Saturday, July 9, 2011

The slush pile is dead! Long live the slush pile!

Two more self-publishing authors, Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, just landed a $ix figure/4 book deal with Harper Collins. You can read about it here.

There have been other examples of publishers signing self-publishers, most notably Amanda Hocking.

I say congratulations to anyone who achieves enough success self-publishing to attract the attention of a publisher! I’m not going to pontificate the royalty calculations on these deals. That balancing decision is the job of each writer based on each specific contract.

But I am going to pontificate on this budding strategy of some publishers to sign successful self-publishers.

Right now publishers are swooping down from the skies to snatch up successful self-publishing writers. No one expects this kind of behavior to stop and why would it? If a publisher sees someone selling tens of thousands of copies of their book in one month, that’s undeniable evidence that there is demand for their book.

Up until the self-publishing ebook revolution, the main way publishers or agents could find successful new authors was by digging through their slush piles or getting tips from trusted friends and colleagues.

And even if they pulled something they liked from the slush pile, there was no hard evidence that it would sell once published. It was just a guess. They hoped it would sell, but only after it hit the shelves would they know.

Then along comes ebook self-publishing. Agents/publishers now have a resource of hard facts to help them determine if a new author can sell: Amazon sales rank.

I’ve read that agents don’t enjoy combing through their slush piles. Out of a hundred query letters, how many do they request samples for? Five? And from a hundred samples, how many do they make offers to? Not many.

So how long will it take for agents to bypass their slush piles entirely and only scour the Amazon/B&N/etc. self-published authors for their next client?

Right now only the very successful edge cases are getting publishing deals. Authors selling tens of thousands of books a month. How long will it be before agents start approaching authors selling 5000 books per month? 1000?

How long will it be before agents don’t need to go through their slush piles because they can be more successful searching through the top 100 books in the genres they represent?

Why would anyone want to toil through hundreds of query letters? Instead, an agent can browse the self-published ebook lists, check rankings, read samples, read reviews, check the buzz on Goodreads, Shelfari, and any of the other ebook forums that exist and will soon exist. That is a wealth of verbatim reader comments and sales data that is not available from a slush pile.

It will be the trailblazing agents who recognize all of that wealth of information as guideposts to their next successful client. Eventually, more and more agents will do the same.

The agency slush pile is dead! Long live the Amazon ebook slush pile!
The title for this blog was obviously a premature exaggeration.

I don’t think the agency slush piles will die off any time soon.

But I do expect them to become the exception rather than the rule for agents to acquire new clients. Eventually, most agents will demand proven ebook sales before they look at your novel. Who knows when the tipping point will arrive?

The new slush pile will be the Amazon category top 100 lists and its equivalents.
Are you ready to take advantage of it?


  1. It makes too much sense, which is why it's not happening more quickly ;)

  2. I'm with you 100% but I still see a lot of authors clinging to the old ways. If you hang out in the writers' forums it doesn't take long to find them, dishing out the same old advice as if it was even relevant in this new world. They still think self-publishing will ruin you. They think slush submissions are the only way to break into the business. And they think your first novel has to be 90k words, which of course is the 'sweet spot' for legacy published books.

    Konrath blogged the other day about how the loudest voices in opposition to the e-book revolution are the authors. They believe the validation of legacy publishing is what can make them a writer. Meanwhile a lot of self-pubs are laughing all the way to the bank. It seems to me the real validation is when people pay money for your book, regardless of how it was pubbed.

  3. "Right now publishers are swooping down from the skies to snatch up successful self-publishing writers. No one expects this kind of behavior to stop and why would it?"

    Early on it was predicted that the best self-publishers would all be grabbed up by the big6. But here is the catch: As long as authors are wise enough to work at removing the 'non-compete' clause, successful authors are unlikely to sell every single work they produce. Now none will die in a desk drawer...

    And forget not having a book available. Backlists will live forever. :)

    I'm with Jamie, the 'real vaidation is when people pay money for your book.' :) The slush pile is dead. Authors who do not get that the slush pile is dead will be very frustrated...


  4. I think you're right, Derek, that Amazon poaching is going to become more common, but at what point will the indies stop accepting the deals? As someone who would have jumped at the prospect of a big deal with a major publishing house a year ago, six months ago, or even three months ago, I'm not sure I could be convinced now. Royalties aside, there's too many other handcuffs.

    Validation in print-form (especially hardcover) is pretty difficult to pass up, but at what cost?

  5. Well, with Border's closing down (and I can't help but wonder if Barnes and Noble will reach the same fate), I think it's smart that Publisher's are taking this route. First of all, by self-publishing and having it be a total success on somewhere like Amazon or Smashwords or something...It's proof that the people who access these sites (users with smart phones, e-readers, frequent access to laptops and computers) WILL read the book. This is really the new reader that publisher's should try to reach to. In reality, the reader wandering through the Best Seller aisles is going by the Dinosaur ages (yet, I'm still going to admit I am one of those...I've not quite embraced the e-book yet).

    Sooner or later, we will see books, the same way we see CDs. We will be going up to pay for our coffee at Starbucks, and there sitting by the cash register and the latest Beyonce CD will be the latest bestseller by Stephen King.

    It is definitely smart for publishers to take this route. VERY smart.

  6. I only just decided to epublish, and it's as though the clouds have parted and the sun is shining in. I see the light!

    Life in the slushpile is hell. But I emailed some book reviewers and they agreed to review a copy of my book, and ... honestly, each one of their emails filled me with as much glee as any agent manuscript request.

  7. This only works for authors who are mildly to moderately successful at self publishing who could benefit from a marketing push by the big 6. If you are very successful as a self published author, I wonder if you could be tempted by a publishing contract. If you were pulling in $5000 a month in royalties, would you bail and take 6 figures of guaranteed money or would you want to see how things played out? I see it more as a retirement strategy---less face it self promoting and self publishing is very tiring if you are making a strong effort at it.