The idea wasn't to endorse either of these ideas. The idea was to try to get people to actively think outside their own comfort zone, to try to avoid the automatic negative "NIMBY" response ("not in my back yard!") that seems to prevail whenever the idea of change - any change at all! - comes up in the publishing and book industry.
Quite a few of the folks participating in the discussion - which included agents, editors, and writers - were able to rise to the challenge and actually think through what the far-reaching consequences of such a change might be, as well as ways to counteract the negatives. But a large group of those participating fell back on the tired point of view that "everyone in publishing is out to get the writer!" Which isn't actually true, by the way, but there's no teaching some old dogs new tricks.
One thing that did come out of these discussions were some fascinating - and controversial - blog posts. I've tried to find as many of them as I could (and if you wrote one and I missed it, please do email me and let me know so that I can add it to the list below). I encourage you to read through all of these. Do take the time to read the comments as well, and refrain from resorting to inflammatory or inappropriate commenting on their blogs, please!
The next mini-meta topic of the week was the not-often-discussed-but-quite-real demoralizing effects of reading slush on the psychological health of agents and editors. It's a real problem. I've experienced it myself. When I read too many manuscripts, I find myself often falling into a kind of "reader's block", and am completely unable to focus or concentrate on the project at hand. My colleague, agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, wrote a great essay on this for me last year.
- Writer's Digest editor Jane Friedman
- Writer Beware editor & genre writer Victoria Strauss
- Writer Stacia Kane
- Writer Jodi Meadows
- Agent Robert Brown of Wylie-Merrick (Part One and Part Two)
- Agent Mary Kole of Andrea Brown Agency
- Agent Kate Schafer Testerman of KT Literary
- Eric at Pimp My Novel
- Writer Morgan Ives
- Writer Nadia Lee
- Writer and bookseller RJ Crowther, Jr.
- Writer KD James
- Writer Christopher Keelty
The two very smart online posts that started this discussion were these:
I think the upshot of all of this conversation is this: Changes are going to have to come to the way books are published. Already writers and publishers are experimenting with new and creative ways to find and publish content. Self-publishing is one tool. E-books are another tool. Collaborative online community-based projects like Authonomy and KickStarter are also great ideas worth exploring. (And while you're over at KickStarter, check out ReDeus, a very cool transmedia storytelling project that I would love to see happen!) And some publishers are actively embracing the idea of transmedia publishing, and looking at how to take storytelling into all available platforms and mediums.
- Salon.com's Laura Miller: "It seriously messes with your head to read slush. Being bombarded with inept prose, shoddy ideas, incoherent grammar, boring plots and insubstantial characters -- not to mention ton after metric ton of clichés -- for hours on end induces a state of existential despair that's almost impossible to communicate to anyone who hasn't been there themselves: Call it slush fatigue."
- Anonymous Editor Moonrat: "When I read submission after submission after submission--which, let's face it, is everyday--my mind starts to dull. My eyes begin to glaze from all the white on black. My butt begins to hurt from sitting. I'm pretty hungry (because I'm always pretty hungry), and this is making me cranky. As the day wears on, I get irritable. The reading gets faster, and the disappointments stack up more quickly."
Nobody is questioning that the system as it stands currently could use a creative overhaul. But simply complaining about it isn't the answer.
The culture of negativity that we've all allowed to pervade the book and publishing industry is our own worst enemy; sooner or later we will all need to learn to embrace change, even if some of those changes make us uncomfortable.
What ideas can you bring to the table to make the industry work better? Let's keep the conversation going! (And I'm not just talking about the whole agents/advances thing. I'm talking about the book industry as a whole.)
(PS: Have taken off comment moderation and have enabled anonymous posting for this particular blog post! Play nice!)