Saturday, 7 June 2008

The Truth about the Slush-Pile

There are two little things that a writer can do to make sure they don’t get trapped in the slush-pile.

First, make sure their work is ready to submit before they send it off. The vast majority of submissions (perhaps 95%) are nowhere near good enough to be published. I’m not talking about work with a few typos, or in need of restructuring: I’m talking about work which has absolutely no chance at all of ever making it into print in the commercial market.

Second, make sure they target markets which are appropriate for their work. You wouldn’t, for example, write an article about breastfeeding and send it to a car magazine: so why do so many writers do the equivalent when submitting their books?

The company I edited for specialised in illustrated, esoteric adult non-fiction. It published books about meditation, religion, prediction, mythology, retreat, and tantric sex. Submissions included novels, pornography, and proposals for books about cars, weaponry, and computing. The most fantastic submission was a heavily-illustrated children's story book, in verse, about trolls. All written in Dutch, with no translation provided.

No wonder so many of the bigger publishers will now only accept agented submissions, and reject other submissions unread. No wonder so many agents are now closing their doors to new clients.

I’m not telling anyone not to submit. Just make sure that you’re ready, and that you’re sending your work to the right place. That’s all.

PS: Have a look at Slushkiller, over at Making Light, if you want to read more about slush.

1 comment:

Nicola Slade said...

You're quite right, HowP... Writers need to do their homework first. My agent signed me up after her assistant handed her my first three chapters saying: 'You'll like this.' She did and she got it published. But - I'd previously met one of her authors and knew that she liked historical mysteries. My first published novel was picked up from the slush pile too, but again I'd done my homework and targeted the publisher knowing my manuscript fitted every single one of their criteria.

I'd recommend going to as many writing-related events as you can manage; talk to writers,agents & editors at festivals, conferences, meetings, etc. Then you revise your MS to suit and send it off to a NAMED editor/agent, with a polite reminder of where you met.

It's common sense, as HowP says.