Who Is Going to Read the Slush Pile?


As the dead-tree publishers continue their descent into oblivion who is going to filter out the crap?  This is one of many points that author, Yuk Onna, was trying to make in a recent post explaining why she does not think a demise of the modern publishing industry is a good thing.  As much as I and others like to make fun of publishers for foisting the same old thing on us, they do have their uses.  Their use is that they maintain a minimum standard of quality for books that make it to the bookstore.  In other words, they filter out the crap.

By 'Crap', I don't mean stories that are trite or have characters that aren't "real".  By Crap I mean major, awful, blunders.  Things like:

  • The Story isn't finished and stops either mid chapter or even mid-sentence
  • Spelling and Grammar is so atrocious that it's hard to understand
  • Blatant Plagiarism(word-for-word) or even more suble versions like(same story with changed names & dates)
  • Doesn't match the story or description
  • Huge logic or story blunders, like a character's name gets changed half way through the story.
  • The story is missing either a beginning, middle, or end
We never see stories like this because they never make it out of the publishers' slush piles.  However, with things like Print-On-Demand(POD) and online publishing, you don't have that guarantee.  Nothing can stop a writer from pushing any old thing out via POD or online. 

So how can readers avoid the crap?  Readers can depend on publishers to filter out this crap because publishers have a financial incentive to do so.  Publishers only want to print good books that sell so they can make money off of them.  Books that misspell every other word and doesn't have an ending, aren't going to sell well.  If the major publishers go away, who is going to read the slush pile in their absence?

Do we need someone to read the slush pile?  Well, yes.  Readers don't want to sift through piles of crap to find something that is finished, legible, and resembles a story.  If readers have to sift through a pile of crap just to find a mediocre book, they're going to get frustrated and stop looking for good books altogether.

One thing a reader could do is check review sites.   My favorite is probably, WebFictionGuide.  However, WebFictionGuide can't possibly be expected to read every piece of crap that's produced and review it, can they?  Publishers do this because they have a financial incentive for finding the good stuff because they can profit off of it.  WebFictionGuide doesn't make money hardly any ad money for verifying that something isn't complete crap.  Also, online reviewers have it harder than a traditional book reviewer.  A traditional book reviewer only has to read books that have already met some minimum standards of the publisher.  In other words, the crap has already been eliminated and they only have to determine if it's a mediocre book or an instant classic.  Online reviewers have to do it all on their own.

So if we need something to filter out the crap, and online Review sites aren't the answer?  What is the answer?  Unfortunately, I don't have the answer.  In fact, I don't think anyone has the answer.  However it's something all web fiction authors should be thinking about.  Oh... and we need an answer before the publishers sue themselves out of existence.


Scott Carpenter said...

I guess we're all reading the slush pile now. I wrote some stuff about this a while back: http://fwib.net/1x. No answers, really, just some extended rambling. Filters like Web Fiction Guide and your web site are out there. It will be hard to get noticed and "found," but that's how it is with traditional publishing, of course. I think it will continue to take a combination of hard work and luck. I love that anyone can publish anything now, and I'm not lacking for things to read and do on the Internet. :-)

Anonymous said...

I can't say that I agree with your opinions on traditional publishing. I am in school right now to become a book editor. I don't think laypeople (and I don't mean that condescendingly) really realize just how extensive the editing process is. I don't think people realize just how important it is to go through the editing process. If you look back at the statistics of the publishing industry over the last few decades you'll see a few trends:

1. The number of books being published has grown exponentially. This is simply because there are more writers and more publishers in existence now than there were 50 years ago. From a business and economic standpoint this is a good thing for the industry. It takes a big boat longer to sink (and hopefully it'll be slow enough for us to build a new boat). But because more books are being published... more books are being published, and that's a bad thing from a quality standpoint. It's easier to find someone to publish your book and as long as you have a good editor, that is fine. But you can also go through these independent publishing houses and put literally anything out there. There is nothing wrong with the indie writing scene. The problem is what happens when there is bleed through to the "main stream". We see a tremendous drop in the quality of writing, which brings me to the next trend.

2. The length of books being published has grown. This is primarily a result of poor editing which is directly related to the first trend. I'm not saying that long books are a bad thing. Sometimes they are necessary. What I am referring to is the unnecessary wordiness that is seeping through the editing process. Anyone in the business will tell you one of the first rules to writing is "less is more". But the trend among [young] writers is becoming this rather pretentious writing style that seems to try to push the limits of the English language. In general this is not a good thing (strictly my opinion). But it's more of an issue with the editing process.

I think we need to realize how much of this "crap" is out there and actually being printed due to self-publishing. It's a little unnerving. And the fact of the matter is, that slush pile is only getting bigger as people realize they can get readers to read any garbage they put out on the internet. Why go through the hassle of getting published if you can start a blog? (I should mention that I don't have anything against blogs as I have one myself)

I don't think it's fair to compare the publishing industry to the blogosphere. They are two completely different genres of art. And it is fallacious to accuse the publishing companies of shoveling out the "same old thing". Because, while books have been around forever, the content is always changing. You're limiting the view of an art form to your opinion of the traditional medium.

Anyway, I'm running out of battery life. Sorry for the long comment and the cynicism...

Here's a cool link that gives a peak at what kind of editing went into a classic-

DustinM said...

You say, "I can't say that I agree with your opinions on traditional publishing." However, you then go on to reiterate and expand on the exact point of the article.

What do you think my opinions of the traditional publishing industry are as expressed in this article?

Anonymous said...

Well I suppose we do agree on the positives of old school publishing.

Actually, after a second look, I realize that I misread part of the first paragraph which cast a negative light on the rest of the article for me. Had I read it correctly, I probably wouldn't have made the comment. Sorry. I guess the only part I would protest is how there is still a negative spin put on the publishing industry, even in an article about why it's good. But, the spin isn't as bad as I had originally thought. This is also the only post I've read on this blog so I don't yet have a feel for it.
But yeah, I apologize for the mix-up.

DustinM said...

Okay, I had a feeling there was a misunderstanding going on. Now that we agree on what we agree on, we can argue about our disagreements.

When I say "foist the same old thing on us", you have to understand where I'm coming from. The genre I gravitate towards is SciFi. If you're ever in the SciFi section of a bookstore, you will see what I mean.

I have to wade through the thousandth "Star Wars" novel, the hundredth "Warhammer 40,000" novel, and the dozens of "Halo" novels to find something new. Then I find something new, and when I find it, I inevitably find out that it's part of a series, and it's not the first book in the series. Then I go looking for the first book in the series only to find out that it's been shredded to make room for the latest "Star Trek" book. Gah!

Anonymous said...

I get that. I tend to stay away from the sci-fi section anyway, simply because it doesn't interest me all that much. I don't like those "Star Wars" novels that follow some storm troopers or the like. They always end up feeling like a bad Tom Clancy rip-off set a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

I'm a big fan of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Harlan Ellison though.

I feel like those series of books that are just being cranked out and flooding the shelves are unfortunately a big part of what is keeping the publishing industry afloat. They bring in a lot of money from the niche audience they have. I would say, though, that they at least set a standard for things like fan fiction, which is extremely common her on the web.

I guess what people have to decide is if it is worth having this market flooded with the latest self help books and anime to keep the industry alive until we find a better alternative to preserve the good stuff. It's true what you say. Those kinds of books get printed once or twice and then shredded to make room for the next one. They don't last long. But we need to preserve the work of the newer authors that are writing really great and innovative stuff.

I don't honestly think the ebook trend is going to last. The format just isn't marketable or sustainable. It will be replaced by second and third generation technologies which will likely stick around for a while but they will have to somehow rely on the publishing industry because there really isn't a better way to do it. Because in this world, if someone isn't making money off of it, there is no reason for it to exist.

Who knows. maybe literature will go the way of gallery art and writers will tour their work around the country selling paper copies of their books for thousands of dollars.

DustinM said...

You make a lot of really great points.

The cranked out series probably is what keeps the industry alive and is why the occupy so much shelf space. And you're right, there just isn't a better way to do it.

I hope you're wrong about the unsustainability of ebooks. I think ebooks is going to be the way that new authors can be found and kept from being shredded.

>>Who knows. maybe literature will go the way of gallery art and writers will tour their work around the country selling paper copies of their books for thousands of dollars.<<

I hope you come back and visit my blog often, because that is one of the most interesting comparisons I've heard in a long time.

Anonymous said...

I'll definitely keep stopping by. After talking to you and reading more, I have a better understanding of what this is all about. You have a more progressive perspective than I do (which makes this all the more interesting to read) and you represent it well.

And what's art without progress?

Tahlia said...

This post really speaks to what I have found when looking for things to read on the web ie stuff that isn't worth reading. The wonderful thing is that I now understand how publishers and agents can tell if something is worth reading by the first page or even the first paragraph, because I find myself doing the same thing.

In other words - I read the slush pile, which properly translated means I take a quick look and if it grabs me, I read until it doesn't hold me any longer.

I think we all have to develop this skill if we want to read stuff not published through the trad channels.

Luckily I've avoided the slush pile with my new YA novel, 'Lethal Inheritance'. I got an agent. If you're interested in YA fantasy, you might like to take a look at ch1 . You’ll find it at

You might like the idea behind the blog part of the site. It could even be an inspiration for a posting for your blog.

Garry G. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garry G. said...

Hmm, you mention ‘crap’ a lot. But looking through free e-book sites like feedbooks etc I can’t say I’ve ever come across anything that ‘isn’t finished’ in that it just stops mid sentence. Likewise I haven’t read anything with ‘huge logic blunders’ or changed character names, not that I’ve noticed anyway, and most seem to be fairly well constructed, with an identifiable beginning, middle and end.
I suppose the new trend of classic-rewrites, of the ‘Pride and Prejudice, and Zombies’ ilk, can be interpreted as plagiarism. Not that I’m saying this about that particular book, but I’ve heard there are things out there where people seem to just change a few words as a ‘laugh’: yes, really hilarious that one!
I have seen the odd e-published story with the occasional spelling mistook, but I can’t say that really bothers me all that much, then again I am slightly dyslexic and tend to read over them if I’m not actively looking.

Whether a story is ‘good’ or not is, of course, an entirely subjective point. Obviously a competently written story isn’t necessarily a good story. But one persons ‘bad’ story may be, and sometimes if, another’s ‘classic.’

I’m just not sure there is going to be a good, standard, way of filtering this in an e-pub future…

Peter said...

I am writing on behalf of Ben Wood.
Ben has recently started his own fiction story site called Army of Puppets.

Patent attorney said...
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