Book publishers say it is now too expensive to pay employees to read slush that rarely is worthy of publication. At Simon & Schuster, an automated telephone greeting instructs aspiring writers: “Simon & Schuster requires submissions to come to us via a literary agent due to the large volume of submissions we receive each day. Agents are listed in ‘Literary Marketplace,’ a reference work published by R.R. Bowker that can be found in most libraries.” Company spokesman Adam Rothberg says the death of the publisher’s slush pile accelerated after the terror attacks of 9/11 by fear of anthrax in the mail room.
A primary aim of the slush pile used to be to discover unpublished voices. But today, writing talent isn’t necessarily enough. It helps to have a big-media affiliation, or be effective on TV. “We are being more selective in taking on clients because the publishers are demanding much more from the authors than ever before,” says Laurence J. Kirshbaum, former CEO of Time Warner Book Group and now an agent. “From a publisher’s standpoint, the marketing considerations, especially on non-fiction, now often outweigh the editorial ones.”
Jez, you’d swear the poor dears in the New York publishing houses couldn’t get to the door on the way home but for the piles and piles of manuscripts impeding their thankless day’s work. The gate-keeping practice by large publishers is a bit like Macys pulling the shutters down on their stores half way through the day and declaring, “We’ve made quite enough money today, thank you, please f*** o**, your custom probably won’t make us any more money than the time we’ll spend serving you.” I worked in the retail industry for many years, and the old adage ‘the customer is always right’ still holds firm, but they never tell you about the caveat at the end of that adage – ‘as long as the customer is actually spending money’!