The Slush Pile (no, it’s not an ice cream).
It’s a wonderful fantasy I have had for more years than I care to remember. My agent calls me to tell me they have sold my latest book for some outrageous amount of money, and there is talk of a movie deal. We would laugh and joke and he, but more often he was a she, would ask me what else I am working on. She would, of course, be enthralled at the five minute outline I give to her. The trouble is; that’s about when I wake up.
Imagine being a new author, brimming with the afterglow of finishing that first epic book, which naturally has best seller written all over it. You’ve reached that point, of knowing it’s finished, done, dusted and couldn’t possibly be made any better. What’s next, is the question, what indeed? Well, you want that fantasy of the agent calling you, so where do you find him, or her? Clearly once they read your masterpiece they will beg you for the rights, in fact, why not be smart and submit it to half a dozen and get them in a bidding war? What could be simpler?
Fortunately we have the internet, so you google literary agents and there are loads of them, you beauty! You ask yourself if you should resign your job now or wait until the first advance royalty cheque comes in, hmm best wait, just in case.
One click and you are on an agency web site and great news; they just love discovering new authors! Across the top you see a tab marked submission guidelines. As the page is loading you wonder why you didn’t do this years ago. If today is not your lucky day, you may well see an apology that they are just so busy representing all of the other bestselling writers, they no longer take unsolicited submissions. Its ok, though, there are hundreds of others. The next one in fact says they do read submissions, but if they don’t want it, they may not even tell you. That can’t be right, surely? What, you have to wait and wait for a reply that may never come? Let’s look at the next one……………..
This post isn’t about feeling sorry for the poor struggling writer, no. It’s about feeling sorry for the poor overworked agents. You see they have to deal with the dreaded (cue horror movie music) Slush Pile. That’s what they call the unending stream of book proposals that come across their littered desks, and takes up valuable coffee cup space. You see, as they will sometimes take great pains to point out, they only take on two or three, well four at a pinch, new authors a year, but they get hundreds of queries, so you better make damn sure your book is the masterpiece you believe it to be.
Its ok, confidence is still high, all those other writers can’t possibly write as well as you do, you laugh and scoff as you read exactly how they would like the next New York Times Bestseller presented to them.
Well some won’t open attachments, because people send all sorts of bugs like that, so everything has to be in the body of the email………….what? A whole hundred thousand plus word manuscript copied and pasted into the body of an email? Oh hang on, reading further you see they only want a letter, called a ‘query’ telling them about yourself, a summation of your book, why you are the best one to write it, and how are YOU going to promote it. The summation, you horrifyingly read should be no more than three paragraphs, and it’s about then your blood turns to ice water, and you get the shakes.
They cannot possibly be serious, a hundred thousand words described in three paragraphs? Can’t be done, what are they mad? Oh hang on; they will also take the first ten to fifty pages. You begin to wonder if these morons are even interested in taking on bestselling authors like you because you know better than anyone in your tome the reader doesn’t get into the characters in the way they should until chapter four, when the man is outside banging on the window, holding a severed head and the woman whose husband is working nights can’t get the phone to work to call the police to come to the isolated farm house she lives in.
Let’s check the next web site, maybe they will be better suited to the book you’ve spent four months honing. Hmm they are the same, and the next, and the next. Oh here’s one will take attachments, you breathe a sigh of relief until you read they still only want the first three chapters, and that’s underlined, so they must be serious.
Would you, dear reader, believe there are loads of books out there on the subject………………’How to write a query letter’, to help you snare an agent. It’s only $4.95 too for the E book, bargain. It’s been published so you know they CAN write a letter to catch that agents eye. But here’s the thing, I’ve read three of them, and they are all different! Who knew it was so subjective. Basically you have one page to sell yourself, your marketing plan and of course, don’t forget the book. Its ok though, because you are an author, and if there’s one thing you can do, it’s write.
When you’ve stopped the tears of sheer fright, frustration, and angst, you do your best and write a query letter, and you send it off to six agents, rub your hands together, and wait. Within 24 hours you get two polite rejection emails, and you think that was quick, did they even read it? Are they bonkers? Good job there are four others who are going to get into that bidding war.
Next day there is another rejection…..and that’s it. The other three you never hear back from and you console yourself thinking they must be just so busy, it’s a good job there are so many others. You send of another six, thinking; this time…..
Three months later you look at your query letter, hmmm, well maybe you could write it a bit better, you change this and that, proof read it, take out a paragraph, add two more, now it’s perfect, and you see where you went wrong, and another three months go by but still no agent banging on your door.
There is one question foremost on your mind: ‘Just how deep is this slush pile?’