Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How to Avoid the Slush Pile

Wow, Tuesday was an absolute nightmare in the Chicago area. Freezing rain and snow left the streets and sidewalks in a deplorable condition, making it hazardous to walk or drive.

I mentioned some of my difficulties in my Double M blog on Tuesday at, but today I'd like to examine my experience not from a civilian, but from a writer's point of view.

When I arrived in Downtown Chicago yesterday, much of the ice and snow I had encountered in my own suburb had already turned to slush. I still remember an incident over 40 years ago (yes, I'm that old) when one of the staff members at the law firm where I worked went out to lunch, slipped in the slush and ended up with a broken wrist. That put her out of condition for quite a while. Fortunately, she did recover and was able to resume her normal duties.

A manuscript slush pile is just as perilous for a writer. If a manuscript lands in such a pile, it may emerge after a tediously long wait, or it may never come out of it.

How do we make sure our manuscripts avoid such a fate? Is there any way to avoid a slush pile? I don't know all the answers, but here are some:

  • Submit your manuscript to a specific editor or agent, the one who handles the type of material you write. Do your homework first by questioning published authors in that genre, checking the Internet for updated information on websites, or by consulting such writing resources as Writer's Market.

  • Know the current market. This goes hand-in-hand with the first suggestion, but is more specific. If you have a manuscript in a currently popular genre, submit it everywhere you can think of that handles that genre. You may be surprised by a quick sale.

  • Pitch your manuscript to an editor or publisher at a conference. If you receive a go-ahead to submit a manuscript, make sure to write "Requested Material" on the envelope. In many cases, but not all, that will get your manuscript into a higher position at the editor or agent's office. On a side note, about the pitching process, concentrate on your main manuscript first. If the editor or agent asks if you have something else to offer, be ready to pitch that one also. Sometimes two book deals result, or perhaps the publication of the second manuscript instead of the first.

  • Enter a writing contest where the last round is judged by an editor or agent. If your partial happens to be one of the finalists or the winner of the contest, the editor or agent may request to see its entirety. When it arrives at the office, the editor or agent will be more receptive to reading something they liked before. That puts you a step ahead of other hopefuls.

Yes, navigating around the slush piles is a tricky business, but if you handle it with finesse, you just might arrive at your desired destination -- publication.

1 comment:

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Pitching an editor at a conference is a superb idea! I remember Catherine Coulter telling a group that, and she added to have a friend take a picture of you with the editor and include it with your letter - it might garner you an extra ten minutes of scrutiny!