Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ding-Dong The Slush is Dead

According to The Wall Street Journal, and folks they talked to, the Slush Pile is dead.

We all recognized that your chance of getting “found” in the slush pile was small, but it was a tiny candle of hope. Now most publishers (not counting small, regional or university presses) won’t read anything that doesn’t go through an agent, not even book proposals.

Part of the reason is that publishers were getting so many over the transom manuscripts, they were spending too much money hiring reader to cull through them. Part of the reason is also publishers having to fight plagiarism suits. Now you have to find an agent to represent you and be the go-between between you and a publishing house.
But today, writing talent isn't necessarily enough. It helps to have a big-media affiliation, or be effective on TV....

"These days, you need to deliver not just the manuscript but the audience," says Mr. Levine. "More and more, the mantra in publishing is 'Ask not what your publisher can do for you, ask what you can do for your publisher.'"
The article gives 5 pieces of advice in this era of the dead or dying slush pile:
1. Find an agent who's hungry—and "monetize."
2. Don't be a barista waiting for someone to stumble upon your genius.
3. Find another way in
4. Contests!
5. And buck up.
Are any of you still submitting directly to a publisher? Are you getting responses? Or does it feel like tossing paper into a black hole?
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  1. I was a slush pile gal...with both Midnight Ink and Penguin. I think I had a good case of luck on my side.

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  2. In Canada there are very few literary agents. The publishers recognize that and so, in the Great White North, the slush pile is alive and well.

  3. Going gets tough for literary agents

    The above was from The Guardian. Seemed kind of ironic, given the above. Although really everything is contracting.

    Never ventured over to look, but I think Baen has crowd-sourced their slush-pile pre-selection.

    Anyway... to get published it helps to be a celebrity? So to write and get published, ghost-write for celebrities. Simple.

  4. It's sad to think of all the wonderful books that do get lost in the slush pile. Sounds like there will be even more now. Maybe this will encourage agents to do more, one can only hope.

  5. I haven't done submitting to publishers in a while, but I did love the "don't be a barista" line.

    How do they suggest I eat and pay bills, I wonder... :)

  6. If I wasn't so busy trying to write, I think I'd want to be a slush pile reader! Too bad it appears to be a dying breed.

  7. I think this is America-specific (I've heard in Australia it is about 50% going through agents, and possibly less in the UK--since Canada has already been mentioned), but I think Americans have created this monster for ourselves (everybody thinks he or she can write)... it's a volume thing... just far too many people submitting, so it's impossible for publishers to wade through it all.

    I think the only part of this that really irks me is the ease with which celebrities can get in, talent be damned. But again... the market does that... a bunch of indiscriminating idiots buy even the most poorly written crap if someone famous wrote it. (so you can hardly blame the business driven publishers or agents--they are making money)

  8. There is still hope! I was in the slush pile, but having said that I really did my homework first and had my book read by an authors' advisory service. I also kept a constant eye on what was happening in publishing and took early advantage of what I saw as a new opportunity. Hard work, luck and timing all played a part, but I got there. Phew!

  9. If I allowed myself to focus on this, I'd bury myself under a pile of blankets and never lift a pen/laptop again. One has to have hope!

  10. Great link, Helen, and fascinating to read. I'm not sure if it's discouraging, or just that there is a major shift happening in how to travel that road to publication. Even with agents, I've read so often lately of debut authors who obtain representation, but it's never through an unsolicited query. It's a contest win, or connection, or platform. The unsolicited/slush seems to be fading quickly.

  11. With so many people writing books now it seems to be more difficult to get noticed. That means more work for the writer - building a platform, making contacts, attending conferences or other events where you can learn the craft and meet agents and editors. It's always been that way, but seems like today more is required of the author than before.

  12. Actual writing is only one small bit of the job. We have to be creative in all areas - in addition to the written word - or so it seems.

  13. It's a black hole experience for me. I'm fortunate to have a couple small traditional presses that will pub just about anything I write now, but if I want to ever get with the BIGS, looks like it's "get an agent" time as top priority over submitting uselessly to the big pub houses.

    Marvin D Wilson

  14. Submissions directly to the big publishers in the U.S. have been more difficult in recent years because of the demise of the mid-list. That is why so many small and university presses stepped in to fill that mid-list gap.

    I am currently looking for an agent to handle my humorous memoir and won't consider a direct submission until I see how the representation effort goes.

  15. I agree with all Watery Tart said. I've long since given up the dream of "making it." Instead, I focus on the journey, my love of writing and the discoveries I've made about myself and others along the way. I try to measure my success by what I've accomplished so far and not look for validation from some NY agent or publisher.

    Thanks for the post Helen.
    Karen Casey Fitzjerrell

  16. In Southern Africa we don't use agents at all. Just a handful of writers have them and that's mostly for overseas submissions. I submit everything directly to the publisher. I currently have books with five different publishers. I'm happy about this situation (though I've been told I shouldn't be as an agent is a gift from heaven)but it also gives me another job I love- I'm also a reader for a sixth publisher.

  17. Most small & mid-size publishers still don't require agents, which is fortunate. Of course, this still comes down to a problem as big as the slush pile - there's not enough agents to go around!

    Avoid the agent AND the slush pile - meet the editors at publishing houses in person at book events and get permission to send a solicited query!

    S. Africa sounds like a smart place to be...

  18. Lauri, what is a "sixth" publisher? You read for six publishers or does the "sixth" indicate a category of publisher?

    Hi Karen! Thanks for stopping by, girlfriend.

    Maryann, I hope you find the agent you're looking for.

  19. It has been going this way for a long, long time in the States. It's unfortunate, but true. However, there are so many wonderful indie presses with great opportunity that, while having the cachet of a large publisher is nice, it's not always necessary.


  20. Good post. I've been entering more contest cause I do see more and more of my friends getting representation that way. I also have submitted directly to a few small publishing houses but prefer to get an agent.

  21. I'm going to give the agent search another shot this year. But the way the publishing world is changing, it's hard to know what's coming next. Looks to me like new small publishers are springing up all over the place, which is a combination of opportunity and high risk. It's a curious business.

  22. I'm a Canadian so as has been mentioned it is somewhat different. Also, even though literary novelists are trying to get agents up here - mystery writers not so much. I am trying both - I have queries out to agents and to one publisher at a time. I know, I know - what a slow thing this is but even some of the agents whose sites I've gone to are closing up the gates and saying that they won't consider you unless you know someone in their stable -so you need an agent for an agent - spare me!

  23. Terri, you're right, contests can help, but check before entering to make sure it's the right one. Some folks have gotten representation that way.

  24. I've always assumed I'd try to get an agent when my ms is ready. But it doesn't surprise me that most publishers want to go this route. There's just so much out there.

  25. It's a catch-22 really since many agents will only take on writers who have already been accepted by a publisher (at least here in Aus).

    (I think what Lauri was saying was that she reads slush mss for a publisher who is not one of the five publishers with whom she has a publishing contract.)


  26. Thank you, Elle, for clearing that up.

    Here in the US, if you've been accepted by a publisher, you can more easily get an agent, but getting an agent first was the more likely route (and now definitely the more likely route).

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  28. There are agents in Canada who will not accept unsolicited queries, and the big houses are the same, but most agents and most mid- and small-sized houses accept unsolicited queries.

    I would volunteer to read for any house to keep the slush pile alive.

    Diane: I think it's a great idea to meet editors in person... I just need to brush up on my presentation skills first ;)

  29. I have submitted to publishers and while my work wasn't accepted, I did feel that they at least read my query based on their responses. I do call first though and find out who handles the genre so that I'm sending it to a specific person. Until I find a place in the traditional publishing world for my work I will continue to self-publish which seems to be working for me. I don't take "no" seriously. There's always a way if you are determined to be published.

  30. Thanks Elsa, yes that's what I meant.

  31. Ann, if you were getting responses form agents that indicated what they liked or why it wasn't for them, that is good. Much better than a "no thank you" or "not for me."

  32. Great post, Helen. I read something over on Bloomberg Press in the last week and they confirmed what I had gotten by looking up the presses approved of by the RWA: they don't accept unagented submissions. I'm currently querying agents and it still feels like I'm tossing paper into the Grand Canyon hoping to hear it land. Nathan Bransford said a similar thing on his blog about "a premium being paid for a following" in the publishing industry these days.

    Thanks for the post, Helen. Strange though it may seem it was nice to see. :)


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