Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Slush Is Not a Four-letter Word

Week of February 27—One Writer’s View of the State of Picture Books
Wednesday, March 2—Slush Is Not a Four-letter Word

I hate slush. Growing up in the Midwest, slush was the half-frozen-half-melted-exhaust-and-dirt-stained stuff cars plowed through and walkers avoided. Nothing compares with being splashed with a wave of slush. The experience leaves you frustrated, furious, and frozen.

When I first heard that editors and agents regard unsolicited manuscripts as their slush piles, I knew it was not a compliment. I imagined an editor being hit with slush wave after slush wave as each envelope was opened. I pictured the editor frustrated with what she found inside the envelopes, furious that she had wasted her time, and frozen in panic when another wave of slush flooded into her office.

We’ve all heard stories of slush piles as tall as an editor, of agents who do read every manuscript (but it may take nine to twelve months for them to get through the stack), and college interns who are given the responsibility of reading through the slush trying to find a gem.

Face it, sending unsolicited manuscripts to editors and agents is like throwing cornflakes in the wind hoping one will land in a cereal bowl. In both instances, the chance for success are slim.

If you’ve been to any writing conferences, participated in a critique group, or read books or online sites about writing, you have learned the basics about unsolicited manuscripts already.
1.  Be accurate—make sure you have the editor’s/agent’s name spelled correctly for instance
2.  Be aware—research the company and know what fits into its list
3.  Be professional—follow recommended guidelines for submission
4.  Be succinct—include a clear pitch, useful information about your credentials, and a one page query or cover letter with plenty of white space
5.  Be error free—proofread, then re-proofread, and proofread again.

I personally have not yet found success in the slush pile. But I have found a few other things.
·   I have found the desire to write prolifically—there are so many editors, agents, and readers who are looking for different things and I want to write for as many of them as possible.
·   I have found the desire to persevere. Sometimes just taking the actions of a professional writer makes you into a professional writer. If you aren’t actively acting like a professional by sending out your writing, why would anyone take you seriously?
·   I have found that I can separate my writing from myself.  Just because my story is rejected doesn’t mean I’m rejected. Just because my writing doesn’t fit into one editor’s lists doesn’t mean it won’t fit into someone else’s.
·   I have found that I have many stories to write. In the beginning, I wrote one story that I worked on for years. Then that grew to two manuscripts. After a few conferences, my stack of drafts had grown to fifteen or so. The first contract I signed was not for a book at the top of my list--but it was just what a certain editor was looking for. That first manuscript I mentioned is in its umpteenth revision/genre/life and still not on an editor's list. The more you write, the more you want to write. The more you want to write the more likely you are to find something worthwhile to write.

1 comment:

Leslie Zampetti said...

Go, Rob! Love the advice about the slush pile. (Especially about multiple projects. :-) )