Friday, March 26, 2010

Slush Pile Queen

It's Friday and since I gave myself permission to cut back on posting a lot of my Fridays have become free to do whatever I want so I apologize to those of you who checked in at 8 and were disappointed to see nothing new. However, after some prodding from one of the readers, I did come up with something. Something I had been thinking about writing anyway.

This week I was catching up on my Publisher's Weekly reading and read this terrific article about the slush pile.

Slush Pile Queen: "In 1985, when I was still a fledgling agent, I signed a writer fr..."

And it made me wonder how anyone builds a client list without a slush pile? I think, that when looking at my bookshelves, 99% of BookEnds clients were unsolicited material. At one point or another every single one of our authors would have been considered slush. They submitted a query or proposal (back in the day), they'd never met us, didn't have a referral, and were probably submitting blindly according to guidelines on our Web site. And we offered representation. And we sold their books to publishers.

In fact, just this month I took on a new client and, yes, she came through the "slush pile."

Don't let the phrase "slush pile" scare you off. It's were most of the greats started out.

17 comments:

Jane Steen said...

Thank you for the encouragement, and may your slush pile never grow smaller.

Connie said...

Thanks! Sometimes agenting/publishing/etc. all seems overwhelming to a "nobody," but it's nice to know that lots of authors were unpublished, unconnected writers at one time.

Anonymous said...

I was in your slushpile once-- in nearly every agent's slushpile, and never got pulled out. In order to get an agent, I needed a referral.

I have been pulled out of an editor's slushpile, but never an agent's. Glad to know that others have better luck.

Anonymous said...

Hi!
How goes the query battle? I submitted one in the beginning of March and just wondering how long I can expect to wait. I always worry that it didn't get there or I missed your response because it got kicked into my spam folder.
Thanks!

Liza Swift said...

This isn't the first time I have read something similar. I am such a newbie to all this that I am always surprised. To me it seems obvious that to get published you send your manuscripts unsolicited! I don't even know how to be solicited!

I am not afraid of the slush pile. I am excited by the challenge of it. I want to be the flower blooming out of the slush!

Kate Douglas said...

LOL...I was a slush pile queen! (I love that title!) Since I signed with Jessica long before I knew how to use the Internet to research agents, (and after MANY years of trying to either sell on my own or find an agent) I'm going to blow my cover and admit that the only reason I sent in a query is because a fellow writer told me there was a new agent looking for clients.

I was desperate, and my stack of rejections was growing higher than my pile of manuscripts.

It was a hardcopy submission, regular old snail mail with a query letter that included everything Jessica says we shouldn't. Of course it went into the slush pile...where else would it go? There was no one more shocked then I when she called to offer representation.

Which is why I always say, you can't quit if you're meant to write. Keep submitting, keep writing, and never, ever give up.

Bethany said...

This post interests me. (That's awkward, isn't it.)

CS said...

this makes me feel better! i always worried about the slush pile. i can't understand how anyone does it by other means- i've never met another writer, never met an agent, never heard of a writers conference anywhere near me. when i'm ready to publish i know that the only choice i have is to hope i get picked out of the slush pile!

jurassicpork said...

I dunno, Jessica. I know this is coming from someone in the business but I never liked the idea of my novel winding up mired deeper and deeper in someone's neglected slush pile. The chances of having your stuff rescued from it is directly proportionate to its height (or depth) in the stack. As you rightly say, literally 99% of any agency's slush pile is unsolicited stuff and it can grow pretty quickly. This is why I never solicit with sample chapters agencies that ask for only a cover letter and/or synopsis.

If you squirrel away time to read the slush pile, then God bless you and you go, girl! But you're the exception, not the rule. Most agencies, in my long, long experience with them, tend to neglect them which is why the overwhelming majority of unpubbed authors wind up getting completely ignored. And the only reason I haven't submitted my novel American Zen to your agency is because you admitted on your website that your email client's filter sometimes screens out legitimate proposals. I had a chronic problem with one such agency last year and gave up on them.

And getting ignored goes for us who actually know how to write and know what we're doing. You have to somehow balance cost effectiveness with fairness to the author and, in that crucial balance, the author usually winds up holding the short straw.

Any agent will tell you the rejection rate is about 98% but that's not really as dismal as it sounds. Some major reasons for this that I've heard time and again from agents:

Submitting inappropriately. Some buy Jeff Herman's book, transcribe every address they find and scattershot their proposals to all 4 points of the compass without taking the time to research each agency's submission guidelines, whether or not they're accepting new clients, accept proposals from pre-pubbed writers or even handle their genre. You'd be amazed at how many people try to get their erotica past Christian non fiction publishers.

Two: Not respecting the submission guidelines. You simply don't send your entire ms over the transom either via snailmail or especially electronically (I've met exactly two US agents who welcome attachments, even though in the UK email and attachments are often welcome). Agents have enough to read and the old adage of time being money is never truer than in the world of literary representation. They simply cannot afford to hire enough assistants to read 400-500 page mss they never asked for and you can't squeeze 25 hours into a 24 hour sack.

Badly spelled- badly formatted proposals. If you can't spell your synopsis and query letter correctly (especially in the age of spellcheck), then it's a given your novel is full of more misspellings than a Tea Party rally. It doesn't give the prospective agent a secure feeling that you care about your craft.

And when the agent asks for some biographical information or specific information about your proposal, ignoring such questions also makes the agent suspicious you're lazy about doing your research or have something to hide.

These are just some of the major reasons accounting for that 98% rejection rate. Submit appropriately, do your spadework research, go to each agency's website (if they have one and even if not, more often than not they'll tell Jeff Herman and you what they need) and never send them more or less than what they're prepared to handle.

Of course, chances are, you'll still get rejected but that's a given in this business unless your name is Sarah Palin or Joe the Plumber.

Susan J. Berger said...

Bless you! I am happy to know that someone reads the slush pile.
I am taking a whack at my first "adult novel" (I have published a couple of childrens books)
I know I am headed towards some lovely person's slush pile. I am going to look for representation from an agent who was born long enough ago to remember the sixties.
Have a fabulous weekend

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you, Jurassicpork. Over the years, I've gotten tons of agents to read my stuff based on an unsolicited query.

Based on your post, I'd say you're overthinking this. You won't send a query for fear it will get caught in someone's spam filter? How on earth does not sending a query benefit you?

I really don't think you need to spend all that much time researching agents and studying their guidelines. I am going to write the best possible query I can and then I'm going to send it out to everyone. I'm not going to customize it, because I don't think that matters. The agent will either like the pitch and story or they won't.

If an agent says they aren't taking new clients, I'll ignore that. I might be the exception, there's no benefit to not sending a query, and no really downside.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, the major reason for rejection isn't because a writer queried incorrectly, but because the agent doesn't think he can sell the material.

This is especially true with novels. It's a tough market now. I know one best selling author who has gotten out of the book business because it's too hard to sell and the advances have shrunk so low. I know agents who have folded up shop.

My wife keeps pushing me to get out of books and write video games instead.

--These are just some of the major reasons accounting for that 98% rejection rate.--

David F. Weisman said...

We need more agents who specialize in slush piles rather than referrals! The only thing that would make me happier is if you represented science fiction.

Anonymous said...

I've gotten a few referrals from agents who say my ms. "isn't right for them" for whatever reason but I think the agents consider those mss. as sloppy seconds. What do you think? So far none of these referrals have panned out so what's the point? Are the agents just trying to be nice and pass the buck? What do agents think of agent referrals? Are they considered rejects or not good enough? Just curious...

Anonymous said...

Sorry to ask a tangential question, but:

jurassicpork's comment prompted me to check his web page, which turns out to be little more than political screed full of hatred and vile language.

We all know agents (like prospective employers) check out potential clients online. I don't mean to pick on jurassicpork. Rather, this is an earnest question for Jessica:

When a prospective client's blog or website is full of political ranting (from the left or right), does this affect your decision to represent them, either negatively or positively?

5 Kids With Disabilities said...

I would think the variety of writing and the numbers of authors would be dependent upon slush piles. How else does any new writer get discovered?
Lindsey Petersen

anna said...

Great encouraging post!
There is actually a publisher that focuses on the Slush pile. www.slushpilreader.com.
I recently became a member to the site and have submitted my manuscript and made some friends to discuss writing with in the process.
Cheers, Anna