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PUBSLUSH: New Publisher Inspired by J.K. Rowling and TOMS Shoes

PUBSLUSH challenges industry rules by introducing a new component to the publishing process: readers.

By Jesse Potash, Founder, PUBSLUSH Press

Jesse Potash

NEW YORK: Growing up, I was always fascinated by magic, so it was hardly shocking when I fell in love with the wizarding world of Harry Potter. What was shocking, however, was the revelation many years later that the boy wizard might have never been, had the editors at twelve major publishers had their way. Indeed, Harry Potter was rejected twelve times before finally being accepted for publication. Since then it has gone on to become the best selling book of all time, besides one: the Bible.

And so PUBSLUSH was born — a culmination of passion and experience, inspired by J.K. Rowling, my intellectual human rights activism, and TOMS Shoes, among others. PUBSLUSH is an entirely new kind of full service, social non profit publisher: readers decide what books get published, and for every book sold, a book is donated to a child in need.

Some background.

Traditionally, authors would send solicited manuscripts to editors in the pursuit of publication, though often to no avail (Gone with the Wind, The Tales of Peter Rabbit, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Lolita, and others faced countless rejections). Nonetheless, authors could always cling to the hopeful notion of being plucked from the slush pile (as Philip Roth was). But with the advent of the internet, print-on-demand and self-publishing technology, the barriers of the industry seemingly dissipated. Et viola, an industry in turmoil.

The fallen barriers were quickly rebuilt (and this time without the slush pile) as the proliferation of unedited, low quality content demonstrated the need for quality control and publisher support. Now, not only must authors be agented, they must demonstrate their viability and audience to an even more astringent, commercially focused bureaucracy.

Given that highly successful, much loved books (including Harry Potter, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Twilight) often receive much rejection, the amount of great writing still undiscovered is concerning. It begs the question, who should be the gatekeeper and what is their role?

Enter PUBSLUSH, a publishing concept with three definitive functions: discovery, support, and giving.

Discovery

The answer to the gatekeeper question is undoubtedly complex, but the importance of a gatekeeper to some extent is undeniable. The major pitfall of self publishing is no quality gauge exists and anyone can simply go online, press print and suddenly they’re a “published” writer.

PUBSLUSH was created with the notion that quality assurance is the definitive characteristic of being “published” (as opposed to printed) in the digital age. We believe that a community of readers coming together to support a book is a reasonable and reliable gauge of quality; editors and readers can co-exist as discoverers of new writing talent. Obviously acquisition editors discover and facilitate amazing talent all the time, but what about the fantastic writing they miss, or the author who is too discouraged by rejections to keep going (Kathryn Stockett was rejected 61 times!). We believe the role of the editor (though more important than ever, and still encompassing discovery) is shifting focus towards content cultivation. PUBSLUSH was developed to aid the existing talent discovery process by incorporating readers back into the equation — to let readers assume an active role in the publishing process, to become literary tastemakers, and to give back while doing it. And truthfully, who is better suited to decide what books should be published than the people who will be reading them?

The process is simple:

  • Writers submit the best 10 pages and a summary of their manuscript.
  • Users read, share, and support (a.k.a. pre-order) their favorite submissions. They’re only charged if a book is selected for publication.
  • Once a book reaches 2,000 supporters, we publish it (ensuring only the best books get published). PUBSLUSH provides all the services and support of a legacy publisher.
  • For every book sold, a book will be donated to a child in need.

Support

Despite the inherent difficulty of discovering marketable, quality content, the real challenges arise only after such a feat is accomplished: nurturing a book to its full potential and building a readership.

This is where the role of the publisher especially comes into play and why self publishing has produced limited success stories. PUBSLUSH, like all legacy publishers, provides authors with the guidance to navigate an increasingly complex industry, including editorial, printing, marketing, distribution, sales, design, and legal support. Meaning we incur all additional costs for a book above and beyond what is raised in the support phase.

With PUBSLUSH, the concept of asking readers to support a book in anticipation of its potential publication allows authors to gauge their market and launch with a built-in audience before even being published.

Giving

At the heart of PUBSLUSH is our commitment to donate a book to a child in need for every book sold. I had previously worked extensively in the intellectual human rights space, and on a recent trip to Kenya, the PUBSLUSH concept finally came full circle: a publishing platform not only “by the people,” but “for the people.” Our passion for this cause is fueled by its intense immediacy and the sheer impact reading can have on a child’s life (as corny as that may sound). The statistics speak for themselves. Today close to one billion people are illiterate. Also today, over 100 million are children without access to literature, meaning they too will become illiterate. And considering that illiteracy is a leading cause of poverty, breaking the vicious cycle is hopeless without books.

Plain and simple, PUBSLUSH is a tribute to J.K. Rowling. I wanted to create an alternate, equally viable route to publication and success as I just could not imagine the world without Harry Potter — a book that literally transcends all borders and reinvigorated an entire (my) generation’s interest in reading. But most of all, I wanted to create a community that would not only safeguard the world from ever missing out on another great book, but that would ensure anyone interested in reading that great book would be able to do so.

DISCUSS: Is Ten Pages Enough to Judge a Book?

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4 Comments

  1. Posted December 12, 2011 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    Nice one Jesse, sounds like a great idea. All the best for your new venture. Lisa

  2. Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Great idea, Jesse. I will refer my Author One Stop fans to this article.

  3. Posted December 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    I was thinking that this might be another “open access” experiment, but evidently it is not. Essentially, the 2,000 individuals who vote in favor of a proposed book are like the kind of “subscribers” who were canvassed by 18th-c. printers showing a prospectus who only went ahead with a printing if enough people signed up in advance to order a copy. This follows more the traditional model for journal publishing, where subscriptions are pre-paid before the journal is printed. It’s a nice way of adapting some earlier models to the demands of the digital age, but it does not go as far as, say, Glujar in making the published work available for free to everyone. Under that scenario, the “subscribers” function more like patrons in the old days. For further exploration of some of these ideas, see my essay “Back to the Future: Old Models for New Challenges” (2010) here: http://www.psupress.org/news/SandyThatchersWritings.html

  4. Posted February 29, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I can’t believe so many books are rejected. Hopefully, many writers will submit their works.

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