Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stand Out in the Slush

As many of you know, in April I launched Sift, a group book review blog with a twist: we only review self-published sci-fi and fantasy novels. (Shameless plug: If you have an eReader and want to get the skinny on no less than 16 self-pubbed SFF books per month, I'd appreciate a follow on the Sift blog!)

And it's kind of like a slush pile.

As editor, I review every submission that comes in, checking it against our submission guidelines before forwarding it to the requested reviewer. I'm starting to understand some of the things that irk agents to the point where they complain on their blogs and twitter so I thought I'd share some of these insights with you.

1) Follow the blasted submission guidelines!

I know, I know. We all know this. Still, there are globs of writers who brush them off. These aren't arbitrary; they're designed to help us get through the slush as efficiently as possible. I personally receive about 20 submissions every month. I can review 2.

I suppose I could slog through the ten pages of editorial statements, philisophical discussions, quotes from people whom I don't know, links to "more information," etc to find the half-page worth of info I actually need. Or I could decline your submission, read through two other submissions where the guidelines are followed, accept them for review, walk my dog, write a page of my own and get ready for work. Which do you think I'll choose?

2) Genre matters

Our website says - in no less than four places - we only take works with elements of science fiction and fantasy. You could have the best blessed women's fiction novel ever written on any planet that ever existed and have a raving review signed in blood by Oprah herself and we still wouldn't be interested. And neither would our readers.

3) No Attacments, No Exceptions

Y'all are writers so you get this: My laptop is my life. If anything happened to it I would ...

Then hunt down whoever was responsible and show them what the true meaning of pain is.

I see every unsolicited attachment as a potential virus. When I say "Any unsolicited attachments will be deleted unread" I mean... well, I mean I'll send you a nice email asking you to take a look at our submission guidelines once again but I'm still kinda new at this so I can't promise what will happen when I become more jaded.

4) Yes, your first chapter is important...

But so is the rest of the book! I see SOOOO many books where the summary and first chapter are perfect: no typos, writing with impact, great dialogue. But then? It falls apart.

Grammar and spelling mistakes on every page. Repetitive sentence structure. Stilted dialogue.

I know what has happened here. You've heard that the first chapter is essential to selling the book, so you put it through the ringer. Beta readers, online critique boards, maybe even a professional editor.

But why not for the rest of the book? Either you: are lazy? or don't care about any point past but getting the sale? Either way, I don't want to read your book. And I imagine an agent doesn't want to work with you.

When writers read blogs, we see a lot of "don't do this, don't do that" kind of language. I hope I've helped you understand a little more about why they say these things. AND I hope the lolcats have helped lessen the sting of my tough love :-)


  1. I love the Cats and Sift has a new follower :) The rest - you would think - is common sense but I guess people love to shoot themselves in the foot.

  2. Meow! Love the post! It's so important to follow guidelines.

  3. I appreciate this post. Sound like very fair requests to me.

  4. Tell it like it is, sister. We all need to be reminded. :)

  5. Sift has a new follower. Thanks for this post, from a writer / editor who can relate!

  6. Ohhh I'm going to check out Sift! But wonderful post, it is very important to follow guidelines. Cause when you do, you have a greater chance of having whoever check out your submission.

  7. *hopping over to Sift*

    Thanks for all the tips! LolCats are so much fun and I am going to be LOLing for a long time over 300 Cat!

  8. Thanks for the tips! I wonder why people don't bother polishing the rest of their book. Maybe they have a professional look at the first chapter and then figure they can do the rest themselves?

  9. Thanks for sharing. As further support to what you're saying, my publisher told me that they put my submission to the top of their slush pile just because I followed all of their submission guidelines exactly. Small things can bring huge results.

  10. Thanks for the mention of Sift! I have a Kindle and am always looking for new books!

  11. I'm headed over to Sift now :) I love it when people can follow directions lol, thanks for the reminder of how important it is.

  12. Aww! Thanks to everyone who checked out Sift today! It's my new baby so I'm so happy when we get new followers!

  13. I think the "why" behind guideline helps people calm a bit. Nice work!

  14. Thanks for the reminder of all the basics to take into account when we're submitting our work. It will be on my checklist when I'm at that point.

  15. Whadaya know. All the agent rants weren't lying! :) I wonder if someone can set up a rotating internship somewhere so every aspiring author can have a chance to wade through a slush pile for a month or so. Just so we can all internalize the why's behind the rules.

  16. Haha, Robin! That's a great idea! All joking aside, it really does help me understand how better to make my own submissions stand out. It really boils down to two things: 1. Be nice/polite. 2. Follow thw guidelines.