Monday, March 16, 2009

Slush Party! Bring Your Own Pizza...

From the desk of Ms. Spitfire

My dearest Suzy-kins,

It was so good chatting with you on the phone this weekend! Even with all of our emails back and forth, I still hate that we live far away and that we can't be a bigger, more present part of each other's lives. This new man you've just met sounds very interesting and I look forward to hearing more about him. Oh--and--as per our calendar-comparing conversation, I am looking into plan flights for the middle or end of May. You better start grinding the mint for the mojitos now, my darling cuz.

When we spoke, I forgot completely to tell you a great story from my week. As Antonio becomes more competant around the office--and his English begins to improve--I continue to give him more little responsibilities and fun projects. This past Thursday I introduced him to one of my favorite "busy" tasks--setting up the slush pile party.

Here's the deal: big publishing houses only accept solicited manuscripts, i.e. manuscripts that come from an agent to an editor who has already asked for and expressed interest in reading said manuscript. In other words, nobody--agent or author--simply sends an editor a manuscript and expects it to get published and, what's more, editors pretty much only read submissions from agents and not directly from authors.

The surprising thing is that even though this is a well known fact, we still receive hundreds of submissions each year from authors ravenous for publication. These authors address their letters to "Editor"; are writing from everything you can imagine including prisons, pension-plans and Russia; and send every variety of pitch letters and sample chapters, their full manuscripts, or even their vanity-press published works. In response, every 4 or 6 months, our company's assistant join forces at the slush pile party; pizza is ordered, the slush pile is brought into the room in a giant mail bin, and one by one, the brave team of assistants sends a form "rejection" letter to every author.

It astounds me that authors continue to send works directly to publishers. Is it possible that so many authors are simply unaware? This might be the case, of course, for those authors who send us hand-written missives or laboriously typewriter-written works. I always feel a pang of sympathy for those submissions and imagining an earnest-souled, paper-skinned octegenarian sitting with tears glinting from his deeply lined face as he reads his 87th form rejection letter, wondering why their 627 page novel about a guilt-ridden WWII pilot's failing marriage and passionate love affair with a Syngapore beauty has been returned unread.

Of course, it is clear that there are many authors who are perfectly aware of the "no unsolicited manuscripts" rule and continue to send submissions anyway. These fall into two categories: those who send the same submission time and time again--"Hey look! It's the children's book about the cherry red fire-hydrant who befriends the large scary black rottweiler! I remember rejecting this last year!"--and those who actually send their submissions with pitch letters from fake literary agencies, pretending to be agents pitching a "new and upcoming" author--"Has anyone hear ever heard of the "Happy Days Literary Agency"? Oookaaay then, literary agent Ringo Starr...". Again, I am boggled. Do authors think that somehow their manuscript might slip through? I wonder if they realize that none of the manuscripts ever make it into the hands of an editor; they go straight from mail-room employee, to assistant, to assistant, back to mailroom employee and right back to the author again...

Some of the most creative writing and ideas--albeit, many of them quite bad--end up in the slush pile. When I was an assistant, I really looked forward to these slush pile parties and used to occasionally sneak photocopies of my favorite submission letters and sample chapters to reread later over a latte with a friend. This year, I asked Antonio to pick two or three of the funniest or most interesting submissions and bring them back to me. At the end of the afternoon he came back with:

1) A 278 page poetry manuscript in which every single word began with the letter 'A'. 2) A pitch letter in which an author earnestly explained that his manuscript was inspired by his realization that he was the Jesus Christ, son of man and God, in a previous life, and 3) a collection of short stories all sharing one subject: boxes.

Suzy dear, if you ever do write a novel, please don't send it to a random publishing house where it will end up in the hands of assistants who have no authority to do anything with it!
On another note, if you were to write a novel, what would you write about? (Remember, A-ccentric poetry and "box"y short stories are already claimed.)

Much, much love,

(Ms.) Sally S.


Chris Eldin said...

Awww....don't be shy. Do tell if any of your work mayhaps made it to a pizza party?

I have a story. Oh, it's not pretty. Not pretty at all, and it does involve photos of bunnies.
I may blog about this separately. Or, maybe not.....

Sarah Laurenson said...

I once sent a sample chapter to the Star Wars franchise. It was my idea for the second or third movie. Can't remember which anymore as it was that long ago. I was 17, maybe. Maybe younger.

They sent back a few fan type things. Really pissed me off but I was oh so clueless.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sure are a lot of sad/funny stories in the slush pile.

laughingwolf said...

oh my... we sure aren't in kansas any more, are we toto? ;)

polish those queries, folks!

Anonymous said...

Let me reiterate that I can only speak for very large publishing houses. Many literary magazines, university presses, and smaller publishing establishments still read the slush pile and every editor dreams of finding the next Pulitzer prize there... so don't give up your dreams of being able to make it without an agent... Just do your research and send your submissions where they will actually get some attention!

Miss Susanna said...

Dearest Sally,

Good to hear from you again! I am counting the days till you get here sugar. Lawdy it is such a pretty spring day. I just can't get enough of it. Well, pretty except for one lil ol' thang. Aunt Maybel Sue Jean got out her short pants. Oh my. Same one's she's had for 20 years.

Now ya'll know I'm writing the next classic southern epic. Think Fried Green Tomatoes meets Gone With the Wind. I'm calling it "Antonio's Wind".

Love and Smiles,


McKoala said...

Sometimes I think it might be fun to read a slush pile. Just for a day, so I could find out what it was like.

I think some overseas publishers do still accept manuscripts from authors.