The curse of the expansive slush pile; a self published blog by Alec McQuay.

It’s a frustrating time to be a writer, no doubt. Whether dedicating every waking moment to the putting of words onto paper or chipping occasionally away at that manuscript between feeding a baby and juggling a forty hour working week, the world and his/her wife seems to be writing that novel we’ve all supposedly got inside us.

This has a variety of consequences, not all of them good. Editors have slush piles at risk of avalanche, small publishers are springing up and publishing works that lie anywhere from the incredibly good to the absolutely pants-shittingly awful both in writing ability and editorial quality and, thanks to the dubious wonder that is the shopping and porn-drenched wasteland of the internet, we also have the phenomenon of the self published writer. People have been self publishing for years of course, but never before has it been so simple. Within moments even the dullest of semi-literate fuckwits can have their name on Amazon as a “published” author, complete with or without any form of editorial process and in return for a small quantity of your money should you wish to buy.

Cool, huh? Well… it really depends on how you look at it.

Becoming a professional, semi-professional or at least published author in the traditional sense can be incredibly daunting and it really isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be easy. Self publishing is fantastic as it can provide an audience for those who are starting out, can provide the truly great writer with a larger return on their time and effort in the form of considerably larger royalties and it has that awesome indie vibe, like unsigned bands playing in dismal bars in return for free beer for the evening and perhaps a kebab if they’re not totally shit. It’s fun, it’s a bit cool and feels a little edgy to me and all of those points are great, but in self publishing you really do have a “diamonds in shite” situation. The cream will rise to the top and the muck will sink to the bottom, as will those who publish but fail to promote and don’t maintain their presence. Getting it out there and getting it sold are two different things, and doing it for a living is something else altogether, but it can be done. This all, of course, alters the state of the competition.

Slush piles are growing larger, inboxes are crammed to the gunwales and the signal to noise ratio is not necessarily favourable. In a world where word processors and spellcheckers do a fair amount of turd-polishing on our behalf for a sincere and hard working writer on the up-and-up, it can all be a tiring, long winded and unrewarding experience to get their beautifully honed manuscript through the massive wall of crap and get it onto the desk of the person best placed to get it published. Jumping up and down at the back of the crowd is not a pleasant experience for anyone, particularly when we know that a large percentage of our competition is utter dross (a bit of literary X-Factor I suppose) and has no business in being submitted in its current amateurish, poorly planned, badly executed and almost totally unedited form.

My point? It’s a bit of a ramble of course because this is a complex issue that isn’t going away any time soon, but the whole thing makes me smile. Sure the playing field has changed and we have to shout above the noise to be heard, but we also have to makes sure that our manuscript really jumps out at the poor bastard tasked with reading through the tottering heap in the inbox. It presents a greater challenge to overcome and yes, it lengthens the process considerably, but frankly I am so, so pleased to live in a world where so many people are writing, whatever the quality of it may be.

All I ever heard as a child was that children were rude, ill mannered, dirty, lazy little wastrels. As a teenager we were all stoned, violent, barely literate, sexually charged thieves and compulsive masturbators. As a young adult my kind were lethally poor drivers, scrounging dole money from the government and popping out children at a rate that would alarm any self-respecting rabbit. I was looking on to my thirties as an overweight, football shirt wearing, heavy drinking, chain smoking, thuggish moron. In my mid-life I would be glued to my sofa while my teenage children picked up where I left off and I could focus my efforts on becoming older, more and more miserable and complaining that things were not “like they were in my day.” All to the constant glow and throbbing background noise of the television.

But do you know what? Children are reading. So are teenagers, young adults, adults, middle aged people and the elderly, of both sexes. A great many of them are so inspired by the world around them, the world that they see on TV, the music they hear and the books that they read that they are writing about it. Reading and writing have positively exploded in the last few years and I, for one, could not be happier about it.

So yes, it makes it harder for the writer to get published, but as far as I’m concerned the best of us will be the ones that get the good deals, the best pay days and the greatest exposure.

Cream floats and shit sinks, for the most part. Of course you’ll get the odd floater from time to time, but you can’t please everyone.

Apologies for the numerous comparisons between dairy products and faeces. I’ll adjust them during the editorial process…


About Alec

An aspiring writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror based in Cornwall, at least when I'm not working as a purchaser for the family Architectural Ironmongery firm. I am a father of two boys and the owner of perhaps the most ridiculous dog to ever chase its tail. View all posts by Alec

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