Out of the slush pile into the landfill? A writer explores the brave new world of publishing.

I survived the slush pile by finding a good agent, then sat back thinking life was going to be all hunky-dory, but guess what?I find myself in the second circle of hell. In other words I am agented but not signed up (yet) with a publisher. And it’s a waiting game (*zzz-zzz—*). Take a peak at this thread on Absolute Write Water Cooler. All these writers are in the same boat as me and some have bithchin and moanin for over three years.

Before I signed up with my agent April Eberhardt, I told her , “I would rather throw this manuscript down the toilet before I even think of self publishing.” I now reflect on the arrogance my words and God only knows I may be forced to eat them.

So is it out of the slush pile, straight into the landfill? After all self publishing is nothing more than a garbage dump, face it. Chances are my fine literary novel will not float to the top like cream, rather I risk drowning in the porn, waste and filth of bad writers. And the sad chances are, I may never be heard of again.

Before you think you can Smashword the easy way to stardom, wait: here’s news for you. It’s from a reliable industry source so take heed. “PayPal has ordered Smashwords to remove nearly 2,000 ebooks due to what PayPal considers outright obscenity and filth. A LOT of titles on Smashwords are plain old fashioned erotica, to the point that it’s kind of an inside joke: If you write filthy sex, put it on Smashwords and it will sell. Anyway, the outcry is over the fact that Smashwords agreed to remove the books in order to continue offering PayPal as a payment option, basically saying, “The money is more important than the books.” I don’t fault Smashwords at all…last month they uploaded their 100,000th title to their catalog, so losing 2K titles of trashy lit in order to keep their business open to readers and writers is a good trade off. But a lot of writers are pissed that they would back down so easily. Plus, a lot of people roll their eyes at Smashwords…”Oh, your book is on Smashwords? How many orgasms does your MC have? Ha ha ha…Since you’re looking for book exposure to lead to credibility in the industry, just be aware of it.”

(UPDATE as of 03-13-2012: Here is the latest news about the Smashwords and Paypal agreement)

Literary writers are typically squeamish. They are not the loudest screamers. Tweeting makes them cringe and some have only three friends on their Facebook: two of them, cats. Most literary writers bloom unseen and wait patiently for a keen-eyed editor to swoop down with a cry of joy (“Oh, gifted one, where have you been all this time?”) But instead editors shake their heads. Why I cry, why after you write two whole paragraphs telling me what a gifted writer I am, and how awesomely fantabulous my manuscript is? The reasons are economics, Molly. Acquisition Editors have had their beaks smacked  and their wings clipped. They are allowed to accept one (okay maybe two) books in a year, and guess who is going to pay their bills faster? Amanda Knox, the new Stephanie Myers or you? So get a grip on yourself. The halcyon days may be over but don’t throw yourself down the Grand Canyon, yet.

Several agents (mine included) are exploring a third option: agent-curated self publishing. Here is an excerpt from Susan Bearman interview with April Eberhardt in her blog article: “April Eberhardt – literary agent for change”.

Eberhardt gets 10,000 submissions a year. Ten thousand. “Of those, I find 15 to 20 that I think are exceptional,” she said. “I work hard for my authors. I’m in service to my authors, but it’s tough.” She currently represents about 20 writers, mostly first-time authors of women’s literary and book club fiction.

…Too many good authors are not being published,” she said. “It’s not the story, it’s the industry that’s broken. You can spend years shopping your manuscript to traditional publishers only to find yourself not published. I want to link the author to the reader. It’s a mindset, not just technology.”

Just before we spoke, Eberhardt decided to join forces with several other major literary agencies as part of the Argo Navis Author Services program of The Perseus Books Group. This represents the agent-curated model of self-publishing that she had envisioned when she started five years ago. “I had to wait for the timing to catch up to the vision.” According to Eberhardt, some tiny fraction of writers are published by traditional publishers, and even then, it doesn’t always live up to a writer’s expectations. “Among my authors who have been published by big houses, it can be a huge disappointment,” said Eberhardt. “It’s heartbreaking—to see the promises made and then broken is crushing.”

(You can read the rest of April Eberhardt’s interview on the writeitsideways blog here)

A good agent is your watchdog and can steer you in the right direction

Are you comfortable flying solo? I hate to admit it, but I am a big scaredy cat. I need my agent for moral support, as a sounding board, as somebody who will remind me how good I am especially when I get discouraged and start diminishing my work. A good agent is your seeing-eye dog. Let’s say you self publish, and your novel does indeed rise like cream, those old vultures (publishers) will start circling you. You will need an agent to negotiate your contract, so rather than scramble for one why not stick with the person who believed in you in the first place? And now that you a hotshot writer (of course you will be–never doubt that for a second!) there will be foreign rights, movie rights, coffee mug rights and God knows what other rights to negotiate. It’s bad enough having to do your own marketing  but the very thought of legalities and paperwork makes me want to  throw up. Thanks but no thanks.

What are your thought on agent-curated self publishing? It’s an untrodden path and who knows where it might lead? Please share!

Teatime for the Firefly is my debut novel. You can read the SYNOPSIS and the FIRST CHAPTER here.  I am represented by April Eberhardt Literary.


    1. Many thanks, Susan. April is an awesome agent. She is the most fearless advocate of my work and she is willing to bend the rules and take chances where other agents have feared to tread. From the very first time I met her, her enthusiasm was infectious. She tells me “All I really care about is to get your book out there, the world needs to read this.” She has been awesome to work with and yes, I feel very fortunate to be repped by her.
      Congratulations on your terrific post. From all the comments I see you have given a lot of hope to writers. I will post a comment on your blog as soon as I get off my own!


  1. Great post, Shona!
    All this echoes what I’ve been hearing (reading on blogs, Twitter, and my FB page – populated with precious few writer friends, and 1 favorite dog). I think a lot of smart agents are going to be doing this middle road work for writers, in order to keep themselves in the game. Times change, jobs change. No one what’s to end like the dinosaurs.

    Your insider quotes on Smashwords are sad, but true. Not much room for good writing there. A lot of what is published via ebooks seems to appeal to the lowest common denominators among us. Those who enjoy reading about zombies and vampires getting it on drive those sales. Those types of pulpy novels (and I use the term novels very loosely here) have always been cheap and plentiful, and they still are. No surprise there!

    It’ll be interesting seeing how all this shakes out in the long run. My only hope is that good literature will still be around when the dust settles.


    1. I agree, Cynthia. Technology has revolutionized many industries. The record industry went through this. Photography, movie making too. It’s either get with the program or perish. This evolution is inevitable and agents like April are trailblazers of sorts. It’s a brave new world out there and like most movements in their early formation the skeins of the publishing industry need to be untangled and braided into something strong and useful rope for us writers to use. It will happen.


  2. Its really a shame all this self publishing I think it makes it even worse for good writers to sell anything. Every self published book I have read has been horrible absolute crap.

    I think your agent is on the wave of the future. We may not need publishers but we sure need agents to weed through the crap so we as readers can find something decent to read!


  3. Shona, thanks so much for posting your experiences and insights. I am going to click those links to learn about the alternatives you so generously mentioned. You hang in and i will hope that something gives, and gives gloriously, very soon. And as for the business of rights, how about some Firefly tea?


  4. I have often wondered if there was a way to bypass the big publishers without going down the self publishing road entirely—-Eberhart could be on that road.
    It looks to me that publishers only publish a few of those which are available keeping the rest on hold———-rather like diamond merchants only releasing a few to keep the price sky high


    1. “It looks to me that publishers only publish a few of those which are available keeping the rest on hold———-rather like diamond merchants only releasing a few to keep the price sky high.”
      Very aptly put!


    1. I agree, there is just so much out there. The world seems to change in the blink of an eye. I sometimes yearn for slower times. Tea…friends…soul talks…and belly laughs.


  5. “Literary writers are typically squeamish.They are not the loudest screamers. Tweeting makes them cringe and some have only three friends on their Facebook: two of them, cats.”
    You made my afternoon. This is so funny. (^_^)


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