Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Time for a Serious Post: Slush

Okay, after my epic fangirliness from the past two posts, I think I need to simmer down a bit with a topic of interest to my 17 readers (I love you guys, by the way).

Since we are mostly comprised of writers here, I thought SLUSH would be the perfect topic to bring us back to reality. So here goes...

Slush: an aspiring author's hopes and dreams squeezed into a one-page query letter and dumped into a cyber-stack (sometimes a physical stack, in the case of snail mail) of other aspiring authors' hopes and dreams.

Who reads slush? Depending on the practice of the literary agency or publishing company, your readers will be either interns, agents, or editors.

What are they looking for? Well, after reading several Publishers Marketplace agency summaries, I feel somewhat qualified to answer this (bullet-style, of course):

  • Compelling premise
  • Tight plot
  • Unique/strong voice
  • Interesting, well-rounded characters
  • Brilliant hook
  • Marketability (this isn't usually listed in their literature, but it's a no-brainer)
  • No typos, grammatical, spelling, or punctuation problems

Beyond that, there are specific tastes to consider:

  • Do they represent children's books or adult novels? Both?
  • Do they hate hard science fiction and love paranormal plots? Or do they accept only memoirs?
  • Are there formatting considerations? (graphic novels, illustrations, etc.)
  • and, perhaps most importantly, what type of query will they accept? Synopsis? First 3-10 pgs?
Before we query, we have to discover all these unique preferences for each and every agent on our WANTED list. Otherwise, we face the risk of an automatic query fail. And nobody wants an automatic fail (take it from somebody who had to take her driver's test three times at age 20).

So the key to breaking out of the slush pile is simple: knowledge.

I said it was simple, but I didn't say it wasn't unendingly difficult, too. Finding all this knowledge, even with the brilliant resources on the web (querytracker.net and agentquery.com, to name two), is extremely time-consuming.

But it is necessary. Besides, as authors, we will have to learn to manage our time to balance writing, editing, promoting, and otherwise living. Might as well start learning that balance now.

There. I promised you a dose of reality and there it is. If you're feeling kind of down, mosey on over to....

SLUSHPILE HELL: a fun little blog making fun of querying writers who we hope aren't us.

Update: Check out Amparo Oritz's 10 Step Program for the Query Wuss for another fun list.


  1. How awesome is it that we're both talking queries today?? This is a great recap of what it takes to get your work out there. I'm still not swimming with the query sharks, but hope to soon. This gives me the sense that I've done my homework (I think...).

    Thanks for the link, by the way!

  2. Great minds think alike? Or maybe all writers obsess over the same things!! :-) I really loved your 10 Steps, and am definitely a Query wuss. I just started querying this week after your insightful input on my ms. Now I want to crawl back into my revision cave just to avoid the potential rejection.

    But there is something fun about it, too--that little bit of hope.


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