Writing Tips

My Special Relationship with Slush

I’ve never liked the term “slush” but I use it because everyone else does, it’s an easy word and sometimes it’s an appropriate description. Having written a couple “trunk” books myself, I find it offensive to refer to my work as slush–even though it’s far worse than slush (with muddy tire prints and, well, I won’t say it). Writers work hard and crafting those pages is extremely difficult, all to be called “slush.”

When I did research on publishing, I kept coming across phrases like, “you want to stand out from the slush pile” or “make sure you don’t wind up in the slush pile.” This slush pile sounded terrible! Why would I want my work to be in it? Then I decided to work on the other side of the desk.  Imagine my dismay when I was hired to read the slush pile at a certain romance publisher!

They put me in an office with a giant pile of slush.  Throughout the day, editors kept coming in and putting more manuscripts on my pile. It dawned on me: I get to read all day! And there’s the coffee/donut cart downstairs! I am the happiest person on Earth! My associations with the slush pile have been positive ever since. Slush is my old friend. It allows me to enjoy a cup of coffee and put up my feet for a few hours. Sometimes, I discover something great. The first time I cried in the office was over a piece of slush. It was very embarrassing but I’ll never forget the power of a good story.

I do have 4 dos and don’ts for those who have the great pleasure of being in a slush pile–which is everyone who submits since my publisher reads everything:

Keep your submission simple: cover letter, synopsis, manuscript. No lavender sprigs, chocolate, gorgeous ribbons, head shots, or resumes that are longer than your synopsis.

If submitting a hard copy, be sure to send a self-addressed stamped envelope.

I’m starting to accept electronic submissions just because it’s the thing now. I don’t like reading on a screen but I do and it’s easier for the writer and saves trees. Can I help that I’m a paper person? Yes, I can. So when you do send electronically, send your work as an attachment.

If I send a rejection email, please try to avoid sending the follow-up, “but why did you reject it?” or “what else can I do to make it better?” or “at what page did you stop reading?” email, etc… The answer to these is: I don’t know. I might have read the submission a few weeks ago and am just getting around the responding. E-mail makes it very easy to continue a back-and-forth, one that rarely happened when submissions always came on paper. Unfortunately, I just don’t have time to critique all the submissions. There is so much to read.

I’ll leave you with a few secrets about my slush pile:

I always look forward to reading from it. Many of my colleagues do, too. It’s a nice break and we all love to read.

From the first couple pages, I know whether or not the submission will work. Some stories, though, are slow builds so I’ll skip to the middle and then read the end. It is mostly about the writer’s skill than the story itself. But I do read everything that I receive.

Okay, this one’s a doozy–sometimes I read from the slush pile before anything because it’s pressure-free. I don’t need to edit it, approve it, or critique it. I just have to read–no stress unless I’m overdue on answering. I used to have one “reading” pile with my authors’ work mixed in with slush (quel scandal!). Now I do separate the piles because I have an enormous bookshelf and want to make it look as if I need all the space.  I do, right? Because after this post I’m going to receive more slush. Right?