Internet Authors are the new Slush Pile
Why do publishers contradict themselves? They want first choice of new novels, but maintain a publication rate that is suicidally low. They underestimate the internet and want authors to try them first, but give no guarantees that submissions will even be read. If authors choose the web as a priority, then Traditional Publishers will have to become Internet Prospectors, digging for gold.
Traditional Publishers are strange people. They have a habit of wanting everything - even if it's completely contradictory. For instance, I've just read an article where an established publisher was complaining that the standard of books published on the internet was 'very low'. He said that he'd checked out various author's web sites and was moved to 'get his editing pen out'. He wanted to correct all the grammatical errors, tighten up the plotting and improve the characters. He also said: 'All my publishing instincts said Reject, Reject, Reject'. That's odd. He wanted to improve the writing, but also turn the work down! That's contradictory, surely. If he could improve the novel looked at, then he could publish it, right? If he wanted to reject it, he didn't have to suggest corrections. Why on earth did he think he needed to do both?
Unfortunately, this is common. Any writer who's had cause to send submissions to Traditional Publishers will know that they can get letters back detailing all the things wrong with the manuscript, while rejecting it out of hand. If the woeful author makes the mistake of trying to 'correct' the defects, s/he will be wasting their time. The second submission will be just as quickly returned. Does it make sense? Only if you appreciate that the only reason a publisher lists your mistakes is in order to justify them turning you down. They don't seriously expect you can do better.
That's one case of contradiction. The latest one to add to the list is the bleating of Traditional Publishers when they hear people like me recommend authors to put their books up on the internet - first. They don't want that. They want first crack at your writing, (even if they do turn it down, which they inevitably will). They also worry that, increasingly, authors are seeing their books on the web, getting a few copies printed (by Print-on-Demand) and stopping there. Those writers could still choose to submit their work, but many decide not to. Why should they? They've got their work in print. They've seen their manuscript turned into a real book which they can hold in their hands. They've also got a few copies to give to friends and relatives. By my measurements, they've reached Level Two of the Seven Levels of Publishing (see previous article) and they're happy. Publishers aren't. They're sanguine about authors having web sites, but they still expect to see a mass of manuscripts rolling in to their offices. If authors get satisfied with internet publishing, the submissions will dry up (they think).
Possibly. The fact is there is a long way to go, but publishers have never been good with reality. In the real world, 99 per cent of all submissions to Traditional Publishers simply bounce back. Publishers aren't being honest if they say anything different. Also, most of the books that are published don't actually come out of the postman's sack. They get sent round by courier from agents, or friends, or established authors, or other publishers. No, the bulk of brown envelopes that a publisher receives simply ends up piled on a desk. It's called the Slush Pile. That means it's layers of manuscripts from authors the publisher doesn't know personally and hasn't been recommended to try. The Pile languishes, only sometimes being stirred at all. More usually a lowly member of staff or clerical temp will be delegated to put the submitted manuscripts back in their enclosed Stamped Addressed Envelopes and send them off with a pre-printed Rejection Slip. Reality? It sucks.
Publishers shouldn't worry. What happens now? Occasionally, if a publisher, an editor or other member of staff, has a spare hour, they might delve into the Slush Pile. If they have the time, (which they mostly don't), or if there is an unexpected gap in the publishing schedule that month and for some rare reason they are looking for a new book, yes, it may happen. The good news for publishers is that even if the tide of submissions decreases - because authors realise they can actually get what they want from the internet (without the humilation of flogging their hard-fought creations off to an ungrateful range of Traditional Publishers) - then the books are still out there. No, they aren't sitting in the Slush Pile, but they're on the internet. You're a publisher with a spare hour? Get on the computer. Who knows, you might find something to your taste.
The future is likely to be that more and more authors will turn to the internet first. They'll put their books up on a site like Lulu, print off copies and pause. Some will plow on, sending samples of that work and others off to publishers and accumulating Rejection Slips, while some will not bother. Either way, it's likely that some established publishers - and many agents - will become Internet Prospectors, surfing hither and thither to check out the new releases. Looking for gold. It won't be like it is today, but that's the lesson, isn't it? The future of publishing - if it exists at all - is not going to be recognisable. It's going to change.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Scantlebury is an Internet Author. He has written novels, stories and songs and has published them on several sites around the internet, favouring Lulu for publications. He also had a hand in setting up a controversial Discussion Forum to debate the current crisis in publishing. It doesn't pull any punches. Check it out at http://www.publishingisdead.com/