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When It Comes to Getting Published, There's No Shortage of New Ideas

Today I'm talking with Jesse Potash, the founder of PUBSLUSH (www.pubslush.com), which presents a unique new model for getting published. Because it's so unusual - and because they're a non-profit - I thought you might find it of interest. Jesse was a panelist at last month's Writer's Digest Conference.

Here's the scoop: PUBSLUSH Press is full service, social publisher that uses crowdsourcing to discover unpresented writing talent and gauge the market viability of new book ideas. Readers actually decide what books get published, and for every book sold, another book is donated to a child in need.

What's most interesting to me, however, is that they're a non-profit and for every book sold, another book is donated to a child in need. Pretty cool.

Here's how it works:

1. Writers submit the best 10 pages and a summary of their manuscript. It’s free!

2. Users read, share, and support (aka preorder) their favorite submissions. They’re only charged if a book is selected for publication.

3. Once a book reaches 1,000 supporters, PUBSLUSH publishes it (ensuring only the best books get published)! PUBSLUSH provides all the services and support of a legacy publisher, at no cost to the author.

4. For every book sold, a book will be donated to a child in need.

Here are some of the questions I had for Jesse:

Q. The idea of publishing based on advance consumer buy-in is in intriguing one. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of this new business model: The logistics of managing something that has no precedent in publishing, or the need to inform readers and writers that the model exists?

A. The latter, without a doubt. The logistics of managing this model is the most exciting part. We are simplifying the publishing process, which over the years has spiraled out of control to become unfathomably bureaucratic and complex. We’re looking at the industry from a new perspective and bringing the business of books back to the basics. Stripping away the nonsense and redefining the role of publisher: to facilitate the discovery and distribution of high quality content.

On the other hand, the urgent need to inform the public of our model and how it’s different is a sensitive challenge. Authors are already overwhelmed with the large number of (un)viable publishing routes available, and ours is simply unlike any other option. We’ve combined the accessibility of self publishing with the support and quality control of legacy publishing. We essentially operate as a legacy publisher, but instead of acquisition editors, readers decide what books should be published by pledging their support. We’ve been diligent in our beta marketing to reach a targeted group of literary tastemakers to use and test the site. Since our business is multifaceted, understanding the entire concept in a thirty second pitch is a bit difficult. But by engaging our Slushers in an ongoing dialogue, we are honing our message to be as simple as possible.

Q. Have you had any previously published authors submit work for consideration by their peers, and if so, have they given you any insights into why they've decided to take part in this particular model of publishing?

A. We have! And the reason for this is simply because these previously published authors are unhappy with their prior publishing route, and are excited to be a part of our sort of publishing revolution. A self published author who wasn’t able or willing to become an expert in distribution relationships, or marketing. Or find the right editor. Or price their book competitively. A traditionally published author who realized they could be making a higher royalty with our model. Or weren’t getting enough support from their publisher. Or lost creative control to the bureaucracy. These are very real issues authors face and PUBSLUSH attempts to mitigate all of them. Our model builds a specialized team with vested interest around each author’s book project. As such, this much more streamlined, personalized approach benefits the author, reader, and of course children without access to literature.

Q. PUBSLUSH makes it clear that the company is invested in fostering literacy around the world. How do you manage that part of the business and what agencies are you allied with?

A. At the heart of PUBSLUSH is our cause, to promote education initiatives and combat illiteracy worldwide. As a registered nonprofit, we facilitate this through our one for one book donation program, which donates a book, or its value, for every book sold. Additionally, we work with giving partners around the world to understand their literacy needs and provide resources accordingly. We contribute anything from children’s books, textbooks, Kindles, solar panels, supplies, libraries (construction, staffing, etc.), and more. Our first giving partner is an orphanage in Kenya called Flying Kites. Each book published through our site is assigned a particular partner, so our first book will benefit them. We also hosted a red carpet benefit in New York to raise funds for their organization.

The immediate need to provide literature to children around the world is mind blowing. At this moment, over 100 million kids are without access to books, a statistic that might be paralleled to pouring gasoline on a fire; unless this issue is addressed, the vicious cycle of poverty will rage on. Books are incredible enablers that ignite imagination and have both magnificent tangible (skill instruction) and intangible (self esteem, inspiration) effects on the reader, especially when young. We also will focus our efforts on digital reading technology in the developing world by exploiting the benefits of ereaders (portable library, text to speech, built in dictionary, etc.).

Q. Currently PUBSLUSH is in BETA. What is your timeline for a full launch? How will the final version of PUBSLUSH differ from what we see now?

A. We expect to leave beta in September 2012. Prior to that, our initial authors will benefit from a greatly decreased support threshold. After September, books will require double the support (2,000) to be published. We are working fast and furious to enhance the functionality of the site and the full launch version will exhibit augmented user interaction, more tools for authors, customizable support levels, an advanced recommendation engine, among much more. But most importantly, the full launch will mark a different type of global outreach for the brand.

Q. If you could name three things that most writers do wrong when it comes to pitching their ideas to their peers (or agents, or editors, etc), what would they be?

A. Lackluster pitch – I find that an author can have the most genius, well written book, but is unable to describe this brilliance succinctly. We live in the age of immediacy. If you can’t captivate your audience in 15 seconds, you’re in for a real challenge.

Immodesty – There’s nothing more refreshing than working with an author who is modest and open to constructive feedback. Of course an author should love their work, but being too headstrong just doesn’t fly in this industry. It’s a turn off to readers and agents alike. And I don’t mean stop being your own number one fan. Just be smart about it!

Misinformation – How can authors still be groveling at the feet of agents and editors? The reality is that authors have more power than ever in the publishing process. If you really believe in your manuscript, take the power into your own hands and do something about it. In this new age of publishing, the only opinion that really matters is the reader’s. The publisher, agent, etc. is merely the connector at this stage. Know you’re worth and don’t be afraid to challenge the system.

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Pretty cool. Go check out www.pubslush.com for more info!

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