Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Fiery Furnaces of Slush

How did I just discover this?
I empathize so strongly with this writing, I can't tell you. I, too, have hardened myself in the furnaces of editorial assistant-ship, and the slush is just what this writer describes. And the phone calls.
But god, how did I never think of the editor-who-doesn't-exist? Brilliant!

**However, I must note that I never became as down on writers as this columnist seems to have. I saw myself headed down that road, and Took Steps to prevent the impending catastrophe. You can't think writers are consistently batshit and still work collaboratively with them. Some people go through the fire of slush and come out a cinder. Thank Heavens that wasn't me.


Literaticat said...

That made me laugh very hard.

I just thank goodness that nobody has my phone number, cause I would NOT be nice.

Anonymous said...

Aww, thanks for the nice words! It brightens my day whenever anyone mentions that essay. I will say that the experience didn't necessarily turn me against writers, because (as mean as this sounds) I didn't really think of most of the slush pile contributors as "writers." For me, there were writers -- the ones whom I worked with and loved, the ones who had legitimate agents, the ones who could string a sentence together without using five adjectives for every noun -- and then there was the slush. And only rarely did the twain ever meet.

That said, yeah, I had to get out of that gig; it was killing my soul. Clearly. (I'm having flashbacks just thinking about it.) And did you read the love/hate mail I got in response? Anyway, cheers, and kudos on the great blog.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, you should hear how certain writers talk about editors. Not slush writers, either. So-called "real" writers, published, even.

Tough business, this.

Mmmm hmmmm...

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know that EA understands that she can't, how was it so beautifully put? -- "You can't think writers are consistently batshit and still work collaboratively with them."

Gee, now there's a vote of confidence! A goal for writers everywhere! I aspire to not have my editor think I'm batshit. :)

Editorial Anonymous said...

I didn't mean that to sound like I've set my bar very low-- ie, Not batshit? Great, I'll work with you!

The authors and illustrators I've worked with have had, in fact, a very high sanity quotient. In addition to high professionalism, talent, and pleasantness quotients. They are a joy.

But you never make it far enough in this industry to work with those awesome people if your early experiences in slush have sucked all the hope and idealism out of you.

Happily, all you have to do is mix with the professional author/illustrator community to be reminded that they're almost entirely smart, wonderful people. And that's the really, really important lesson for all beginners in editing--the slush is not a fair representation of the people in publishing.

Chris Eldin said...

This was a fun morning laugh!

Couldn't you have worked in a joke on Patricia? Have us all send her fake query letters....

Anonymous said...

I should also add that 1) almost all the best, most brilliant, most awesomely endearing writers I know are batshit crazy; 2) most editors are not that far behind; 3) when I go to hell, I fully expect all the slush-pile writers I've offended to line up and pelt me with balled-up rejection slips. Covered in poo.

Stephanie J. Blake said...

Has someone been sitting in the kitchen full of slush lately?

Anonymous said...

Not to defend most slush or its source, 'cause I've seen some of it, and I empathize, truly. But I do sometimes wonder how attitudes about it affect its consideration. "Fair consideration" for every piece in the pile? Hardly. Studies prove over and over that teachers give less attention to kids they think are dumb, even if those teachers are misinformed about it; and the high-profile instances of classic literature retyped, sent in to slush piles, and summarily rejected tends to support the idea that there's probably a somewhat higher percentage of good writing in the slush that isn't given adequate consideration -- and missed -- simply BECAUSE it's in the slush. If you expect to see crap, you probably will.

Maybe, since my first book was pulled from the slush, I'm just biased, as well as grateful. But I'm sure glad there's still some hope in readers of what a few places more kindly term the "discovery pile."

Editorial Anonymous said...

Oh, it's quite possible that some slush doesn't get truly impartial consideration *because* it's slush.

But in terms of the classic literature that's retyped and sent in as a "submission", let me point out that I wouldn't bother pointing out to someone that plagiarism is not acceptable; I would simply reject the thing. And I've seen more than one instance of plagiarism--usually of illustrations. (Seriously. Who wouldn't recognize the Tenniel illustrations from Alice in Wonderland?)
The people who send in classic works as "submissions" are dumb enough to think that the people reading submissions won't *recognize* them! Duh.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, some of yesterday's classics wouldn't be published today because publishing standards and markets have changed since those classics found their way into print.

(And if I'm going to be extra honest, I think the only reason some of those classics are still around today is because they somehow managed to get the word "classic" attached to them.)

Anonymous said...

I read your essay with interest and laughed and cringed along with you. But, you lost me a bit with your comments here. I don't think you are being mean, necessarily, but as a slush pile contributor, it doesn't bode well for un-agented "writers' to be grouped along with the illiterate and the crazies.

Wendy said...

I found a manuscript in our slush pile that was simply the complete text of Ella Enchanted, copied verbatim and submitted under a different title. The cover letter was lifted straight from the jacket copy.

But oh, the phone calls are the worst. People really do call and expect you to take the time to explain the whole publication process to them...

Anonymous said...


OK, this'll be my last comment, I promise!

Apologies if I came off as overly facetious, lumping unagented writers with crazy people. (And again, I do maintain that ALL writers are a little crazy, myself included.) That's not really what I meant to do. Trust me, I spent an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to convince my bosses of the merits of some manuscript pulled off the slush pile. There was good stuff in there. It was hard to find, but our whole job was to find it, even if we had to wade through craziness to do so.

My point really is that "slush pile" is something of a euphemism for "people who are ignorant of the publishing process." It does NOT mean "unagented writers." Given the comments I've seen here so far, I wouldn't associate any of the readers of this blog with slush, at least not in the derogatory sense of the word. You don't need an agent to research your options intelligently, to seek out conferences and workshops and journals, to craft a thoughtful cover letter, to have a pleasant phone manner, or to realize that, say, a publisher of literary fiction isn't the right place for a self-help pop-up book.

So please believe that we did recognize the difference between crazy, delusional people and hardworking unagented writers who are facing a seemingly monolithic system on their own. It's incredibly hard for any writer -- even the really good ones, even the ones with agents -- to get published, and I have utmost sympathy (empathy, really) for any writer who has to struggle through that process.

It's just funnier to write about the crazy ones. :)

Stella said...

Ugh, how rotten. Lots of crazies out there. The scary thing is that they reproduce and think their kids are "gifted and talented". As teachers,we have to deal with them and smile.

Wouldn't it just be better to say now more unsolicited manuscripts? I'm unagented and it's damn hard to find anybody who's even willing to look at my manuscript but I'd never resort to the methods described in the article.

Anonymous said...

No worries. I appreciate your response and I understand. It's also much funnier to read about the crazies.

Ink Slinger said...

Very funny. I enjoyed the bit about the fictitious editor whom writers claimed to have chatted with (and met).

As I writer and illustrator, I do concur that the art community is a bit...odd, but I think the Froot-Loop-factor is fairly distributed amongst the rest of the population as well. : ) said...

I wish I could say that I found the article funny, snarky, or clever, but I didn't. It sounded cliche, more like after work bar chatter from the overworked, underpaid toiling in the trenches with lit degrees, certain that they deserve better. We've heard it all before, which makes it surprising that this article was published.

Anonymous said...

How sad for editors that people who want to be published don't get together and agree among themselves which of their manuscripts are of the highest quality and deserve not just to be published, but to win awards and be best sellers, and then agree among themselves only to send these very special manuscripts to editors. The editors, as a profession, would collectively receive just ten or twelve manuscripts a year and could immediately have them printed and distributed without being sullied by exposure to poor manuscripts. I feel terrible that editors, under the current system, are sometimes forced to read and reject bad manuscripts (or manuscripts they mistaken consider to be bad), which isn't just time consuming but forces them to undergo the indignity of communicating with ludicrous, egotistical people who don't seem to recognize on their own that they have no talent and that they are dealing with very important and busy editors who regard them with a mixture of resentment and mockery for their presumption.

The fact is, of course, that editors are the ones with the power, and therefore the ones who get to dish out the mockery, but power and judgment do not necessarily go hand in hand. There are countless stories of wildly successful books that were rejected dozens of times by editors who doubtlessly felt oppressed by having to take the time to send out the form rejection slip. And the shelves are filled with books these same editors did choose to publish but which no one will buy, review favorably, or admire. If you think of the general public as the reader of slush published by the industry, you will find that many editors can boast no more success than the writers they haughtily reject.

Being a 26 year old English major from a mediocre university, and being willing to accept a meager salary as an editor, may indeed give a person power over writers but not, fairly speaking the right to claim vastly superior judgment or talent. Doubtlessly, most submissions are crap, but is it really necessary to be unkind and mocking?

If you don't like being an editor, don't be one. But why keep complaining that the writers don't do your job for you by only submitting stuff you really like instead of forcing you to actually find the stuff that's good? And until everything you publish is wonderful, and everything you reject isn't, have a little humility and stop maligning people for having an ambition to succeed in the same profession you yourself have chosen.

Anonymous said...

Although it's harsh, I kinda gotta say I'm with Anon 10:57 -- or at least found that funnier to read than the Salon bit, the gist of which we've heard way too often. But thus are battle lines drawn, I guess.

By the Salon author's own admission, the majority of slush isn't insane, or even bad, just mediocre, and I know from meeting lots of them that no writers set out to be mediocre. Even if that's how the world views their work, THEY certainly don't -- their hearts and souls are in it. And I do get tired of the business not having a bit more compassion for that hard work, even if the results aren't deemed publishable. Especially from people to whom I often want to say, "Uh -- do we see YOU doing any better?" A few editors and agents write and publish successfully, sometimes under other names, but most don't.

Kristi Holl said...

It's funny how our expectations color what we see. My first book back in the 80s was pulled from the slush pile, so I pretty much enjoyed the year I read slush for a mystery publisher. I don't recall now how many mss. I recommended that were published, but I loved seeing those titles hit print. A big thank you to all slush readers who gave people like me a start!

Anonymous said...

The last sentence in Anon 10:57's post might just be the wisest observation I've ever seen in a blog comment section.

If that doesn't put the whole thing in perspective -- for writers and ed's -- then nothing will.

Anonymous said...

Very fair-- however, it sounds like every single other job where you deal with the public.

I worked in hotel reservations, and people took much the same tone.

Fact: the general public is stupid. Even people who might not be stupid in other aspects of their lives get stupid in some, such as when they're booking a hotel for a vacation.

I've had the, "I'm acquainted with the owner of the hotel and he promised me a discount rate"

"Let me ask every single little detail even though it's obvious/already been explained/easily researchable on my own"


"I'm special, more special than other people and deserve particular consideration. Let me explain why..."

It's sadly universal.

That said, I still sympathize.

Anonymous said...

The thing I'd like to reply to Anon 10:57 is that people who submit slush aren't all motivated by a pure and untarnished love of children's literature, children, and the craft of writing. A whole heck of a lot of them see writing, esp. for children, as a quick way to riches and/or ego gratification, albeit unrealistically. And they get rather unpleasant when denied either. I don't think it's too much to ask for people who submit manuscripts for children to realize it's not all about them. And I don't think it's too harsh for slush readers to call out this streak of narcissism when they see it.

/Usual caveats about many slush submitters being earnest and selfless lovers of literature as well as being good writers who work hard at their craft and deserve to be discovered and published when the time is right and fortune smiles upon them./

Anonymous said...

Especially from people to whom I often want to say, "Uh -- do we see YOU doing any better?" A few editors and agents write and publish successfully, sometimes under other names, but most don't.

I don't get this. No, most editors and agents haven't written a children's book. But... but... that isn't their JOB.

Let's take a different frinstance:

How dare a gourmet cheese shop not carry my cheese! Just because the buyer has spent years tasting every cheese available on the market and off, has a sophisticated palate and has a good track record for selecting cheeses that his customers want, what makes him an expert? Why, most cheesemongers have never been farmers, I'd like to see THEM get up at the crack of dawn and milk cows, HA!

Doesn't quite work like that.

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