Slush Pile: Then and now

Revision update: Another two chapters revised in the last two days, but I’m starting to doubt that I’ll finish by the end of the week. Maybe end of next week?

For unpublished writers, facing the slush pile can seem daunting. We hear all these horror stories about manuscripts getting buried in six-foot piles of paper, never to be heard from again. We send off query letters filled with hopes and dreams and fear they’ll get lost in a sea of other queries.

The slush pile has changed a lot in the last few years. It used to be stacks and stacks of manuscripts in an editor’s office, but that has — mostly — gone now. In its article Death of the Slush Pile, the Wall Street Journal offers up some of the well-known authors who were discovered through the slush pile when it was in its heyday, such as Anne Frank. If it wasn’t for the slush pile, we wouldn’t have her classic literary work, which is a staple of English class curriculums.

But what WSJ’s Katherine Rosman doesn’t point out is that it’s not so much that the slush pile has died, it has just changed. Today, most publishing houses won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts except from agents. So the slush pile has moved from the editor’s desk to the agent’s desk, and for most agents, it has moved from paper to electronic. This newest technological change benefits both agents and writers. When I sent out my first query letter for my first novel, within minutes I had a request for the full manuscript. Not every agent was so quick, but on average, I’d say the turnaround time was around a week between query and response. (It was longer after a full was requested, but that’s a lot more reading on the part of the agent.) A week is a lot different from the three-to-six-month turnaround time — at least — when writers and agents/editors were dealing with paper copies.

Rosman does point out one agent slush pile success: Stephenie Meyer. But agents will tell you there are many others.

Here’s the latest example: Earlier this month, agent Janet Reid wrote about the launch of her client Patrick Lee‘s book and how that book came to her as a query in her slush pile back in August 2007.

And on the Guide to Literary Agents blog, agent Ted Malawer told how he found his client Sydney Salter through her stellar query letter in his agency’s slush pile.

These are just two examples, but it shows that, with a brilliant query letter and an equally brilliant manuscript, slush can in fact work.

Hang in there.

Write On!


2 Responses

  1. Uninvoked says:

    Brilliant query letters are not my strong point. I’ve taken several classes, and spent more time trying to convince the teacher I would not break if he critiqued me than actually working on the letter. -.-

  2. :)Sorry, Uninvoked. But keep at it. I’ve written a lot on this blog about writing query letters and provided links to some great advice and successful letters. Do a search and see if they help. Try patterning your query off a successful one, tailoring to your own work, then expanding on it to truly make it your own. I think the important things are that the story and voice are strong. That will make the letter stand out, and that’s what you need to get noticed.

    But whatever you do, don’t give up. Practice practice practice.

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