WSJ Article “Death of the Slushpile”
January 15, 2010 | Written by admin
An interesting piece in today's WALL STREET JOURNAL. If you don't get the printed version, you can read it online, though you may have to register to finish the article. It's worth it.
Given our consistent position on the importance of marketing, and the last post by our guest, Laura Adams of Storyteller Public Relations, this seemed especially relevant:
"These days, you need to deliver not just the manuscript but the
audience," says Mr. [Jim] Levine [of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency]. "More and more, the mantra in publishing is
'Ask not what your publisher can do for you, ask what you can do for
And, personally, given a recent decision I've made regarding my own slush pile (aka query backlog), I was especially struck by the following paragraphs:
The agent says she receives 30 unsolicited e-mails a day from
writers and people she doesn't know who are pushing unknown writers,
and she hits "delete" without opening. These days, she is taking on few
"baby writers," she says, adding that risks she would have taken five
years ago she won't today. "I'll take very few shots on a new voice.
It's tough out there right now," she says.
Book publishers say it is now too expensive to pay employees to read
slush that rarely is worthy of publication. At Simon & Schuster, an
automated telephone greeting instructs aspiring writers: "Simon &
Schuster requires submissions to come to us via a literary agent due to
the large volume of submissions we receive each day. Agents are listed
in 'Literary Marketplace,' a reference work published by R.R. Bowker
that can be found in most libraries." Company spokesman Adam Rothberg
says the death of the publisher's slush pile accelerated after the
terror attacks of 9/11 by fear of anthrax in the mail room.
There was a brief mention in the article about the loss of agents. Add to this that editorial positions
have been downsized and publishing spots have narrowed and you'll see an equation which results in very full in-boxes all over. More work for fewer people with less opportunity for success.
I'm not complaining. It's just the way it is. And I think writers would even agree that digging through the slush pile is just not the most efficient place to look for such success.
We receive the majority of submissions via email, so obviously anthrax isn't a threat. Still, I have consistently begun hitting "delete" when I receive unfamiliar emails. It's not that I don't want to discover the likes of Stephenie Meyer or Judith Guest. We all love a good Cinderella story; the Susan Boyles of the world.
It's just that we don't have a staff of wannabes droning around in the basement culling possibilities from the randomly sent queries we receive. We do have an assistant, Amanda, who has a good eye and helps wade through the submissions we receive from folks WHO FOLLOW OUR SUBMISSION PROCESS. And even then, no promises. I know it stinks and isn't "fair". Sorry. Again, it's just the way it is.
For the last couple years I've retained most of unread queries in a "maybe" file thinking I'd have lull time at some point and could get back through them. All the while, my "slush pile" has continued to grow, and I have continued going to bed at night feeling behinder and behinder.
I've recently given myself a swift kick in my own behinder, and come to the realization that there is no coming lull. And since I don't have a query fairy who works through the night while I toss and turn, I've decided it's time to burn my slush pile.
I simply feel the need to clear the decks and create more mental space to pursue
success with the authors I already represent and those I'll likely meet
at conferences and via referral in the future.
So, if you've not heard from me to this point in regard to a query you sent sometime in the last two years, the likelihood is that you won't. Sorry. If I've missed a gem, that's on me. And, if you've found representation or publication after having queried – but not heard from – me, please feel free to let me know – if that is important to you. I will be nothing but excited for you, and would like to know about your success.
And if any reading editor might be willing to share a slush pile tale, let me know if you'd like to contribute your thoughts about the process as a guest blogger.