slush pile is very important. Most writers are aware of what "slush"
is – unsolicited manuscripts submitted to a publisher. They often believe that
editors hate slush – but that's just not true.
is a publisher's lifeline- they all need new writers. True, many new authors who
are picked up are agented, but if an editor reads a really good book they won't
care who's representing it. At the publishing house I work for we are positively
encouraged to read slush and to recruit new writers. Editors are given
incentives for picking up new authors.
what happens to manuscripts once they're sent to a publisher? I can't speak for
all publishers, but I will try to explain to some extent, what happens in one.
day all unsolicited (and solicited) manuscripts, partials, query letters and
synopsis letters are logged into a huge database. Authors are then informed that
their manuscript has been received, and will now be looked at. All the editorial
staff are on a rota, so that once every couple of weeks, they are allocated a
whole day's slush and query letters to work through. The database allows us to
keep track of what the writer has sent in and when, and which editor has been
given their material. Once the slush is given to a particular editor it is
generally up to them to find the time to look at it.
sometimes groups get together to work through any backlog that might have built
up. The editors can then bounce questions off on one another, or ask for second
opinions on some material. If one editor has a lot more slush than another, or
is getting behind, it's shared out so that the author will get a reply in a
decent period of time.
if a manuscript is good, it frequently needs revision and than has to be
accepted by both the senior editor of that imprint and the editorial director
before a contract can be set up. If a manuscript is rejected, authors are sent a
form rejection letter unless the editor has the inclination to write a personal
letter – for example, if they have time and want to encourage a particular
the presentation side there are several things which effect an editor's
judgement of a submission, as I'm sure many writers will have read in various
self-help writing books. Hand-written submissions are a big no-no, but they
still happen. Editors won't reject a hand-written letter (or even, gasp,
manuscript) on sight, but it won't predispose them to thinking good things about
your novel, and it also suggests that the writer isn't particularly
presentation issues include spacing. Double line spacing is the norm, but I do
understand why some writers choose to submit work in single line spacing. After
all, the resulting work will use up less paper and be cheaper to post. But it's
really hard to read page after page of single line spaced work, especially if
you spend a large part of the working day reading. It's the lack of white space
on the page that makes text look unappealing as well as difficult to read.
Forgetting to either indent paragraphs or use paragraph breaks can also cause
the same problem.
writers go over the top in an effort to impress with presentation. They invest
in beautiful binding and illustrated covers. There wouldn't necessarily be
anything wrong with this, but really, as long as the manuscript is clean and
readable, an editor is unlikely to be impressed by anything else. They may
however, think "who are they trying to impress?" or worse "If
they've spent so much time on this, it might be because the writing's
awful." Unfair maybe – but remember – you want prospective editors
looking at your words not your cover!
letters come in many forms. It's easier to say what makes a cover letter bad,
rather than what makes one good. Arrogance is perhaps the biggest offence
(although confidence can be used successfully). Countless letters arrive
claiming that the author is presenting "the most readable book ever,"
that the publisher "can't afford to turn this one down" etc, etc. This
is not going to impress anyone. After all, even if this were true, the most
readable book ever may not fit into a publisher's imprint. The one the publisher
can't afford to miss? Maybe a similar plot is already scheduled, and so actually
they can't afford to publish a similar one.
should be short. Editors I've spoken to prefer 1- 3 pages maximum. Once they get
longer than this the temptation, for the editor, is to jump straight into the
manuscript, without any idea of what it's aiming for. It's also best to include
the entire plot in the synopsis rather than start where the story has left off
at the end of your submitted partial. However, editors are aware that good
writers do not necessarily make good synopsis writers and should always look at
the material you've submitted before making their assessment.
else should you watch out for? I would recommend always sending enough postage
for the publisher to return your manuscript (or else state that you don't want
it back). It is an expensive process for the slush author, but for publishers
who are deluged by unsolicited manuscripts it can be even worse, and they want
to save their money for writers they actually publish. Also, once your
manuscript has been submitted, don't expect an immediate reply. Although slush
is vital to publishers who need good, new authors, it is still usually looked at
once everything with a deadline has been dealt with – editors are busy people.
After four months or so it is worth querying the office, but before then you may
just cause annoyance. And if your manuscript has been gone a long time, don't
worry too much. Good submissions usually take longer to read than bad ones,
simply because bad ones can often be assessed and then rejected within a few
chapters. The editor who takes the time to read a whole manuscript is likely to
have seen some promise in it, even if they eventually reject it.
can't give advice on how to write a novel – that depends on far too many
things, for example the publisher or the genre – but I hope that this
editorial view of the slush process will give writers an insight into how
unsolicited manuscripts are really viewed and what the common pitfalls are when