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The Democratic Approach to Slush

Any writer who's tried to publish a manuscript knows that one's fortunes usually rest on the opinions of only a few people: an agent and an editor if you're lucky, but more often than not a lone slush pile reader. A new Web site and publishing program launching this month is attempting to change that.

"Slush Pile Reader is an alternative to old school publishing," says Johanna Denize, who started the Web site with her husband, Pascal Denize, and Henrick Kemkes. "We believe publishing should be about the book: Is it good? Do people want to read it?" Using Slush Pile Reader, Denize says readers themselves determine what they think is worth reading. "In the end, it doesn't matter if all the publishers in the world love your manuscript if no one wants to buy it and read it. So what Slush Pile Reader is doing is to cut out the middleman and go straight to the readers," she says.

Here's how it works: Writers upload their book-length fiction manuscripts to slushpilereader.com, where registered readers get access to the first fifty pages of each manuscript and vote for the ones they think should be published. The most popular manuscripts will be edited and published by Slush Pile Reader. Denize says writers will be offered a publishing contract based on The Authors Guild Model Trade Book Contract and Guide, and stresses that the winning books will be published using conventional printing methods, not print on demand. Initial print runs will be between five thousand and ten thousand copies. The author receives no advance, but is paid a standard royalty rate. "Slush Pile Reader will work with a national distributor to get the books out there," Denize says. "The book will be available for purchase in bookstores, on- and off-line." As of this writing, however, the company has yet to secure distribution.

In democratizing the publishing process, Slush Pile Reader is intended to strip away outside factors that may influence a traditional publisher's decision to accept a book. "Some say that if a manuscript is good enough, it will be published," says Denize. "But what if an author with a brilliant manuscript simply does not have the tools to get the attention needed? Being an author today seems to be as much about promoting and selling yourself as writing."

The site is open to just about every subgenre of fiction imaginable, from literary fiction to chick lit to science fiction to children's books. The only thing required is a complete manuscript—no excerpts or synopses are accepted.

While the Swedish-born founders don't have backgrounds in publishing, Pascal Denize has worked extensively in business development and financing, mostly as a consultant for start-ups, while Kemkes has worked in Web development and brand management. The two men met when they were students at the Stockholm School of Economics. All three founders share an interest in reading, but Johanna Denize says they will leave manuscript decisions entirely to their voters.

"Our experience, tastes, or biases must not be a factor in the selection," she says, drawing a clear distinction between Slush Pile Reader and other publishers "where individual taste and experience is paramount."

The number of books Slush Pile Reader will publish per year has yet to be determined, but Denize says they'll set up regular publishing cycles based on the size of the response to the site's launch. "Just like the basic premise of Slush Pile Reader, when and how many books we publish is entirely up to the submitting authors and their readers."

Jen A. Miller is a freelance writer in Collingswood, New Jersey.

“In democratizing the publishing process, Slush Pile Reader is intended to strip away outside factors that may influence a traditional publisher's decision to accept a book.”

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The Democratic Approach to Slush (November/December 2007)
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