A Visit to Slush Pile Hell

An opinion piece by Eric Felten published on the weekend in the Wall Street Journal has served as a reminder of the crucial role publishers play as a filter. Entitled ‘Cherish the Book Publishers - You’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone’, Felten reminds us of the miseries of the slush pile, the pile of unsolicited manuscripts received by publishers of books and magazines - at least, those who accept them. Many do not, simply because reading and assessing every unsolicited manuscript is an uneconomic proposition.

“No doubt,” writes Felten, “there are geniuses languishing in obscurity. Who knows how many great books are just waiting to be discovered? But are we really more likely to find them once the publishing pros have been handed their hats and shown the door? I rather doubt it”.

In an article on the same topic published on Salon.com a year or so ago, Laura Miller also praised the filtering service publishers provide. “Aspiring authors have never had more or better options for self-publishing the manuscripts currently gathering dust in their desk drawers or sleeping in seldom-visited corners of their hard drives,” she writes. “What happens once the self-publishing revolution really gets going, when all of those previously rejected manuscripts hit the marketplace, en masse, in print and e-book form, swelling the ranks of 99-cent Kindle and iBook offerings by the millions? Is the public prepared to meet the slush pile?”

And Jean Hannah Edelstein doesn’t remember her days as a manuscript assessor with great fondness: “It was my first job out of university: I was bright-eyed and idealistic and imagined that I might become some kind of beneficent tweedy sprite, conveying the writing of unknown literary artistes to the masses. By the time I left my job in publishing a few weeks ago, my idealism was in tatters, destroyed by the piles of typescripts I received from people who told me that their fondest desire was to write full time while sitting in a villa overlooking the Mediteranian, despite the fact that they didn’t know how to spell it.”

Laughing at the so-called failures of others is as sobering as it is amusing, but for punishment gluttons, here are more peaks into slushpile hell.

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