The 'slush pile' is the collection of unasked for, unpublished work that writers send to publishers. Wading through it is often a thankless task given to the nearest passing intern/junior assistant. However, great writing can lie within, and just occasionally an author will land a lucrative book deal from sending in their manuscript.
The process is slow and old fashioned, which is why two new websites are attempting to digitize the entire slush process, making life easier for agents while also providing new ways for unknown authors to make money from their work. Can either of them help you get discovered?
What is it?
Pubslush is part publisher, part crowd-sourcing service.
How does it work?
According to its FAQ, authors upload 10 pages of either a finished work, or a work in progress, along with a description and profile information. They then solicit people to pay for the book in advance, using various social media tools built into the site.
Once 500 people have handed over their credit card information, Pubslush asks the author to upload a completed manuscript, and then, if and when the number of purchasers hits 2,000, the book is given an ISBN, printed and mailed or sent out as an e-book to the pre-orderers, whose credit cards are only charged if the book is actually made - similar to the crowdfunding website Kickstarter.
Pubslush provides free copy editing, proof reading, design, distribution and ongoing marketing support - as 2,000 people have already paid for it, the risks on their end are much reduced. It's like crowdsourced vanity publishing, with none of the drawbacks - such as high fees, minimum orders, a huge box of books sitting unloved in the author's garage - that usually come with vanity publishers.
Authors receive royalties - initially $5,000 once they reach 2,000 supporters, plus a percentage based on sales. They also get to keep their copyright.
Is there any small print?
Authors have to agree to keep their book exclusively on Pubslush for at least four months, prior to the book being printed, during which time they cannot approach other agents or publishers.
The site seems solidly built, and its various tools can help authors who don't have agents to generate an online audience of keen supporters.
The biggest challenge will be in getting 2,000 people to part with their cash - no easy feat, given that, according to Publishers Weekly, the average book in America sells fewer than 500 copies.
What is it?
Inkubate is a digital slush pile in which publishers and agents bid to negotiate terms with writers.
How does it work?
Also free, the focus here seems to be on the authors creating an alluring profile for their excerpt. Publishers and agents then pay a small amount to read the work (and authors get a cut of that), following which they can bid to negotiate with you, a cut of which also goes to the author.
The winning agent/publisher then gets to negotiate exclusively with the writer, who is under no obligation to accept a deal. Inkubate also gets nothing from that - their income comes from the earlier transactions.
Is there any small print?
If an agent or publisher takes on your project, whether via Inkubate or not, you must immediately remove it from their site.
If you aren't actively pursuing representation, Inkubate can do the job for you. The trick, however, is in writing an engaging presentation of yourself that is alluring enough for professionals to want to pay to read your work. Shrinking violets will struggle. That said, as they have to pay to read it, one can hope that any publishers/agents who use the site will read an excerpt carefully.
Pubslush offers writers a copyedited, physical book as a reward for the effort of persuading 2,000 people to pay for it. For some authors, the ability to use their social media tools will help them gather new and old supporters in one place, and make them put their wallets where their words are.
For most writers, however, Inkubate seems like a better all-round service, providing they manage to attract enough publishers/agents to make it work. The service puts a lot of emphasis on the individual's personal background, but then so do publishers and agents, who always want to know about any potential audiences that a writer can bring to the table. The fact that the writer can withdraw at any moment, and is also in complete control of the final negotiations, makes it a better-sounding service for authors.
Inkubate also requires far less effort on the part of the writer. After all, isn't writing time consuming enough?
CORRECTION: Minor changes were made to this article in response to clarification emails by Pubslush and Inkubate:
The original version of the article stated that Pubslush acts as a representative for writers in pitching their work to others. In fact, they do not approach any publishers or agents. The article also stated that Pubslush's costs are covered from having 2,000 copies of a book sold. Pubslush denies this. Finally, the article stated that Inkubate insists on exclusivity from writers. This was based on declarations on their own website. Inkubate now states that their website was out of date, and that their terms no longer insist on this.
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