The Dreaded Slush Pile
Two popular terms among authors and readers make me cringe every time I see them—which is much too frequently. There are some very strong opinions about this subject, too.
- slush pile
These terms generally refer to the ‘worst’ of the books, but this definition by itself creates some problems.
- There is more than one way to define the word ‘worst.’ Do you mean editing, subject matter, sales rank, very short books, web content disguised as books, or something else entirely?
- Thus, some authors take this the wrong way. “Are you talking about my book?”
Any one of these things, by itself, doesn’t necessarily make a book bad:
- Maybe an author has a fantastic story, but on a low budget, chose not to invest in an editor without knowing if the book would sell. Given a choice, I’d rather have a great story that needs editing over a lousy story with superb editing. (But there are many excellent stores with good editing to choose from, so this isn’t a decision that we really have to make.) My point is that editing alone doesn’t imply that a book is bad.
- Similarly, if the book simply has poor formatting, it could still have great content. I wouldn’t call a book poor just because it could use some tender-loving formatting care.
- A miserable sales rank—or no rank at all—doesn’t make a book lousy. Maybe the cover and blurb aren’t attracting attention, but the story is amazing. Perhaps the author didn’t attempt any marketing. Or maybe there is a very tiny audience for the book. These things don’t determine that a book is poor. (Just that the author isn’t getting rich from that particular book. At least not presently—for all you know, it could have sold like hot cakes when it first came out, but just hasn’t sold in recent months.)
- How about a very short book—just a few pages? If the information is valuable, people will want it. If it’s very well written, what’s the problem? The beauty is that customers can decide if that appeals to them. More people writing short books doesn’t mean that other books won’t sell. It doesn’t mean that shorter books are selling. Kindle Unlimited makes it easier for customers to reach 10% of shorter books, but Kindle Unlimited doesn’t encourage customers to download shorter books. Why borrow ten very short books? Customers spending $120 per year may be more inclined to get the best possible value for their money. But let’s just say that shorter books do start selling more. This means that those books are appealing to customers. If those short books truly are dreck, customers will stop buying them. So if they sell frequently, they must not be dreck just because they’re short.
- Perhaps you’d like to judge the content as dreck—e.g. certain kinds of romance novels, sales pamphlets, get rich schemes. Return to my last point. If it’s selling and continues to sell, apparently it’s satisfying readers. How can you call something dreck if readers appreciate it? Because if there is something that you’re sure is better, then wouldn’t readers also agree that it’s better and stop buying the ‘dreck’? But again, even if it’s not selling, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the book is bad.
- There are, indeed, books that we may agree are lousy. Maybe we can judge by the intention of the author. If the author made a poor effort, and was just hoping to turn a quick buck, perhaps that could properly be classified as lousy. If the author tries to deceive readers, does that make the book lousy? If the author recruits dozens of reviews to make a book seem far better than it actually is, when the author knows that nobody would have bought the book otherwise, can’t we call that book lousy?
The worst of the worst, however you want to define them, are important for two good reasons:
- When a reader experiences a book that turns out far worse than the reader was expecting, it leaves a significant impact on the customer’s reading experience (and it tends to change the customer’s book buying habits).
- When one of the worst books sells, it frustrates authors who have worked very hard to master their craft and publish a quality book.
Not all mention of the ‘slush pile’ stems from good intentions, though:
- Some authors feel a sense of superiority and mention the slush pile with a sense of arrogance and disdain. This isn’t expressed as the frustration of an author who worked hard, but comes out as an “I’m better than you” feeling.
- Some authors feel a sense of inferiority and mention the slush pile to feel better about themselves.
- It may be in the financial interest of traditional publishers to advertise the slush pile as often as possible, hoping to create a perception that self-published books aren’t worth reading so that more customers will, hopefully, buy traditionally published books.
- Editors and book formatters may advertise the slush pile, hoping to encourage authors to hire their services. (Editing and formatting are important. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay for such services, just that this might be one of the motivations for advertising it.)
- Some readers want to feel superior in terms of what they are reading. For example, they might feel superior reading literary works, and thus denounce everything else as dreck.
Personally, I feel that not enough people read. A greater selection improves the chances that everyone can find a book that he or she would like to read.
Here are some truths about the ‘dreck,’ including reasons that I cringe every time I hear it mentioned. (Am I a hypocrite for mentioning it here? My hope is to help improve the perception, and that some good may come from the following points).
Every indie author who mentions the slush pile or dreck is marketing a poor image for indie books, which in turn hurts his or her own sales indirectly. Oops!
The worst books aren’t in the way of better books. Lousy books that don’t sell quickly fall in the rankings and fall down into the depths of obscurity. Why worry about lousy books that are hard to find?
When a self-published author says derogatory things about other authors’ books, how does that affect his or her image? Brand a positive image for yourself. It might even help your sales.
I’m not saying that we should ignore books that have problems.
Here are some positive ways to address this issue:
Don’t advertise lousy books.
Don’t use the words ‘dreck’ or ‘slush pile.’
Do find a few excellent examples of self-published books and advertise those instead of the bad ones.
Don’t put other authors down.
Do find indie authors who are producing quality books and bring those authors up.
If you know a friend or acquaintance who is a newbie author, offer some helpful tips that will result in a better first book.
Occasionally share tips in your social media posts that would help fellow authors produce better books
Help motivate self-published authors to perfect their books.
Do your best when you self-publish. Do some research. Seek feedback. Don’t view your first book as an experiment. You only get one chance to make a good first impression.
Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers
- Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
- Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
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