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of new titles are being uploaded to Amazon every day. Books and shorts that never would have seen the light of day under the ‘old regime’ can now be tossed up on the web, virtually for free, by anyone who thinks they’re the next Mark Twain. Just this morning I read a new article from a part time author who was observing that:

Now everyone really can publish a book. Okay, not everyone—those without access to the Internet face a pretty deep challenge. But that’s about it. Everyone else can have at it.

The solution, according to some—including Rob, there—is an entry fee. Amazon, these folks suggest, should charge somewhere between a “nominal fee” up to maybe as much as a thousand dollars (which some might consider a “nominal fee”), to individuals who wish to put up a new piece of work. Another suggestion is for Amazon to have some sort of tiered system where ‘established authors’ get the top tier (define ‘established’ however you will) and newbies who are trying to break in get relegated to the digital equivalent of the slush pile until they somehow prove themselves worthy of literary merit.

Where the latter turf protection idea is concerned, imagine if you were J.K. Rowling when she was still an unpublished writer working at that diner. Unknown by anybody but the regulars at the diner, with no more than a dream, you publish your here-to-fore unknown masterpiece, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on Amazon and spend your nights and weekends furiously marketing. But because you’re unknown, you land in Amazon’s slush pile which is, obviously, the place everybody bypasses on their Kindle in favor of George R.R. Martin, J.R. Rain, Shelly Laurenston, and a long list of established mid-list authors. Instead of the extensive vetting process Rob talks about in his article playing guardian at the gate, you now have a one size fits all slush pile that buries the J.K. Rowlings of the world right along with those who really cannot, and should not, be publishing their work.

Almost the same thing could be said of the first turf protection idea: If Amazon charged a thousand to list a new work, where would a minimum wage waitress at a diner like J.K. Rowling have come up with that kind of cash? Well, you might say, if she really believed in her work, then she would have found the money. But wait, weren’t you just saying that those who did that extensive vetting, those old guardians at the gate—weren’t you just saying that they were the true experts at determining which writing was worthy of seeing the light of day? If that’s your yard stick, then by that same measure our fictional here-to-fore unknown J.K. Rowling is the last one capable of knowing whether her unpublished story, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is crap or the next best seller. So, have a qualified editor look at the work, you say.

Great! First, our fictional version of J.K. Rowling doesn’t even have the thousand bucks to get up on Amazon, and now you want her to come up with that much again to pay an editor on a bet that she’ll get told her work is good enough? And even if she could manage to afford an expert opinion, there’s still no guarantee that the answer would be correct. How many best sellers have old guard editors and agents passed on, and how many books that they were sure just sure would be best sellers turned out to be duds?

You see my point: Unilateral systems like the two mentioned above, both of which are being bandied about the web, are either just as bad, or maybe even worse, than the “criminally subjective, wantonly elitist, and shamefully totalitarian” system we had before. Under either system, time, money, and influence once again become the true arbiters of success, not talent.

There are whole platoons of authors on Amazon whose work I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. In my not so humble opinion, their writing stinks. But they have a loyal following that buys every crappy novel that they churn out, and they’re making good money. Who am I to judge them just because I think they went to one too many creative writing classes? Their readers love them. It’s a free world (or should be). Let them write! Let them publish! Let them be the next wildly successful best selling author with their crappy work. Or let them flame out.

That’s the free market at work. I agree with Rob: “The current market is pure anarchy.” And because it’s anarchy, people who love the kind of crappy fiction that I can’t stand are now able to buy it. They can buy it because the authors who write it are freed of those shameful, totalitarian gate keepers who, in bygone days, would have trashed their work as unmarketable. They’re making money. Some are making darn good money! Amazon is making billions and would be a complete fool to take either of the above suggestions. Anybody who thinks Amazon gives a damn whether their magnum opus sees the light of day or not is kidding themselves. Like everyone else in business, Amazon cares about one thing: Whether or not they’re making money.

So what’s the solution to the growing slush pile on Amazon?

Patience. Yup, I said the P word. Because, while I don’t have a solution, I’ll tell you what I think is going to happen. It’s already happening, in fact. The old guardians are being replaced with new ones: Book reviewers will play a bigger and bigger role in determining the success of independent authors works. Not the big players like the New York Times, mind you. I’m talking about respected book bloggers, which are an up and coming breed. Readers reviews, which already play a growing role in who will list a book and who won’t, are going to see the power of their digital pens increase. And sites that help readers separate the wheat from the chaff will also play an increasingly important role.

The new world will be far more chaotic than the old, orderly system, but in the end we’ll get to a similar, but different place. Similar in that, quality writing will percolate to the top. Those who know how to write, those whoshould be making a profession of it, will be able to. Different in that, readers themselves will have a much bigger say in who the professionals are and who they are not. Whole new audiences have already been found by independent authors brave enough to write for them. And in this new world, those readers will not sit idly by while editors or would be censors attempt to silence the works they enjoy.

That’s my take on the new literary order.

Please, take a moment and tell us yours.

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