Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Herd, I Heard Discouraging Words

So for anyone who has, however briefly, played that reviled gatekeeper role, a darker question arises: What happens once the self-publishing revolution really gets going, when all of those previously rejected manuscripts hit the marketplace, en masse, in print and e-book form, swelling the ranks of 99-cent Kindle and iBook offerings by the millions? Is the public prepared to meet the slush pile?


Ahem! Some reclusive genius on the Internet once said:

[...] Yes, they certainly can publish a blog or even a book through a place like Lulu.com, but as anyone who has toured the blogosphere knows, there's a whole lotta nobodies out there with a whole lotta nothin' to say (and I certainly include myself in that description). Nobody has the time and patience to sift through the oceans of misspelled and poorly crafted essays and novellas online, just like nobody sits and listens to countless thousands of mp3s of various garage bands online. Anyone who does will be quickly begging for editors, publishers, anything to force some sort of Spencerian survival of the fittest into effect.

More good stuff from Miller's essay, though:

People who have never had the job of reading through the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts sent to anyone even remotely connected with publishing typically have no inkling of two awful facts: 1) just how much slush is out there, and 2) how really, really, really, really terrible the vast majority of it is. Civilians who kvetch about the bad writing of Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer or any other hugely popular but critically disdained novelist can talk as much trash as they want about the supposedly low standards of traditional publishing. They haven't seen the vast majority of what didn't get published -- and believe me, if you have, it's enough to make your blood run cold, thinking about that stuff being introduced into the general population.
[...] Furthermore, as observers like Chris Anderson (in "The Long Tail") and social scientists like Sheena Iyengar (in her new book "The Art of Choosing") have pointed out, when confronted with an overwhelming array of choices, most people do not graze more widely. Instead, if they aren't utterly paralyzed by the prospect, their decisions become even more conservative, zeroing in on what everyone else is buying and grabbing for recognizable brands because making a fully informed decision is just too difficult and time-consuming. As a result, introducing massive amounts of consumer choice leads to situations in which the 10 most popular items command the vast majority of the market share, while thousands of lesser alternatives must divide the leftovers into many tiny portions.

I make an effort to find different writers and bloggers on a regular basis; I've always hated how insular so much of the blogosphere is, with most people linking to the same few sources over and over again. But it's unfortunately true that there are many days when I spend hours looking to see if anything interesting has been written about this or that topic, only to end up weary and dejected afterward, with nothing to show for my effort. Sometimes it's because there's nothing but drivel out there, other times it's because there's simply too much to go through.

And I laughed at this part:

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 clichés -- for hours on end induces a state of existential despair that's almost impossible to communicate to anyone who hasn't been there themselves: Call it slush fatigue.

I'm still sometimes horrified to realize that countless hours of reading online has made it so that I sometimes have to stop and consciously think about how to spell certain words or form certain phrases because I've seen them done incorrectly so goddamned many times. I can only imagine what it would be like to be a real editor.

1 comment:

noel said...

Have you seen the letters to the editor in your local paper? Have you been in a bookstore? Who is surprised that most writing is drivel? I used to love science fiction, but I can't find any new stuff that isn't derivative garbage - cliche', I guess. Where is this generation's Vonnegut? My partner once whispered to me in the grocery store, "Can you believe we get on the freeway with these people?". We are surrounded by cretins who are the consumers of most published material. So even writers who could do better don't really have a motive ("Slaughterhouse Five" was rejected several times before finally getting published). Obviously you have to find people whose opinions you value and use them as your editors when surfing the 'net. I've found some interesting characters that way. It's a given that it's almost all "slush".