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The Slush Pile Slump Syndrome

Waiting is one of the hardest parts of the publication process. No matter where we’re at, we all have to wait. We have to wait for an agent to make a decision on our query, for an editor to look at our proposal, or a publisher to renew our contract. Maybe we’re waiting for contest results or sales figures that tell us we earned out our advance.

Waiting is unavoidable and it doesn’t end when we get an agent or book contract. It’s a continual part of the professional writer’s life.

However, with that said, I have to admit that the slush pile wait is one of the hardest types of waits a writer must go through. At least it was for me.

For many of us, querying is the beginning of venturing out of our writing isolation, putting our precious books out there, testing if our writing skills and stories are ready for publication. So when we get a nibble from an agent—any sign of interest—our hopes escalate. The request for a partial or a full fills us with excitement, because maybe—just maybe—we have what it takes.

We send off our manuscript to the requesting agent with trembling fingers and wildly thumping hearts. But then something happens we didn’t expect (or at least secretly hoped wouldn’t happen to us). We end up waiting, and waiting, and waiting . . . for weeks, then perhaps months. We can’t help but wonder if the agent lost our manuscript or made a decision and then forgot to tell us.

The reality is that our manuscript is still sitting in an enormous slush pile, and the harried agent just can’t find enough time in the day to get to it.

So we fall into what I call the “Slush Pile Slump Syndrome” or SPSS. How do we know if we suffer from SPSS? Here are a few signs:

• When you check email every 5 minutes just in case the agent has finally made a decision.

• When you follow the agent so closely on Twitter you have their daily schedule memorized.

• You decide to name your next child after the agent because it’s the name you think about most.

• You send the agent a Christmas present—and sign it “to my agent to-be.”

• You start eating chocolate and drinking coffee at every meal to prove that you’re a real writer.

All humor aside, the slush pile wait is incredibly difficult. In order to avoid catching SPSS, here are a few things to keep in mind:

An agent’s decision does not determine our worth. Yes, an agent’s praise can validate we’re on track. But we have to remember if they say no, that doesn’t mean we stink and that our story will never sell. Plenty of agents turned down The Preacher’s Bride, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t saleable.

Connect with the agent on Twitter or through blogging. Leave comments. Retweet their links. Increase your online presence so that agents can’t help but see your name and wonder about you. Be friendly, but professional. However, be careful not to come across as desperate or obnoxious.

While waiting, keep writing. The very best thing we can do once our manuscript is in the slush pile is to start working on the next book. Not only does it divert our attention, but it also helps us continue to grow in writing skill. Besides, if the agent decides she likes our writing but doesn't think she can sell our slush pile story, we’ll have another one ready to give her.

Look for ways to get an advantage. One of the best ways to get recognition is to final in a contest. My final in a national contest helped propel my manuscript to the top of my agent’s slush pile. Another advantage is to get an endorsement or recommendation from one of the agent’s clients (this usually only works if you’re already friends).

No matter what we do to alleviate the stress, the slush-pile wait is downright difficult. If nothing else, we can look at the wait as one more part of the process that toughens us and prepares us for the long waits and difficult days that are still to come in the life of a professional writer.

What about you? Have you ever had to wait in a slush pile? And have you ever caught the Slush Pile Slump Syndrome? (Tell us your what you did during your slump!) What did you do to pull yourself out?

P.S. There's still time to enter the Christmas gift drawing for The Preacher's Bride! Click here for rules and to enter the giveaway.

35 comments:

  1. For me, the only way to handle the wait and the rejection is to be writing and excited about something new!

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  2. Thanks for the great post! SPSS. This was funny and informative, Jody. Awesome!
    Yes, and waiting I realize is the name of the game. I tell me husband all the time - P in publishing really stands for patience!

    Have a happy holiday!

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  3. Love that Bonnie! The P in publishing most definitely stands for patience! :-)

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  4. Yes! The waiting is so tough. My manuscript sat in the slush pile for almost a year before I received a contract, but I see that God used that time to prepare me for the adventure I'm on now :)

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  5. I'm querying. I had stopped after a few queries to rework mine. With the help of the AWESOME Scott Mitchell (Please don't tell him I said that.:) I finally have a great query. It's been tested, proven. :)

    But this is a great post. I especially love connecting with the agent. Sweet idea. :)

    As far as what I'm doing while waiting, I'm writing and writing some more. Awesome post, Jody.

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  6. These are great tips!
    I haven't had to wait in the slush pile yet, but when I do I know I will be anxious. I will try to remember this advice:)

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  7. Are yous talkin' to me? (I could begin every comment like this.)

    You crack me up! I know this stage well. God is teaching me so much during it and I remain encouraged and hopeful.

    Meanwhile, I write, pray, read, and keep learning.

    And in a little over a week I'll kayak near manatees. So there's my solution...kayak near manatees. ;)

    ~ Wendy

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  8. So that's what you call this disease I have! When an agent requested a full, then rejected it, I became depressed and KNEW my manuscript was worthless. I stopped querying altogether and focused on blogging for a while. I've had so much fun blogging that I'm over the worst of SPSS and am starting to think I might should pull out the old manuscript again. (It's a slow and painful journey, for sure.)

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  9. What a fun and informative post. The list of symptoms cracked me up. You offer great tips for dealing with SPSS.

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  10. Hilarious! And so true. Great post!

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  11. Well, if the amount of chocolate I consume is any indication, I've got it, and I've got it bad. ;)

    Thanks for the laugh this morning, Jody. At least I know I'm not alone. Now excuse me while I check my e-mail...

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  12. I've been waiting over 12 weeks to hear back from two particular agents. One of them has a full, and the other has a partial. I sent a "status update" email at the end of 12 weeks and immediately heard back from one agent that she is behind. I've yet to hear anything back from the other. The holidays and the fact I'm revising one book while working on another is what's keeping me from going absolutely insane. LOL!

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  13. Yep, I'm waiting right now. I slowed down on the checking e-mail thing several weeks back. Fortunately I've been busy with other family things that have come up so I haven't really felt like I'm waiting that much. But I'm still keeping myself busy with new story ideas in the meantime.

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  14. I am not sure why, but the waiting hasn't been excruciating lately. Maybe it's because I've kept myself busy with the holidays and I've been thinking about what else to do to keep building the career. I like all of the things you list, Jody. I've also been spending a lot of time thinking about my blog and the direction I want my branding to go. The most important thing in our writing career is definitely our stories, but I believe agents are looking for a complete package as well, and that includes the other stuff.

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  15. Great post on the waiting process. Is that harder than the rejections you get right away? I would think so but not by much.

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  16. The waiting can be excruciating. Thanks for a humorous look at one of the more agonizing parts of writing.

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  17. I've waited years in some slush piles. Not recommended for sanity's sake.

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  18. I just started writing, after thinking maybe I could write, perhaps I should write, gosh I really love to write (and read), and possibly... I waited for years before I started writing! Now I am waiting for some directions in my life (mostly through prayers...
    then interviews), and found this generally helpful not just for the slush pile of agents but life as well. Thanks for taking the time to share.

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  19. Holly asked: Is that harder than the rejections you get right away?

    My Answer: Holly, rejections are very hard too! The waiting, however, is a lot of vascilating, wondering if you're good enough or if you still need to put in more time to get your work up to publishable quality. The uncertainty of it can drive us crazy if we let it!

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  20. The only thing I can do is focus on my next project, and have lots of other activities scheduled, for instance I might spend some time writing something new, and some time revising something else. That way, I don't have time to think about the wait. And I don't feel like everything hangs on the one project thats been submitted.

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  21. Hi Jody, we must have been thinking about the same thing this weekend. I also blogged about the wait on my weekly Monday Muse. The post is titled "The Place of Preparation" (www.memphiswrites.blogspot.com). During my long waits last fall and into the spring, I wrote more (shorter) manuscripts. During my present wait, I am blogging and trying to encourage other authors. As Ellen Gilchrist said, waiting is the biggest part of being a writer. So we might as well make that time productive. BTW, I will be in touch with you soon for an interview. Thanks for the extra encouragement.

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  22. ahh... there's a name for it! I'm sort of half in-half out as I got a request for revisions from an agent and now I'm waiting for the final verdict. And it's still hellish! worse maybe... But I agree that writing while you wait is best. Right now I'm working with Critters on that completed MS and giving back by critting myself. It's a great distraction! Sort of. :D <3

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  23. I am definitely at the 'I think they forgot about me' phase. Since I got e-mails confirming receipt, I know it was received.

    Maybe I'll send out more queries and add to my angst.

    Good and timely post.

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  24. To M Pax: I assumed an agent had either rejected me or forgotten me after nearly a year, since I had received confirmation of receipt of the ms. However, I decided to make contact and found out that the ms got lost in cyberspace or in the agent's reading queue, and I was given the opportunity to resubmit. I informed the agent that I had several smaller works in progress since the time of the initial query, and I was given the opportunity to submit those as well. I am now waiting to hear back again...so it won't hurt to make contact if it's been several months.

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  25. Timely post, Jody! This morning I received a rejection for the one query that was sent out six weeks ago. It wasn't a true query because I'd met the agent at a conference and already knew she would pass on representation. But she had indicated she would like to see the material anyway and perhaps offer some suggestions. Since that's rare, I was looking forward to her response... only to find she'd apparently forgotten her offer and replied with only a rejection. That was disappointing.


    Waiting and wondering can be nervewracking, but they're both passive things. I'd rather actively focus on what I have control over... writing, record-keeping, reading, and tasks such as tidying my office (never-ending). At the moment there are also Christmas preparations. In the New Year I have a new direction to pursue but right now I don't have anything else in the submission queue.

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  26. Oh, I've been in the slush pile many times and it was brutal! The third book I submitted directly to an editor sat in a slush pile for a full year. And I got to a point where I hoped it just got lost in the shuffle (I was learning a lot of craft at that time!). Imagine my surprise when I finally did get a rejection on it, but the rejection was full of nice things about my writing.

    All of my experiences with waiting in the slush pile helped me get good at waiting. I have more patience then I used to, that's for sure!

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  27. Ha! SPSS is so painful, but those are great tips! Thanks!

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  28. Sadly, I fit into all of your bullet points. Is it really so bad to want to gift someone with 100 dollar Starbuck gift cards? ;) I jest. A little.

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  29. When I was querying I focused on the next project as best I could. And now, with a book on submission, I'm doing the same. Someone up in the comments said the P in publishing is for patience. I like that :-)

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  30. Ah Jody, how do you always know what I'm going through? :) Love these suggestions. I suspect I'll be putting them to good use with the holidays slowing everyone down more than normal.

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  31. Yep, been there, done that--and I'm there now, waiting....waiting...

    The only cure for obsessive email checking and knuckle biting and insecure flutters in the tummy is to focus on your NEXT writing project. That's what I'm doing, concentrating on my WIP. :o)

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  32. I'm there now, but not suffering too badly, mainly because of the 2 week old baby I have next to me, kinda keeps my mind off of it, although one of my crit partners is suffering for me.

    I have two fulls out from requests from conference. One agent asked for two people from my table to send in stuff. (Me and the lady next to me) and I saw a few weeks ago that the agent offered representation to the lady next to me. So here I am, going by odds, how likely would she ask 2 of the 9people at the table for submissions and offer both representation? So I guess that's my small symptom, by odds, I'm guessing I'm out. :)

    Well, Baby's demanding food, no dwelling on symptoms!

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  33. Maybe all agents should have the same auto response on their email.
    Abandon hope all who enter here. LOL

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  34. Oh, I've waited in the slush plenty! Sometimes I'll get a response from someone I'd completely forgotten about since it's been so long.

    I work through it by writing! I have several nonfiction projects and queries out there. I'm also revising a novel (soon to be querying). There's a lot going on, so I don't focus on one submission too long!

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  35. Great post and I can definitely relate to the checking of email every 5 minutes (or 5 seconds...!). I;ve been writing professionally for almost 2 years and the syndrome never really goes away.

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