Of slush piles and indie and tigers and bears, oh my!
Sorry for the delay this morning, everyone. I have had an upper respiratory infection for the better part of a week that is laying me low. Because of that, I’m taking a break from the formatting series. I will pick it up again, hopefully, tomorrow on my blog. Today, however, I’m going to take my cue from JL Knapp’s comment earlier about his friend who had made it through the slush pile but who did not make it to publication.
As most of you know, there are very few publishers (other than small and micro presses) that still have a slush pile. Most of those who don’t, require submissions through an agent. I’m convinced a big part of this is because they are using the agents as the first guardians of the gate. After all, by using the agents to winnow out those manuscripts not worthy, the publishers don’t have to hire as many readers, editors, etc. It also makes the agents more of an, well, agent for the publisher than for the writer. That sort of incestuous relationship can lead to some questions of where loyalty lies. But that’s not where I want to go with this post.
For those publishers that still have a slush pile, publishers like Baen, you don’t have to have an agent. In fact, if you talk with some of Baen’s writers, you will find a number of them no longer work with agents. After all, why give an agent a percentage of their money if they don’t need to? Tor/Forge is also open to unagented submissions. There are others but most require an agent and, as JL Knapp said, that adds time to the submission process and takes money out of the author’s pocket if a contract is signed.
So what is the submission process for a publisher like Baen. Our own Pam Uphoff can probably discuss it in more detail than I can but here’s what I remember from my own forays into the slush pile, both as an author and as a slush reader.
The first step is having your manuscript in the best shape possible. Baen offers various slush conferences where an author can post their work for critique before submitting to the slush pile. Once you are ready to submit your work, you fill out the online form, upload your work and wait. There are volunteer slush readers who, if they think something is worthy of publication will send it up the chain where, iirc, Gray Rinehart takes a look and decides whether it needs to go further up the chain. If you are lucky, you manage to make it through all that and your book lands on an editor’s desk for consideration.
All of that can happen in a couple of months, if you’re lucky. It is longer for other houses. But, once your book hits an editor’s desk, there is no solid timeline in which to hear back. That’s the truth whether you are with Baen or Tor/Forge or some other publisher. Your book may sit there for a few months or a few years.
So, do you go indie, even if your heart is set on traditional publishing?
There is no easy answer. My immediate response is to say, yes. Go indie and never look back. But that’s the course I chose and, yes, I would still go with Baen if the opportunity presented itself. Why? Because I respect the house and, more than that, I respect Toni Weisskopf. That isn’t something I can say about most other publishers.
So, here’s my response to that person who is set on traditional publishing but who doesn’t want to sit around waiting months and years to find out if they have made the cut. Submit that one work, consider it a sort of throw-away novel, and move on to something else, something unrelated. Indie publish that second work. Then continue writing and publishing until you either hear from the traditional publisher or you decide that isn’t the path for you.
What we all have to remember is that there are several different paths open for us now and we aren’t tied into one path only. Just remember if you are offered a traditional publishing contract to check the terms very closely. Some of those contracts include a right of first refusal clause — often without a solid time period in which to respond — for any of your work for as long as you are contracted with that can prevent you from shopping your work anywhere else, including indie publishing.
There are a couple of other items to keep an eye on. Thanks to the Passive Voice for the links:
The first deals with author’s payments and, in a roundabout way, whether those e-books we’ve been buying are really only licenses or actual e-books. A class action lawsuit has been filed against Simon & Schuster because S&S is reporting those purchases as “sales”, which mean a lower royalty rate for authors, instead of as “licenses”. Funny that, if you read what most publishers say we are buying as readers, it is licenses. We don’t “own” the e-book. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
The second deals with Elora’s Cave. There have been rumblings for some time now about whether or not EC is paying its authors what they are owed. Some months back, EC filed suit against the blog Dear Author for reporting on this. If I remember correctly, the suit was decided in Dear Author’s favor. Now, it seems, EC is threatening RWA for taking action to warn its members about the problems EC is apparently having. If true, things are going to get interesting — and entertaining — before it all plays out.