Slush pile: the unsolicited manuscripts received by a publisher, often of dubious quality.
I’m familiar with slush piles from both sides. As a (very) minor author, I submit stories and poems to them. As one of the “first readers” for a science fiction magazine, I read through them, attempting to filter the wheat from the chaff.
Four years ago, Patricia Wrede wrote a blog about slush piles in the style of Judith Viorst’s childhood classic, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I wasn’t able to reblog it, so I’m giving a link so you can read it yourself. Please do. It’s hilarious.
The stack of manuscripts is two feet tall and even from here I can see that there’s a pile of pink pages in the middle and a smear down the side where somebody spilled coffee down it and I just know it is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad slush pile.
Wendy Glaas wrote “The Truth about the Slush Pile,” telling of her time as an intern for a literary agency.
I did take my sentinel duties seriously. At first, I imagined unearthing the next National Book Award winner or, at the very least, the next Twilight series. I’d find an unpolished gem for Kate Epstein, head of our agency. I’d make a name for my brilliant editorial and marketing instincts, for finding a fresh new narrative. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to discover that slush pile diving is far from glamorous.
Rachelle Gardner explains why writers whose stories never make it out of the slush pile so seldom find out “Why, Oh Why Did I Get Rejected?” The late Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote an article years ago well worth reading, “Why Did My Story Get Rejected?”
The truth about slush piles? Almost every author spends time there. There’s no shame to it, so dive right in with the rest of us. If your story is neatly composed (spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.) and set in the proper format (most publishers prefer Shunn’s manuscript format), you stand a fighting chance. If it’s misspelled, formatted oddly, or written in purple crayon, you’re reducing your odds of being taken seriously, even if you’re the reincarnation of Ernest Hemingway. Be patient. The magazine I’m a first reader for currently has over 600 stories in the slush pile, and almost all first readers have “real” jobs, as well as being writers themselves. Your story may be your top priority, but sorry, it isn’t the slush pile reader’s. Very few magazines can afford to hire full time slush pile divers; most rely on volunteers, friends, or people doing it for networking opportunities and petty cash. Remember, a perfectly good story may be rejected because it’s not right for that particular publisher. It may be exactly what another publisher is looking for. There are other markets. Re-submit it elsewhere. Submit it to as many slush piles as necessary. Persistence is as necessary a quality in a writer as proper proofreading.
Read Patricia Wrede’s books. They’re good. Really good.
Read my books. They’re not as good as hers, but I need the money.
Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid (e-book only) western short stories
R is for Renaissance Faire children’s book, a pictoral guide to RenFaires
Sword and Sorceress #30 containing my fantasy story “The Piper’s Wife”
Supernatural Colorado containing my horror story “Thank You, Thad”
Barbarian Crowns containing my fantasy stories “Vixen’s Song” and “Two Princes”
Feature Image: Patricia Wrede (image via Wikipedia by way of Google Images)