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View Full Version : Slush pile... really!



DennisB
02-17-2010, 06:45 PM
Could one of you folks close to the publishing biz explain it? Oh, I know what it is, or what I've been led to believe. But is there REALLY a pile, a stack of unopened manila envelopes, teetering and threatening to crush anyone foolish enough to get close? When a query is received by a house or an agent, is it automatically set aside? Do agents/publishers give a query a cursory exam, assign a quick grade from unacceptable to possible, then set the "possibles" aside for future consideration?

Just how does it work?

Mr Flibble
02-17-2010, 06:54 PM
yes

http://i110.photobucket.com/albums/n83/spinynorman_2006/20020416Tor-NYC059.jpg

Once it's actually opened you're halfway here. Possibly two years after you sent it.

Wayne K
02-17-2010, 06:55 PM
Pfffft. My rejection letters make that look puny

stormie
02-17-2010, 07:01 PM
I've always loved that photo of a slushpile. Now top that with all the email queries and partials they have to (figuratively speaking) trudge through. Each day.

Mr Flibble
02-17-2010, 07:03 PM
Exactly - they get to the slush when they haven't got requested stuff to look at! Which means very very rarely, tbh.

Chris P
02-17-2010, 07:06 PM
yes

http://i110.photobucket.com/albums/n83/spinynorman_2006/20020416Tor-NYC059.jpg

Once it's actually opened you're halfway here. Possibly two years after you sent it.

Wow! I don't envy agents/editors.

Jamesaritchie
02-17-2010, 07:49 PM
I'd be surprised if that's the complete slush pile in the photo. I've seen many that were several times that size.

The only things that usually get set aside are requested material, and anything with an established writer's name on it.

stitchingirl
02-17-2010, 07:51 PM
I'm not familiar with the term "slush pile". In that photo, are those submitted works to publishing houses, all in hopes of getting their books in print?

san_remo_ave
02-17-2010, 07:53 PM
I'm not familiar with the term "slush pile". In that photo, are those submitted works to publishing houses, all in hopes of getting their books in print?

Yep.

CaroGirl
02-17-2010, 08:11 PM
I'm not familiar with the term "slush pile". In that photo, are those submitted works to publishing houses, all in hopes of getting their books in print?
My understanding is any query package that is not expressly solicited or requested by the agent or publisher is considered "slush."

stitchingirl
02-17-2010, 08:18 PM
For all we know, most of our works are being used to level desks. Keep doors from closing. Ammo to throw at a collegue who's annoying.

Do the publishers and that read all of the stories, or just like a chapter or two? I don't know how that works.

CaroGirl
02-17-2010, 08:32 PM
Do the publishers and that read all of the stories, or just like a chapter or two? I don't know how that works.
I believe they can usually tell with the 250-word(-ish) query letter whether you can write well enough and it's a story that might interest them. Some agents and editors don't ask for (or accept) anything BUT a one-page query letter. That's why query writing is such a bugger.

Terie
02-17-2010, 08:44 PM
But is there REALLY a pile, a stack of unopened manila envelopes, teetering and threatening to crush anyone foolish enough to get close?

For the largest publishers, no, it's not a pile. It's much MUCH larger. A friend of mine got to see the slush 'pile' of one of the major UK publishers: it's a warehouse with manuscripts piled and shrink-wrapped on pallets that are moved around with a forklift. No, he wasn't kidding!

stitchingirl
02-17-2010, 08:51 PM
No wonder they say that some never make it as writers.

scarletpeaches
02-17-2010, 08:56 PM
People who don't make it as writers usually fail to make it because they don't adhere to the submission guidelines. For a start, very few publishers accept unsolicited partials, let alone fulls. And it's probably got a hell of a lot more to do with the quality of their books to be honest.

You stand more chance if you contact agents first and only send a query and/or partial, than sending a hard copy of your full manuscript, snail mail, to a publisher.

Bufty
02-17-2010, 09:04 PM
Depends how one defines 'making it'.

Some? I guess around 90% plus aren't going to achieve publishable standard - if that's how one defines 'making it'.

On the other hand I think it's a tad severe to regard one as 'not making it' as a writer simply because one isn't (commercially)published. But again, how else does one judge? Sales perhaps?


No wonder they say that some never make it as writers.

Mr Flibble
02-17-2010, 09:13 PM
For a start, very few publishers accept unsolicited partials, let alone fulls.

That picture is only a part of the slush pile of a publisher that DOES accept unsolicited MSs.

If they didn't accept slush, there would be no pile...except of shredded bits of paper. If a publisher / agent doesn't accept it - they don't save it to read either. They just bin it.



You stand more chance if you contact agents first and only send a query and/or partial, than sending a hard copy of your full manuscript, snail mail, to a publisher. Well you stand more of a chance of getting it read sooner / at all :D

KathleenD
02-17-2010, 09:33 PM
My all time favorite manuscript story: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/the-sobering-saga-of-myrtle-the-manuscript/

M.Austin
02-17-2010, 09:38 PM
yes

http://i110.photobucket.com/albums/n83/spinynorman_2006/20020416Tor-NYC059.jpg

Once it's actually opened you're halfway here. Possibly two years after you sent it.

LOL. Amazing photo.

Sevvy
02-17-2010, 10:09 PM
My understanding is any query package that is not expressly solicited or requested by the agent or publisher is considered "slush."

This is how it works at the lit journal I read for. If they didn't ask for it, it becomes the "slush pile", which a group of readers wades through as fast as they can while still trying to give each piece some due consideration.

Jamesaritchie
02-17-2010, 10:57 PM
For all we know, most of our works are being used to level desks. Keep doors from closing. Ammo to throw at a collegue who's annoying.

Do the publishers and that read all of the stories, or just like a chapter or two? I don't know how that works.

I've read many a slush pile, and you read until the writer gives you a reason to stop. There's no point in reading past the point where you know you won't be buying the story, unless you can tell the writer came very close, and you want to offer suggestions for improvement.

Or, if the first chapter is well written, but doesn;t seem to be getting to teh story, many editors will flip over to chapter three or four, just to see if that's where teh story should begin.

Anyway, sometimes you can safely stop reading after the first sentence, and very, very often after the first page.

But you stop reading at whatever point the writer gives you a reason to stop. Boredom often does it. If you reach a page where you don't want to keep reading, you assume readers wouldn't want to keep reading, either, so you stop.

Jamesaritchie
02-17-2010, 11:03 PM
That picture is only a part of the slush pile of a publisher that DOES accept unsolicited MSs.

If they didn't accept slush, there would be no pile...except of shredded bits of paper. If a publisher / agent doesn't accept it - they don't save it to read either. They just bin it.


:D

Well, that's sort of true, and sort of not. Writers would be amazed at how many agented submissions are treated as slush. Just because someone calls themselves an agent doesn't mean they're good at finding quality material on a regular basis, or at all.

Agents are treated according to who they are, and on how consistently the material they send along is publishable. Much of what comes from agents is treated as slush, and read as slush.

willietheshakes
02-17-2010, 11:06 PM
Depends how one defines 'making it'.

Some? I guess around 90% plus aren't going to achieve publishable standard - if that's how one defines 'making it'.

On the other hand I think it's a tad severe to regard one as 'not making it' as a writer simply because one isn't (commercially)published. But again, how else does one judge? Sales perhaps?

How did we get nearly two dozen posts into this thread without a slushkiller (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html) link?

Thump
02-17-2010, 11:13 PM
As someone who's worked for a fiction publisher, yes, there is such a thing as a slush pile. That said, because the people I worked for accepted unagented submissions rather than have it thrust upon them by pushy authors (;-) ), it all got opened as it came, logged and read within a timely manner. That said, most of it ended of the even bigger pile of "rejections to send".

Something that most authors don't know however is that the slush gets read (if it gets read) very quickly. Often, it will be read on the day it's received and a decision made on the spot. Then, it will be left on the pile of rejections to send for the full term they tell you they'll get back to you in (mostly 4 to 6 week) so they don't get calls from rejectees saying that clearly we cannot have read/given proper thought to their deathless prose in such a short time. The sad truth is that it's called the "slush pile" for a reason. Most of what comes in is so bad all it takes is a look at the first sentence (if that at all) to tell you it's terrible.

As for agented submissions being treated as slush, not quite. For the most part, they go on separate piles and taken a bit more seriously. That said, if it's clearly the wrong genre, the agent is mentally classified as an incompetent idiot wasting our time :D Agents with a history of providing good stuff are treated with extra care because they clearly work hard and are doing us a service.

Jamesaritchie
02-17-2010, 11:36 PM
Something that most authors don't know however is that the slush gets read (if it gets read) very quickly. Often, it will be read on the day it's received and a decision made on the spot..

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on the publisher. I doubt any two publishers treat slush exactly the same. Soemtimes slush gets read the day it comes in, and sometimes it's still waiting to be opened six months later. From my experience, later is much more common than sooner.

Many publishers simply lack enough readers to begin to keep up with the slush, and others have readers who put off reading it as long as possible because it's never a pleasant job.

Slush often builds up to the point where there's nowhere left to put it, and a "slush party" is held.

And at most places where I've read slush, the readers never have the power to say yes. They can reject, but if they like something, there's still several rungs of the ladder to climb before the manuscript reaches someone who can actually buy it.

WildScribe
02-18-2010, 12:14 AM
Am I nuts? I would love to be a slush reader. I must be totally insane...

Jamesaritchie
02-18-2010, 01:24 AM
Am I nuts? I would love to be a slush reader. I must be totally insane...

No, you aren't nuts. You just haven't been a slush reader yet. From my experience, it doesn't usually take very long for disillusionment to set in, especially with novel length slush. In true slush, it's very easy to go months without finding anything worth reading, let alone worth publishing.

It's something like accentance and rejection in writing, especially short story writing Getting an acceptance is thrilling, but if you get five hundred rejections in a row for every acceptance, even that one acceptance doesn't wash the bad taste out of your mouth.

Chris P
02-18-2010, 01:28 AM
Am I nuts? I would love to be a slush reader. I must be totally insane...

I admit the idea appealed to me for about 10 seconds, but then I think back to the science fair projects I've judged, the scientific papers I've reviewed, etc, and making that decision of yea or nay is not too terribly rewarding, especially in light of the time it takes.

I could see myself spending way too long on the first few and then not enough on the last few before I burned out and refused to do any more.

Jamesaritchie
02-18-2010, 01:39 AM
I admit the idea appealed to me for about 10 seconds, but then I think back to the science fair projects I've judged, the scientific papers I've reviewed, etc, and making that decision of yea or nay is not too terribly rewarding, especially in light of the time it takes.

I could see myself spending way too long on the first few and then not enough on the last few before I burned out and refused to do any more.


Most start reading slush with teh intention or reading everything, and probably plqanning to tell each and every writer what they did right or wrong.

After a few days, you give up both notions, and after a couple of weeks, or months, you find some system that lets you live with the job, but I've met only a couple of editors in my life who enjoy reading slush at all.

DennisB
02-18-2010, 06:32 PM
Thanks a million! It proves to me that to get published, one must stand out above the herd.

stormie
02-18-2010, 06:42 PM
I might be wrong on this, but I think I read that if you have an error-free, business-tone (meaning no "Hey, Editor!"-type stuff) cover letter or query, you're in the 5%. The rest of the 95% is an instant rejection.

So picture that slush pile, take away 95% of it, and there your letter is. Still a lot of others in the running though.

Jamesaritchie
02-18-2010, 09:17 PM
Thanks a million! It proves to me that to get published, one must stand out above the herd.


Sure. Fortunately, standing out is not at all difficult. But there is a little more to it. Standing out gets you in the top five percent or so. This means your book gets read, you may get some very good rejections, etc. But depending on where you try to get published, you have to be in the top one percent at best, and often in the top one tenth of one percent, or better.

It's getting from two, three four, or five percent down inside that one percent mark that's really tough.

Terie
02-18-2010, 09:20 PM
Thanks a million! It proves to me that to get published, one must stand out above the herd.

You needed proof of that? :)

Greg Wilson
02-19-2010, 12:37 PM
I might be wrong on this, but I think I read that if you have an error-free, business-tone (meaning no "Hey, Editor!"-type stuff) cover letter or query, you're in the 5%. The rest of the 95% is an instant rejection.

So picture that slush pile, take away 95% of it, and there your letter is.

Exactly. And since that slush pile picture has been making the rounds since 2002, I would hope it's at least changed shape by now. ;)

Ava Glass
02-22-2010, 10:57 PM
Exactly. And since that slush pile picture has been making the rounds since 2002, I would hope it's at least changed shape by now. ;)


That explains a lot. I was about to ask why it is a paper pile.

Mr Flibble
02-22-2010, 11:02 PM
Yeah now they just overload their server, wait till it crashes and deletes all those unsolicited MS and bingo! Slush pile reduced! :D

Actually that publisher doesn't take e-mail slush, only paper. I wonder the pile has shrunk...or grown since then

WildScribe
02-23-2010, 01:22 AM
Most start reading slush with teh intention or reading everything, and probably plqanning to tell each and every writer what they did right or wrong.


I'm an evil bitch... I'd happily read the first two sentences and toss until I got to a halfway decent hook. :P

stormie
02-23-2010, 01:36 AM
That explains a lot. I was about to ask why it is a paper pile.
But there are still many publishers of books and magazines who request a full via postal service. And then there are those who print out the attachments from the emails.

Either way, whether virtual or hardcopy, the slush piles are huge.

Nivarion
02-23-2010, 02:14 AM
I think this picture sums them up quite nicely.

http://michelelee.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/slushpiledemotivatormay08_normal.jpg