Monday, January 18, 2010

The death of the slush pile?

KATHERINE ROSMAN, writing on, discusses the unwillingness of publishers to accept unsolicited manuscripts, for fear of later accusations of plagiarism.

Unsolicited material is termed slush, and Rosman wrote:

Now, slush is dead, or close to extinction. Film and television producers won't read anything not certified by an agent because producers are afraid of being accused of stealing ideas and material. Most book publishers have stopped accepting book proposals that are not submitted by agents.

In the real world of intellectual property, protection, whether as copyright or patent, is designed to foster negotiations between the guy with the idea (author or inventor) and the guy with the means to bring the idea to the public.

Some of Rosman's text sounds as if taken from big IT companies bemoaning "low quality" patents:

Fending off plagiarism lawsuits has become an increasing headache for publishers and studios. "It's become the cultural version of malpractice," says Kurt Andersen, the novelist and host of public radio's "Studio 360."


A primary aim of the slush pile used to be to discover unpublished voices.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."

IPBiz notes that there is no federal cause-of-action in "plagiarism." There is one of copyright infringement.

Separately, there is a bit of Chester Carlson in the "Harry Potter" saga:

Despite the refrain that most everything sent to the slush pile is garbage, publishing executives confess to a nagging insecurity of missing something big. "Harry Potter" was submitted to 12 publishers (by an agent), all of whom rejected it. A year later, Bloomsbury published it in the U.K.

Carlson submitted xerography to many companies, including IBM and Eastman Kodak, who turned it down cold.
Of unusual material which inadvertently was discovered, recall the music of Anton Karas in the movie "The Third Man."

Of a better future, Rosman writes: In 2008. HarperCollins launched, a Web slush pile.


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