Dec 06 2009

Escaping the Slush Pile

Published by at 8:27 am under The Publishing Industry,Writing a Query

The Rejectionist talks some more about reviewing the slush pile, a vast collection of unsolicited query letters explaining why the company should publish the author’s novel.

“After years as a slush reader in various aspects of the industry, I am quick to recognize and dispatch; I can often tell within the first sentence if a query will be any good, and I am now so ruthlessly efficient that I can blow through an inbox of 50 e-mails in half an hour, sometimes rejecting submissions within moments of their arrival…

Rendered in a labyrinthine and frequently unintelligible grammar, the truly awful query is often notable for its length, its torrid verbosity, and the mechanical specificity of its sex scenes, which tend to read like appliance-repair manuals in their exhaustive and emotionless depictions of moving parts. The bad query’s sentence sometimes resembles a battlefield wherein subjects hack it out desperately with adjectives, perennially besieged by legions of unwieldy adverbs. Apostrophes go on suicide missions and commas appear at random. Formatting tends to be interpretive; it is not uncommon to find e-mails that are 50 pages long, are bright pink, contain pictures of the author on vacation, or are written in Papyrus.”

I think that every prospective author should know about the process through which his work will be evaluated, whether he’s writing about superheroes or space slugs.  However, please don’t let exotic failure stories and the generally unforgiving nature of the business scare you away.  Here are a few brief rules of thumb to keep your query letter on track.

1. You are writing a business letter to a skeptical, time-strapped professional.  For more thoughts about communicating with them, see this.

2. Your goal is to convince him or her that your book is awesome enough to sell thousands of copies.

3. They’ve heard every possible variation of “I’ve just written an awesome book” and rejected at least 99% of them. Telling them your book is awesome is not good enough.  You need THEM to decide the book sounds awesome.  Show, don’t tell.  Lay out your plot in a way that they want to keep reading.  “John Lee is a detective investigating a murder” sounds cliche and boring. “John Lee is a poisoned detective that has two days to solve his own murder” sounds a lot more interesting.  Give enough information to intrigue them.

4. Different publishers have different tastes.  Make sure you submit to publishers that are well-suited to your manuscript.

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