Thursday, September 9, 2010

On the Slush Pile Apocalypse and Other Myths of Self-Publishing – Part 1


A persistent meme about self-publishing is that the ability of writers to independently publish to the Kindle for free and to POD platforms like CreateSpace at minimal cost will inevitably lead to irresponsible and talentless hacks burying the reading public in a mountain of slush.

In a Salon article that attracted a lot of attention, Laura Miller wrote:

Will readers have to flounder in an ocean of slush before the new gatekeepers appear to rescue them? And if so, how long before they contract slush fatigue? A few days of reading bad manuscript after bad manuscript has a tendency to make you never want to pick up another manuscript again, but when finding new talent is your job and your vocation, you keep at it until you're successful enough to hire someone else to do it for you. If, on the other hand, you're a civilian, and reading is something you turn to, seeking fun or transcendence, during your precious hours of free time, how long will you persist when book after book has exactly the opposite effect, crushing your spirit instead of refreshing it? How long before you decide to just give up?

Currently there are a couple of threads over at Kindleboards lamenting this as well.

So the question, to me, becomes: Where is the mountain of slush we were promised, and told to fear? The Kindle has been out for three years. Shouldn’t we be drowning in the slush by now?

Bowker reports that in 2009 traditional publishing produced 288,355 new titles and new editions.

That was down slightly in a recession year, but not to a degree material to our concerns here. 2008 and 2007 showed similar numbers, and we can assume 2010 will as well.

By the time the Kindle’s 3rd anniversary runs around in November, there will probably be around 690,000 titles available in the Kindle Store. That means that Kindle Store title growth is averaging around 230,000 titles a year. In other words, the ebook platform that we’re told will be a fire hose spraying all readers everywhere with slush is currently adding fewer titles a year than the traditional publishing world is adding the old-fashioned way.

And it’s important to note that these years should be the Kindle Store’s peak title growth years, because there’s a huge backlog of existing print titles being formatted for Kindle and added to the store. Right now, right this very moment, should be the peak slush era also - all the unpublished authors between the ages of 20 and 70 should have a giant trunk full of titles available to add to the Kindle with minimal effort. So even with a huge backlog of "shovel ready" content available, and no barrier to entry, the Kindle Store can’t grow its title base as fast as traditional print publishing is growing its own – let alone increase it at the kind of exponential rate people seem to fear. The titles aren’t appearing the way they should be.

So where are they? They. Just. Aren’t. There.

Why aren’t they there? I have a couple of theories. I’ll talk about them in tomorrow’s blog post.



  1. I've heard a few people talking about this as if it's a reality. I have my own personal backlog of tbr books, but I can't call it a "slush pile" as most of my books are carefully chosen by means of review sites, recommendations, and whether or not the blurb is well written. I know a few people who go on Amazon, Smashwords and other sites, and just download every single free thing they can find. Now THAT'S a slush pile.

    Looking forward to your theories. I have a few of my own. :)

  2. Any way you cut it, 230,000 self-published books in one year is a huge number of books. It's a slush Everest, that's for sure. Furthermore, the effect is cumulative, assuming few people will delete their offering(s) from the Kindle store.

    I think the numbers are huge, but largely poses no danger, since all but a handfull of self-published books go unnoticed, whether they are ebooks or printed books.

  3. That 230,000 figure is for ALL books added to the Kindle Store each year, from all publisher and author sources.

    If the Kindle Store is adding titles at a rate that doesn't even equal the number of new traditionally-published titles, it really can't be said that it's suffering from an excessive rate of title growth.

    The Kindle Store is less crowded and saturated than the print market, since apparently print publishers can't be bothered to produce Kindle versions of all of their new titles each year. Let alone their backlist.

    Apparently all but a handful of traditionally-published titles go unnoticed every year also, if there are 288,000 of them or more.

  4. Hi there, I'm over from the Kindle boards and am enjoying your blog. Thanks for presenting some numbers in this post. Very enlightening. My question has always been this: how is having to wade through slush different now that indies are out there among the traditionally published? No matter what, readers always have to wade through the muck to get to the reward. Just because a book is "vetted" by a publisher, it doesn't guarantee a good read.