Writing life in the old days--- back then, every publisher had a slush pile. This was a backlog of unsolicited manuscripts that arrived at every publishers' door. Some low-wage employee of the publisher would be assigned to sort through the slush manuscripts.
Most slush pile manuscripts could be disposed of after a glance at the first page. Failures in spelling and grammar, clumsy sentences with unfathomable meanings, and just an air of mind-numbingly dull about the manuscript told the tale. Such manuscripts were, rightly, sent back after this slight evaluation.
Other manuscripts needed more attention before the reader could tell they weren't what was wanted, and this was the place to be for a new writer. Your manuscript was deemed worthy of a bit of attention and you might warrant a personal note on the rejection slip. Those notes meant you were a real writer, and that someone out there thought you ought to keep trying, that someday you would produce a manuscript that would make some publisher some money.
The slush-pile days are over at most publishers. Given today's minimum wage laws and soon-to-be-required benefits, nearly all publishers reckon they can't afford to hire someone to read their way through a slush pile, and so they issue a decree that only agented manuscripts are accepted. And most agents don't want slush pile manuscripts, either.
But for the indie writer, the slush pile still exists--- and if we are not part of it, we are competing with it.
Now, for most of us indie writers we spend a lot of time cocooned in a virtual world of other indie and small press writers. We don't contact non-writing readers much until our writing career takes off and we start to get fans coming to our blogs and author Facebook and Twitter pages. But ask a reader who has tried an indie book or two, and chances are you will hear some slush-pile novel horror stories.
Indie books, conclude the reader, are bad, and they will stick with traditionally published books from now on. But the traditionally published world also has their slush-pile-worthy books. They are just hidden away, and not out there competing with well-written books for readership.
This is what you must do to compete with the slush pile: You must make your book stand out from the pack in three ways.
1. You must know enough about spelling, grammar and sentence structure that you can ensure your manuscript is correct. You may have beta readers and hired editors to catch mistakes for you--- but if you don't know the rules yourself, you have no way to know if they are correct. If your school education shortchanged you in this area--- in other words, if you are under 50--- you need to educate yourself. Errors in this area are a well-known mark of the slush-pile writer.
2. The average reader may be ignorant of a lot of things. He may think that World War 2 was fought between the armed forces of Adolf Hitler and George Washington. He may think that Shakespeare was just some dead white guy who wrote boring stuff. But even the most ill-informed of readers expects their authors to be filled to the brim with correct information, and if they catch you in an error of fact, they will assume you are just another slush-pile writer not worth reading. Enhance your education by reading books on cultural literacy and history-for-dummies, and then read on from there.
3. It's not enough to be correctly spelled and culturally literate. You need to show, right from the start, that you are not a bore. This means dumping the prologue about the hundred-year elven war or the history of your main character from the date of his grandfather's birth and other bits of tedium writers fiddle with before they get down to the beef of it. Concentrate on the central story. And don't whine about how some other writer got away with prologues and genealogies and such and is a famous writer. YOU are not a famous writer, and you are not going to be one if you can't convince skeptical readers you are not going to bore them to death.
The writer in the old days had to convince one reader at a publisher's office that he was a competent writer. You, as an indie writer, have to convince reader after reader after reader of the same thing. Your first few chapters that are made available as a free sample have to show your prowess in the three areas mentioned above. And the rest of your book must match it. Do this, and you will rise above the indie fiction slush pile. Don't do it, and you are condemned to be a part of the slush pile other indie writers are complaining about.
I will 'like' your Facebook author page (unless it's porny or something). Just go to MY page (link below) and post a comment 'hey, you said you'd like my author page' and give your author page link. I will 'like' the page as soon as I see that (with my personal account, so that it counts). Feel free to 'like' my page in return.