Madame Slushpile Rides Again

This long Salon article by Laura Miller covers the battle at Goodreads between readers and self-published authors. High Priestess Miller once again bemoans the democratization of authorship, which in her view is marked by

average readers, who, now that agents and editors can be bypassed, would be exposed to the horrors of the slush pile for the first time

Mercy! Ah do declare, Miss Laura, what will all those poor lil’ readers do when they encounter that big bad horrible slush pile!?

Oh… that horrible slushpile…

Um, perhaps they might take their lead from a professional book reviewer such as Miller? Seriously, has she no confidence in her and her colleagues’ ability to help readers figure out what’s worth reading? Why does she think she’s writing those reviews? To impress people with how much she’s read? How in the know she is? Who does she think she’s writing for, anyway? Authors? Publishers? (Don’t answer that.) 

Note to Ms. Miller: You help people make choices about which books to read. That is what you do. 

One of her colleagues (who to me sounds “reasonable” and “possessed of common sense” but to Miller is a “techno-utopian”) points out that people will find ways to figure out which books merit their attention, perhaps using bloggers, other experts, or “the crowd” (in forums and sites like Goodreads) in order to help them figure out what to read. Miller’s condescension slowly ascends (“I’m sure he had plenty of company in that hopeful sentiment” she snarks) before reaching its peak:

Gatekeepers of some kind are necessary simply because there are way too many books chasing far too few readers, and people have to choose among them somehow. But it’s unrealistic to expect professional behavior from people who not only aren’t professionals but are not even aspiring to professionalism and have no obligation to accountability. The whole point of a hobby is to do as you please.

Argh, where to begin with this? I am not strong enough. I will retire to my fainting couch and hope that some publishing professional comes along to tell me what to think about it.

(Waiting…)

(Still waiting…)

In fairness to Miller, she seems to recognize that this “Goodreads flame war” is “just one corner of the shifting landscape between authors and readers,” which makes me hold out hope that her coming articles will look at the positives (higher author royalties? a good thing!). Why not look at Joanna Penn or Denise Grover Smith or Kristine Kathryn Rusch or any of the other positive examples of self-published authors finding their readers, to the benefit of all (except perhaps the professional bank accounts of the professional gatekeepers, whose professional services apparently were not professionally needed).

Miller goes on to declare “there could not be a better illustration of that old adage: Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.” Is she referring to a wish that changes in the publishing world will make insufferable snobs harder to hear? Because in that case, let’s hope she’s right.

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