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Combining an obsession with JK Rowling, human rights activism, a finance background and inspiration from TOMS Shoes’ one for one movement, founder Jesse Potash created PUBSLUSH to help aspiring authors pursue their dreams of getting published and combat illiteracy in the process.
PUBSLUSH is a social, full service publisher that lets readers decide what books get published, and for every book sold donates a book to a child in need. PUBSLUSH combines the accessibility of self publishing with the support and quality control of legacy publishing.
The PUBSLUSH process is simple:
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, we publish 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.
MO: What inspired you to create PUBSLUSH and how did you come up with the name?
Jesse: On the publishing side, the short answer is JK Rowling. She is one of my greatest inspirations, and I have always been appalled that Harry Potter was rejected 12 times prior to being accepted for publication. Harry Potter! The best selling book of all time (besides The Bible)! The book that made an entire generation fall in love with reading! I thought there must be a better (or supplemental) way to discover incredible writing talent. On the nonprofit side, intellectual human rights development, an issue near and dear to my heart, is punctuated by a focus on education. Since we were entering the literary space, impacting education through literacy initiatives naturally became an essential component to the concept. PUBSLUSH is attempting to reinvigorate the publishing process to be more democratic, philanthropic, and streamlined.
The name was an issue of hot debate. It is a portmanteau, joining publishing and slush. The slush pile (where unsolicited manuscripts are set aside when sent to publishing houses) is the basis for the concept: bringing the slush pile online and letting real readers decide what books should be published. Plus, we’re rebranding the slush pile as something positive for the new age of publishing.
MO: How does PUBSLUSH work? Why use crowdsourcing?
Jesse: We ask authors to upload the best 10 pages and a summary of their work (and a video message). Then readers browse the submissions and decide what books should be published by pledging their support (which is like preordering a book). No one is charged unless a book is selected to be published. When a book reaches the support threshold (which at the moment is 1,000 supporters), we publish it, providing the same services a legacy publisher, only more personalized. We build a team around each book to facilitate editorial, design, printing, distribution, marketing, legal, etc., all at NO cost to the author. Then, for every book we sell, we donate a book to a child in need. And not just any book. We work with giving partners around the world to understand their literacy needs and provide relevant books and resources.
Crowdsourcing is one of the best, most exciting technologies for discovering new talent. We’ve seen this method work successfully across many creative industries (most notably, American Idol) and publishing is an obvious addition to the gamut. At PUBSLUSH, we operate much the same as any legacy publisher, only we’ve replaced the role of acquisition editor with the people. We firmly believe the reading public should have the opportunity to decide what books get published, and know they can make a difference in the lives of children at the same time. We think of our Slushers (users) as being part of a global, socially conscious book club of literary tastemakers.
MO: How has your background and experience contributed to the development of PUBSLUSH? How much experience did you have in the publishing industry prior to starting the company?
Jesse: My background is particularly varied with a focus in the financial services and nonprofit sectors. Additionally, I have worked in publishing, advertising and fashion. Since my training is in finance, I’ve been attentive in structuring PUBSLUSH a bit differently than any other publishing company. We offer higher royalties than legacy publishers, have a unique model for revenue and distribution, and are extremely adaptable to the industry’s rapidly changing landscape. While working in publishing (for a limited time), I realized there was a much more efficient way to discover and distribute books but large publishers were unable to implement new strategies quickly enough because of the wildly institutionalized nature of the industry. I took a step back and really tried to analyze the book business as an outsider and brainstorm improvements, drawing on what I had learned and seen be successful in my previous jobs. I think that was (and is) one of the most important components of PUBSLUSH. We benefit from a team of diverse experience and fresh perspectives; we are in no way confined by industry norms.
MO: What inspired you to add a philanthropic edge to the book sale process and why did you decide to focus on children’s literacy initiatives?
Jesse: I had worked extensively with human rights activism in the developing world before starting PUBSLUSH. During that time, the biggest concern I saw was the lack of access to education. When developing this concept, impacting literacy initiatives through a one for one book donation program was a no brainer, as was the focus on children, for two reasons. One, children are obviously much more adept to learning. And two, the intangible impact is often more intense: books ignite imagination, transport the reader to another world, invigorate the mind. For me, providing literature to children is like microfinance for adults. They both provide a sustainable, enabling, bigger picture solution to the issue at hand.
The statistics speak for themselves. Illiteracy is one of the leading causes of poverty. Today, close to 1 billion people are illiterate. Also today, over 100 million children don’t have access to literature, meaning they too will become illiterate. Fighting poverty is hopeless without books.
MO: When researching your company I ran across concerns of writers who were scammed years ago by the Publish America scam. Has there been a challenge to convince people that PUBSLUSH is a legitimate publishing company?
Jesse: I think people are always wary of a new concept. On top of that, authors are already bombarded with so many publishing routes, and the fact that PUBSLUSH is a completely new route doesn’t make things easier. So yes, we’ve been diligent in providing support, resources, and ongoing, open communication to the author community to build an honest relationship. The reality is that we can’t convince everyone and there are some highly “specialized” communities that we’ve unfortunately met with resistance. All I can say is we are eager to engage in a dialogue with anyone skeptical of our legitimacy. But the reality is we will just have to prove ourselves first. Luckily we have received an overwhelmingly positive response from most authors and we’re beyond excited to work with those who are equally excited to work with us. We’re in a publishing revolution, and for the authors that join, I’m sure they will be immensely rewarded.
MO: What has been the biggest misconception about PUBSLUSH?
Jesse: The biggest misconception is that we’re a self publisher. In fact, we are the exact opposite of a self publisher. The author themself cannot support their own book, nor do they ever pay a cent throughout the process. Self publishing is fantastic but there’s no quality control. Anyone can simply go online, press print, and suddenly they’re “published!” Also with self publishing, authors are required to do everything on their own – a quite daunting task!
With PUBSLUSH, we mitigate both of these issues. All books published through our site have a guaranteed number of supporters, meaning enough people (real readers) actually said this book is good enough that I would like to see it published. This built in audience is also a huge benefit to the author! The other major benefit to the author is that we facilitate the entire process. Navigating the complexities of publishing is beyond overwhelming, especially for first time authors. We give you an editor, a designer, a publicist, distribution, printing, legal counseling, all personalized for your book project. We are here for our authors every step of the way and encourage them to be as involved as they’d like (We love authors with strong creative vision. It’s your book after all!).