Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shush, Slush. Hush.

I've been thinking about Laura Miller's article on the slush pile today. The Salon article, which is entitled, "When Anyone Can Be a Published Author," has the tagline, "How do you find something good to read in a brave new self-published world?"

At first I thought the article simply showed what an absolutely fan-glorious-tastic world we new writers are entering. Miller writes, "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. Writers can upload their works to services run by Amazon, Apple and (soon) Barnes and Noble, transforming them into e-books that are instantly available in high-profile online stores."


It can't be that easy, right? Of course not. Miller takes this dizzingly-delicious view of the future writing world and looks through the perspective of the reader.

The reader. Bah. Who cares about the reader? ;)

Oh, wait. I'm totally a reader. Just finished The Sugar Queen (glittery gold star for magical realism!) Have revisited the old Anne of Green Gables series this summer for a little comfort, a little familiarity. Am tearing through Ash so I can write Malinda Lo a thick, oozy fan letter. I love, super-love, triple-scoop love reading.

So what does the future look like for me, the reader? Not so brilliant.

What tired editors and over-worked junior editors do is suffer through slush piles. They read thousands--thousands!--of unsolicited manuscripts a year to hunt for that one lost jewel of a tight, witty, relevant novel. Miller paints a bleak, albeit hilarious, picture:

"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 clich├ęs -- for hours on end induces a state of existential despair that's almost impossible to communicate to anyone who hasn't been there themselves. . . . Instead of picking up every new manuscript with an open mind and a tiny nibbling hope, you learn to expect the worst. Because almost every time, the worst is exactly what you'll get. In other words, it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it, and if the prophecies of a post-publishing world come true, it looks, gentle readers, as if that dirty job will soon be yours. Also, no one will pay you for it."

I am fascinated and horrified by this. Fascinated because it will be so interesting to watch slow, subtle changes: what determines 'good' in popular fiction, what 'bad' writing will do to good writers, and how the languages of readers, writers, critics, and publishing may muddle so Babel-badly that understanding among them will disappear.

I am horrified by this idea, really, because it reminds me that I am just slush. Slush! One of hundreds of thousands of unsolicited manuscripts, of red-eyed, chipped-nailed dreamers begging the gods and unseen, exhausted editors for my one chance at immortality. It is such a sad idea that I doubt my little story. My little, torn, shorn story that isn't ready for anyone's eyes yet--I look at it and wonder if it could ever rise above the slush pile. How do you keep going when the terrors and bogeymen of Cliches, of Boring Plots and Shoddy Ideas loom and leap and lurk? What gives you confidence when the slush doesn't hush?


  1. Actually what people who are NOT Jessica realize after they read her stuff is that it is subtly poetic, unique, and at times stream-of-consciousness-esque. In other words, her style is original, just as her ideas are original.

    And, yes, I can too be objective.

    She is a great writer. She's great because the stuff she writes you absolutely cannot read from anyone else. That's my two cents.

    Now... if you really want slush... read my Rolltar blog -- -- and don't say I didn't warn you.

  2. I keep going because I have to. I cracked open this rock and I now have to polish the inside until it shines to see what I have - for me! I need to know where my characters are going, how things will turn out for them. I focus on that when the voices in my head start up. This rewrite was tough - good chapter, bad chapter, okay chapter, GREAT chapter (there were actually a few of those, which surprised me). Just when I start to feel down about it, I would get to the next chapter - my characters would be loud and clear! they would make me laugh! I could see the vision clearly again. Those were the chapters that saved me. That and Elana Johnson saying repeatedly in my head "finish strong!" She shared her numbers with us and it made everyone feel better. All those rejections and she kept going. Because she told the voices to shut up or learned to ignore them completely, she has a book coming out in 2011. When I feel down, I think of her or I go back and read one of my stronger chapters (I'm still in script writing mode and keep typing 'scene' then have to go back and change it to 'chapter').

    Jes, I love your writing style. I love love love your blog. You capture people so well. I look forward to author's visiting your area because I feel like I was actually there listening to them when I read your coverage. Your seed is worth planting and watering and nurturing because you do have a unique voice. You have tremendous talent. I can hardly wait till it sprouts and grows tall because I want to read it!!

    Jason, I will comment on your Rolltar blog later. Your writing style is unique as well although it does remind me a bit of Patrick Rothfuss. I hope you have read and liked him. I certainly do. You grabbed me and I was in the inn enjoying my mead when a certain one eyed cat started mewing loudly and wouldn't stop until I took her outside. I was actually so engrossed I was ignoring her quite well until my neighbor popped her head over the fence and yelled, "Are you going to take her out or not?" Oops. She has one eye and we live in coyote country so she can't be outside alone. I have to harness and leash her and walk her...and this is a total overshare. I can hardly wait to read the rest of it, though.

    Safe and happy 4th of July to you both!

  3. Talk about slush! ;-) Can I ever just do a short, normal comment on your blog. Sheesh!