Laura Miller has an interesting and intriguing post in a column from Salon.com about The Democratization of Slush. With a sub-line of "how do you find something good to read in a brave new self-published world?" she explores the idea from the POV of someone whose job it is to sort through the slush and decide what gets published.
She cheekily points out the "crowds lining up to dance on the grave of traditional book publishing" then looks at the multitude of options available for authors to take the empowering non-traditional route.
It's a great article, and one worth reading in full (rather than my sloppy interpretation of it).
But the key question in my mind is: How to sort through the 3/4 of a million self-published titles? Miller talks about readers not having an issue with the choices available, but with needing to find ways to determine which of the already available titles they'll want to read. Huge challenge there -- and, in my opinion that is where traditional publishing/supply chain roles need to really step in and offer value.
During the Book Summit 2010 last week, Robert J. Sawyer spoke about the publisher adding their logo to the spine of a book and that logo can be intrepreted as an indicator that somebody other than the author thinks that book is good and worth looking at. In a recent CBC interview, Sarah MacLauchlan of House of Anansi echoes the same idea.
The imprint, or brand of the publishing company, then, becomes one of those filtering factors, one of those curatorial steps that help connect an author's work to readers. An established publishing entity recognizes a book, affixes their imprint to it and says: "Hey, we stand behind this author, we stand behind this book - we have invested in this book." (And yes, I'm aware that despite this investment by publishers most authors who aren't earning six figure advances typically do the majority of their own publicity and promotions)
At least that's what it says to me. Because with traditional publishing, there really is a significant investment of time, resources and money to get that book to print. And a good portion of that money is spent sifting through the slush, working on polishing diamonds in the rough into gems that sparkle.
I'm wondering if, somewhere in the evolution of publishing, an established publishing house might attempt to create an imprint specifically for self-published books that defied the odds. IE, it began self-published and was discovered by the publisher that way. Imagine a set of editors using the self-published books themselves as a slush pile. Whereby, rather than pulling a manuscript from the stacks upon stacks of submissions, hoping to find one gem amid 10,000, the imprint focuses on the books that rise from the chaff of the newly formed landscape and new writers and great books are discovered in that manner.
It's not a new idea -- but self-published authors breaking into traditional publishing tends to happen right now due to chance and circumstance rather than by design. (And no, I'm not ignoring the incredible work and effort it takes for the self-published author to get their name and book out there -- but, regardless of endless hours and dollars spent the odds are still so huge that actually breaking out like this is more the exception than the norm.
I suppose the only real difference between that and traditional publishing would be that perhaps in most cases a few dozen people would have read the book before it was "discovered" by this imprint. But on the plus side, rather than taking a huge chance there's already at least one mini-market or at least some basic "market" testing that has already happened to give the publisher an idea of how the book is embraced.