Helen Lacey | How to avoid the Slush Pile
January 17, 2012
I know the slush pile. I've been in it. Many times. About eighteen times in
fact. In the old days it was often the only option to get a story in front of
an editor. The book was written, typed up, bound between cardboard and thick
elastic or string and posted off. Then came the waiting, which was agonizing. A
note would come in the mail to say the manuscript had arrived and was under
consideration. Then more waiting. Some time later another letter might come in
the mail. In my case that was always another rejection. And for me the cycle
started all over again.
Until I figured a way out. Until I started thinking of myself as a professional
writer, and as such, the proprietor of my own business. About four years ago I
started doing research about who was getting picked up by the publisher I was
targeting – and how. I read blogs, websites, and any statistics I could
find about what this publisher was looking for. Then I thought about contests.
I'd entered a few randomly over the years, but without any real purpose. But my
new found approach to my career got me thinking about them differently. So I
started entering. Lots of them. And all with one purpose – to stop my
manuscript languishing in a pile at some poor over-worked associate editor's
feet. But this wasn't some random submission. I knew the kind of book I wanted
to write – and because I wrote category romance – I also knew which
publisher and which line I wanted to write for. After a few months I started
placing in these contests. Then I started winning. And through one contest I got
what I wanted - a request from the editor I'd been targeting.
At this point I also started thinking about getting an agent to represent me.
Again, I did my research. I trolled over the internet, looking though websites,
looking at who represented my favourite and sometimes not-so favourite authors.
Looking at who had made sales to the publisher I was targeting. Looking at who
might be the right ‘fit' for me and the kind of books I wanted to write. And I
made a list. It was a short list of about five names. Which isn't a lot when you
consider how many literary agents that are out there. I wrote a pro and con list
for each of these agents and pinned it to my computer. And I didn't do anything
for a while. I didn't want to rush out with a whole lot of multiple submissions
and get rejections back as a speedy rate. I'd had success getting my work in
front of the editor I wanted through a contest and I was confident I could do
the same with an agent. The agent at the top of my list only represented romance
and women's fiction and a few month later I saw the window of opportunity I was
looking for – he was the final judge in a contest. I entered, I
won, and he asked to see the full manuscript. Three weeks later I got a call
The thing to remember is that contests usually cost money – and we all
want the best bang for our buck. So be selective. Know which publisher you want.
Better still, know which editor at that publisher you want to submit to. Chances
are that editor might end up the final judge in a contest. Chances are that
editor might ask for the whole manuscript. And if that editor does want to see
the book, now is the time to polish and edit and make that manuscript shine.
Take some time – it isn't a race to get to the manuscript into the mail or
email. Rushing only opens opportunity for mistakes and silly typos. Send an
email thanking the editor for their request and them get stuck into polishing
that MS. When I received my first request I spent three months honing my MS
before I sent it. Eight months later I received a reply for revisions. Ten
months after that my agent called to say they wanted to buy my book.
The slush pile has an unfortunate reputation. Lets face it, none of us want to
think of our ‘baby' being on the floor near the desk and at the feet of an
editor, piled on top by other peoples ‘babies'. And many publishing houses don't
accept unsolicited submissions. If you're looking for an agent, do your homework
– know what they represent, read their guidelines, subscribe to their blog
and interact via comments if you can. Look for opportunities rather than wait
for them to come. I remember my mother telling my seventeen year old
boyfriend-less and moody self that the only boy who knocks on the door is the
pizza boy. She was right. Getting published is no different. We have to drive
our own careers. There are ways out of the slush pile – we just have to
look for them.
I'd love to hear your suggestions to avoid the slush pile. One commenter will
win a signed copy of my January release from Harlequin Special Edition, MADE FOR MARRIAGE.
46 comments posted.
Re: Helen Lacey | How to avoid the Slush Pile
Keep everything fresh by touching base & having a creative spin in your intro.
(Darci Paice-Bailey 2:03am January 17, 2012)
You have to put yourself out there. Make connections.
(Mary Preston 2:10am January 17, 2012)
Hi Darci - you're so right - freshness is vital. Thanks for stopping by.
(Helen Lacey 3:38am January 17, 2012)
Hi there Mary - Yes, making connections is important - things like conferences etc. :)
(Helen Lacey 3:39am January 17, 2012)
I'm a big lover of contests. With the advent of twitter and forums there are even more chances these days. Online pitches have scored me a couple of requests for example.
(Bec Sampson 3:46am January 17, 2012)
Great post Helen. As usual, full of down to earth information and helpful hints. A query letter that contains an example of how you've met the publisher's requirements could be a way of making your query letter stand out.
(Lee Burgess 3:51am January 17, 2012)
Hi Bec - online pitches are a wonderful opportunity. Thanks for stopping by today.
(Helen Lacey 5:47am January 17, 2012)
Hi Lee - glad you found it helpful. And yes, a solid query letter is vital to get an editor or agent's attention.
(Helen Lacey 5:48am January 17, 2012)
GREAT TIPS FOR GETTING OFF THE GROUND!
(Silvana Moscato 6:02am January 17, 2012)
Hi Helen, I admire your determination and drive to get your manuscripts into the hands of the publisher that will best represent your style of writing. I wouder how many aspiring authors put in all the effort that you do or how many just give up after a few rejections?? Thanks for everything you did to get your books in print.
(Robin McKay 8:34am January 17, 2012)
I know nothing about the publishing process, so reading this was an insight. It must be tough. Thanksfully I am a reader not a writer.
(Pam Howell 8:58am January 17, 2012)
Very informative post. Lots of useful tips. Thanks.
(Joanne Balinski 9:15am January 17, 2012)
It seems with anything these days you have to "do your homework" to get anywhere..especially your own business. You never know who you can trust anymore...you were correct to help yourself to succeed!!! You go girl!!!
(Dawn Staniszeski 9:50am January 17, 2012)
Your book sounds great - I love any book involving horses. I would love to win a copy. Best of luck with the book - and happy 2012.
(Nancy Reynolds 9:55am January 17, 2012)
The hard work and tenacity of authors always amazes me. It also makes me, the
reader, more appreciative of all of the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into
the book I am holding and reading. Keep on keeping on. Good words to live by.
Thank you so much for all that you do. We readers really appreciate the "babies"
you give us! :-)
(Connie Fischer 11:08am January 17, 2012)
The book sounds wonderful, Great post. I don't know anything about publishing, but I'm sure it's a battle to get everything done timely.
(Wilma Frana 11:28am January 17, 2012)
Wish I had something useful to add... thanks for sharing your post with us!
(Colleen Conklin 1:26pm January 17, 2012)
Really great advice Helen.
(Jane Beckenham 1:34pm January 17, 2012)
Hi Sylvia - thanks for stopping by today.
Hi there Robin - I guess some give up, but in anything, if the desire is strong enough, the results will happen. Thanks for the comment.
(Helen Lacey 2:38pm January 17, 2012)
Hi Pam - readers are what make writing worthwhile. Thanks for being here today.
Hi Joanne - thanks for stopping by.
(Helen Lacey 2:39pm January 17, 2012)
Hi Dawn - having persistance is the key I think. Thanks for dropping by.
Hi Nancy - I hope you win a copy. I've got a copy to give away at each stop on my blog tour :)
(Helen Lacey 2:40pm January 17, 2012)
Hi Connie - thank you for stopping by today and for you words, much appreciated :)
Hi there Wilma - great to see you here.
(Helen Lacey 2:42pm January 17, 2012)
Hello Colleen - thank you for dropping by.
Hi Jane - great to see you at Fresh Fiction.
(Helen Lacey 2:43pm January 17, 2012)
Great blog! Wonderful advice!
(Cheryl McEwen 2:43pm January 17, 2012)
Wonderful advice! Thanks for sharing!
(Riya Dean 3:10pm January 17, 2012)
Hi there Cheryl - thanks for stopping by today.
Hi Riya - great to see you here. Thanks. :)
(Helen Lacey 3:26pm January 17, 2012)
I have read a lot of suggestions from different authors, editors, publishers and even booksellers. It seems like it's a little luck, a little talent and a whole lot of hard work. I never knew how complicated getting published was until I started following my favorite authors and reading their personal publishing stories. Good luck in the future and I hope you stay out of the slush!
(Jennifer Beyer 3:36pm January 17, 2012)
Hi Jennifer - you're on the money - it is more about hard work than anything else. Thanks for you good wishes and for stopping by today.
(Helen Lacey 3:52pm January 17, 2012)
Congrats on taking charge of your career. I don't think I could handle the waiting game that authors have to deal with.
(Stacie Deramo 4:49pm January 17, 2012)
I believe hard work and perserverance, along with generating an interesting story, really helps an author get published. There is a lot of competition, so the book needs a grasping beginning. It's good you kept going and didn't give up on your goal to be a successful writer. It's a real knack to be a good one and get the edge. I think you've found yours and how to go about it the right way. Thanks for your interesting info about your rejections and what you had to go through to get published. I'm sure it's very frustrating, when it's something you love and are passionate about, so I hope you can avoid the slush!
(Linda Luinstra 5:20pm January 17, 2012)
Hi Stacie - the waiting is part of it I guess - although not everyone has to wait years :). The evolving face of publishing means things are changing quickly. Thanks for stopping by.
(Helen Lacey 5:34pm January 17, 2012)
Hi there Linda. I hope I can avoid it too! Thanks for you thoughtful comment - very pertinent to any aspiring author who reads it. Thanks for being here.
(Helen Lacey 5:35pm January 17, 2012)
I just want to win your book, but it seems like they want you to write what's selling right now not necessarily what's in your heart, so you need to keep up on the trends. Sometimes it's more a job than a calling.
(Lisa Elwood 6:31pm January 17, 2012)
Have no idea how to avoid the slush pile, I'm a reader not a writer. Enjoyed your blog anyway.
(Sheila True 7:00pm January 17, 2012)
Hi Lisa - great comment - thanks for being here.
Hi there Sheila - lovely to see you here. Thanks for stopping by to say hi :)
(Helen Lacey 7:28pm January 17, 2012)
Enjoying your blog, looking forward to reading your book!
(Kathleen Jones 7:42pm January 17, 2012)
Hi Kathleen - thanks for stopping by. I'm giving away copies on my blog tour - hope you get one :)
(Helen Lacey 7:56pm January 17, 2012)
Avoiding the slush pile entails knowing what genre your agent and publisher dwells in. It also needs to be written with an eye to editing.
(Alyson Widen 8:10pm January 17, 2012)
Alyson, that's so true. Thanks for stopping by with a great comment.
(Helen Lacey 8:46pm January 17, 2012)
Great post and excellent advice for those who are trying to get their work published. Not bering in "the Business" I won't be any help. I think you pretty much covered all the bases. The only other thing I have read from other authors, is to enter as many contests as you can and whatever else you can do so you can get your work out there and seen.
Thanks for an interesting post.
(Patricia Barraclough 8:48pm January 17, 2012)
The only things that come to mind for me would be to take some local creative writing courses so you can be critiqued by other writers. The other idea I had was to go to signings, where you can quiz authors, hopeully, and get ideas about being published. I found your posting to be brutally honest, and I felt the passion, as well as the heartbreak. I know an authors' life is not an easy one. Perhaps that's why I never put my ideas to paper, but left them in my head instead. Thank you for a most enlightening post, and I'm sure I'll enjoy your book if it has half as much emotion in it!!
(Peggy Roberson 9:11pm January 17, 2012)
Try, try, and try some more. Practice makes perfect and sooner than later
others will see your potential and quality before you know it.
(Carla Carlson 9:19pm January 17, 2012)
Hi Patricia - it's always great to hear from readers, as you are the reason we write :) Thankyou for stopping by.
Hi Peggy - thankyou for a great comment. I appreciate you stopping by Fresh Fiction today.
(Helen Lacey 9:42pm January 17, 2012)
Hello Carla - you're so right. Try, try, try. It's all about persistance. Thanks for dropping in.
(Helen Lacey 9:44pm January 17, 2012)
I am not a writer so I don't have much to add. I would like to say that you should stick to what you love and know because the ones that write what is "in" never seem to get it. Just jumping on the bandwagon isn't always a good thing. Some people (me for instance) look for the unique spin or the one that stands out from the rest.
(Patti Paonessa 7:14pm January 18, 2012)
Hi Patti - that's great advice for authors. Thanks for stopping by.
(Helen Lacey 10:49pm January 18, 2012)
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