Is the Slush Pile Really Dead?

The Wall Street Journal recently had an article entitled, “The Death of the Slush Pile.” (Jan. 15, 2010) As I read the article, I couldn’t keep from asking, is the slush pile really dead?

The “slush pile” is basically another name for the enormous stacks that used to accumulate on editor desks or floors consisting of unsolicited manuscripts authors would send with the hopes of getting "discovered."

Many years ago, when I first started writing, I remember trudging to the post office with my books and paying to mail them along with a SASE for the dreaded return. I knew my rubber-banded sheets would eventually make their way to a publishing house to a sky-scraper high stack, where they would sit until a harried editor gave them a quick glance.

The Wall Street Journal article said, “Now, slush is dead, or close to extinction.” Most major publishing houses no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts, not even emails. If writers call a publishing house like Simon & Schuster, they’d get an automated message that says something like, “Submissions must come to us via a literary agent due to the large volume of submissions we receive each day.”

The article went on to say the slush pile “has been transferred from the floor of the editor’s office to the attache cases of representatives who can broker introductions to publishing.”

In other words, the slush pile isn’t dead. It’s just moved location—it’s moved to the agent’s office. And not only has the slush pile moved location, it’s also no longer a “pile.” It’s a file, on a hard drive.

So, yes, in the traditional sense, the slush pile is indeed dead. But I want to propose that it’s still very much alive. Those of us querying agents can testify to the reality of the new slush file.

Stephanie Meyer author of Twilight, sent 15 query letters and got 10 rejections. One of those rejections came after she’d already signed with an agent and received a three book deal from Little Brown.

My book, The Preacher’s Bride (releasing in the fall), sat in Rachelle Gardner’s slush file for nearly 9 months. She had requested the full but didn’t pull it from her hard drive until I finaled in the Genesis Contest. Then she read it and subsequently offered me representation.

I’m sure we can all point to countless other examples of manuscripts languishing in slush piles. It still happens all the time. Agents are not only overwhelmed by the numbers of queries they receive, but then struggle to wade through the requested manuscripts that perked their attention.

What does all of this mean for us as writers?

1. Waiting in a slush pile is part of the process. It’s easy to get discouraged when we end up waiting for weeks, even months to hear back from agents. But remember, most of us have done our time in the slush (or are in the process of doing it). Look at it as part of the initiation into a writing career.

2. We can’t let slush piles determine our worth. Just because a manuscript isn’t picked up right away doesn’t mean it won’t go on to be published and have great sales. In other words, the slush pile time has nothing to do with the future success of a book. When our manuscripts sit, we get discouraged and begin to question our writing ability and our books, but we need to remember time in a slush pile is not indicative of our quality.

3. If our stories are good enough, they’ll rise to the top of the pile. . .eventually. Fortunately agents and editors are still looking for talented and well-crafted books. They want to find those gems within the pile. That should encourage us--if we continue to grow in our writing and ability to tell great stories, we’ll get noticed.

What do you think? Is the slush pile really dead? Have you done your time in a slush pile yet? What was your experience?

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