Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Whispers from the slush pile

Every writer wants to know what goes on in the nitty gritty of the slush pile.  They have horror images in their mind of thousands upon thousands of submissions...they hear stories of writerly blunders and exclaim "I'd never do that!".  But...are these just urban legends?  Is this what we're really facing in the slushpile?  I put my internship experience to good use and go sloshing through the slush to report back on my top three findings... (please note these are findings based on interning at two separate agencies).

ONE - There are less mess ups in the inbox than you think there are.  Everyone hears about the writer who accidentally put the wrong agent's name on the query, or who exclaimed they would outsell Harry Potter...or even worse, ripped a new one into Stephen King's books and boldly shouted "I am much better".  But are these submissions the norm?  Quite honestly...from my  I've came across very little of these.  The ones I have found have been absolute corkers, but by no stretch of the imagination do I see many of these in the inbox.

TWO - Though writers console themselves with the thought that the slush pile is 90% full with unusable submissions and that they only have to battle the remaining 10% to find their spot...I'm afraid I'm going to have to debunk that myth...there's a lot more great submissions in the slush pile than you think there are.  Around 40% of the submissions I've seen have had good concepts and good writing.  In every way they form a strong piece of writing.  These ones tend to linger in the inbox for a few extra days, while the reader sways to and forth over whether to request more.  And good submissions are becoming more and more the norm, as agents find better ways to communicate exactly what it is they want.  With so much information available online it's hard for someone to get their submission wrong (unless they are very special!).

THREE - No matter what, the amazing submissions jump off the page.  From the first few lines of a query, I can tell whether a submission is going to grab me.  Unique concepts with sparkling queries tend to have great pages too.  Word of warning - there are SO many similar queries in the inbox in regards to concept.  If you think your concept is truly unique but it came to you in a flash of easy a little research might just pay off!  If you want to check out some really cool recent concepts that I have personally seen go from slushpile to published, then check out the recent cover reveals on


  1. The stories about writers doing crazy or stupid things in queries reminds me of the customers I get at work who are rude or ask strange questions. There aren't *that* many of them, but the few there are stick out in your mind. Not only is it in our nature to focus on negative things instead of positive, but we also tend to remember the really out of the ordinary stories.

  2. Great post. Thanks for the tips.
    ~Just Jill

  3. Mary - you're right, those stories tend to grow because they are so outlandish. Though, I must admit, they are amusing when you find them!

    Just Jill - glad you liked the post! :-)