Inroads for the Electronic Slush Pile
Historically, an unpublished fiction author packages his manuscript in a cardboard box, mails it to one or more book publishers, and waits (and waits and waits) anxiously for a reply. The response is typically months away.
Publishers can take nine to 12 months before they finish the process of reviewing a manuscript, giving copies to the poor saps who read the slush pile submissions, and usually sending a polite rejection letter.
That's all done with paper, even now. But a few forward-thinking publishers are starting to modernize that process, visualizing the electronic slush pile as the tip of the electronic workflow.
Science fiction publisher Baen Books, Bronx, N.Y., now gives authors a choice between paper and electronic submissions. And at least one mystery book publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, is refusing to accept unsolicited submissions on paper.
But the vast majority of publishers maintain a preference for paper. "Screen reading wrecks your eyes, and we're wary of downloading files from strangers," says Bryan Devendorf at literary publisher Soho Press Inc., New York. "To print a deluge of e-submissions would be tedious and quite costly, too, since ink cartridges are going for thirty bucks [each]."
During the slush process, editors are more likely to read manuscripts that arrive on paper, because they feel like an ordinary book. "They're attuned to the feel of paper and the turning of a page," says Mukil Krishna, an industry analyst at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, Palo Alto, Calif.
However, not every book publisher is giving electronic submissions the cold shoulder. Among the enthusiastic adopters of digital technology: Poisoned Pen Press, Scottsdale, Ariz., which produces 36 mystery titles a year, and has been nominated for two Edgar awards.
Poisoned Pen Press not only requires manuscripts to be submitted in a machine-readable format—they won't accept a printed version. The publisher ends up producing five or six titles of the 30 to 50 manuscripts it receives each year.