When might you "have to" tackle the slush pile?
October 10, 2006 8:17 AM   Subscribe

PublishingBizFilter: I want to know a little about the slushpile. Who looks at it? When? Why?

I'm writing a story about a weird book that some young EA or intern finds in the slush pile at a good-sized publishing house.

So is it feasible that anyone would ever go thru the slush pile at any time for any reason? I'm not talking small press or vanity, I'm talking bigger houses. Why would you suddenly dive into the slush? Cuz your boss is mean?

Would it be more feasible if the slush was at an agent's office and his/her assistants or interns went through it?

Finally, does it strain credulity past the breaking point to suggest that a young EA or intern might trundle some of the slush home in order to sift through it with his/her significant other while having a few laughs?
posted by Mister_A to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Yes, the slush gets gone through. Otherwise it would just pile up. For true slush, generally one or more assistants and/or interns take a slow afternoon, bring the pile into a small conference room, and open it up. They scan it, sort out things that don't belong (sometimes other stuff gets mixed in), read the really bad/scary/weird stuff aloud to each other and laugh, then send each submission back in the SASE with a form rejection. If there's no SASE, some places just chuck it, some send the reject anyway, but with a note to include SASE in the future (assuming it's a place that accepts slush, otherwise the reject says don't send anymore).

The relative meanness of your boss has nothing to do with it. All EAs, AEs, and editorial interns have to go through slush. I think it would be equally feasible at publisher or agency. Both have tons of slush.

Sometimes people, especially those just starting out, do find stuff to acquire in the slush. This is very rare, but it happens.

Your last point: it's conceivable for someone to hold onto a copy of their favorite crazy submission to share with others for laughs. But I can't see someone bringing a random pile home to sift through for fun. Most slush isn't very funny.

Finding something weird? That's not fiction--that's a reality. Go to town. I can't think of anything so weird I wouldn't believe someone would send it in for some poor intern to read.
posted by lampoil at 8:35 AM on October 10, 2006

I don't have any background in publishing, but I thought this article, Confessions of a Slush Pile Reader, was interesting. The article is on Salon.com, so you'll have to watch a free ad first.
posted by La Gata at 9:02 AM on October 10, 2006

Response by poster: Fantastic response lampoil. And thanks for the link, La Gata - just the kind of detail I'm looking for.

That said, please, everyone, feel free to contribute additional slush-related facts, minutiae, and opinions.
posted by Mister_A at 9:09 AM on October 10, 2006

What lampoli said is exactly how it works at big publishers like Penguin. EAs get together one afternoon and have a slush party to get through the buckets and buckets of slush and laugh at the especially bad and or crazy. If it's especially bad it gets put up on a bulletin board. No, we never took it home. That's for the agented MSs that your boss doesn't have time to read so she farms out to you for a first look.
posted by MsMolly at 9:13 AM on October 10, 2006

I can also confirm that slush does get processed, allbeit very slowly. Also it has nothing to do with a mean boss, but more of a fear of the sheer size of some piles. It is rumored that in some of the trade fiction houses they have cubicles decorated with the odd postcard, picture and diagram that was sent via slush. I have a small envelope hanging in my office that was once a piece of slush. It contains a piece of paper with crayon scrawled all over it, a picture of a giant piece of meat from a Shwarma restaurant and no return address. At one point we had about 15 receipts taped to the communal fridge, each one had detailed writing quoting scripture refuting passages in one of the books we wrote. I've always found these letters, the ones that are sent in reaction to book to be much better fodder than the slush pile which really tends to be pedestrian memoirs.
posted by rodz at 9:33 AM on October 10, 2006

I did this for a while at a niche publisher, where our processing generally consisted of determining that the submission was wholly unrelated to our niche, and then throwing it away.

Since we had such a defined niche, we never really developed a "pile" per se -- most things could be disposed of immediately upon receiving them.

So few items passed through that first filter that we could farm them out individually to editors on a rotating basis. I suppose if the volumes had been greater we would have simply assigned things to EAs on a rotating basis rather than the editors themselves.
posted by aramaic at 9:57 AM on October 10, 2006

Oh and by the by, that Salon article is so right on I thought maybe I wrote it while drunk then forgot about it. (Except for the fake editor part--I have enough bosses as it is).

Especially the phone call part. I too have stopped answering my phone for fear of average Americans cold calling for a one-on-one lesson on the life of a book. And people trying to get me to request their ms (the publisher I work for right now doesn't accept slush). Oh, and people pretending to be agents. Those are the most awkward. Thank Mrs. Jesus Christ for caller ID. Especially the kind that tells me it's an outside call transferred through the switchboard.

I wish I could share detailed experiences, but use your imagination. The sky's the limit.
posted by lampoil at 10:11 AM on October 10, 2006

We have our interns read slush when they are at loose ends. It really piles up, a standard week of mail will contain 3 or 4 submissions a day. We tell people we don't accept unsolicited manuscripts but they send them anyway (I work at a small publisher, but we walk tall, btw). Our bathroom is decorated with some of the more insanse submissions, but I always encourage everyone to try to be respectful and the only reason I don't just throw it all out when it comes in is that there are some publishing traditions that are sort of neat, like accepting slush. Nothing ever comes in that we are interested in.

They would never take it home with them however, strictly a "do you have anything for me to do?" "No, go read some slush and god help you if you find something you like and ask for the full manuscript because you're going to be long gone when we are still dealing with this poor schmuck calling us and asking when his book is coming out."
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:18 AM on October 10, 2006

Response by poster: Super, so I'll call you tomorrow then, Lampoil?

Great stuff everyone, many thanks.
posted by Mister_A at 10:53 AM on October 10, 2006

The best slush is what I and my colleagues (both present and former) have been through with authors and others trying to get on to talk radio.

Somehow, a journalist association gave out my home address and my mobile phone number on a mailing list they send out to just about every publishing company in the country - and Lulu.com. I would get these calls in the middle of the night from Tom in Tampa and Joy in Santa Fe asking if they could do me the favor by being on the show.

Sure, publishers have their troubles, but radio slush is fantastically bad. So many Anglican-Hindu murder mystery novels through the slot, and suddenly I realize why my housemates want me to move out.
posted by parmanparman at 10:54 AM on October 10, 2006

I can imagine a very eager young EA, fresh with the joys of discovering hilarious gems from the slush pile, and a significant other who is curious from the stories regaled upon her requesting that the EA bring home a stack for them to go through. An unusual occurance, perhaps, but hardly beyond the pale. And no one would care or notice if said EA took a handful from the top, middle, or bottom of the slush pile and took it home, as long as it was returned (or even not).
posted by rikschell at 10:58 AM on October 10, 2006

That is true rikschell, no one would notice.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:11 AM on October 10, 2006

Fiction/poetry contest entries at a magazine i used to work for were read at the home of the volunteer first readers (interns, former interns, staff, etc.). I would most definitely get some literary friends and wine and read them as a group, sharing the good, bad, and hilarious.
posted by girlpublisher at 2:00 PM on October 10, 2006

Back when I worked for a book publisher, I used to go through the slush pile occasionally - both for my own entertainment and to speed up the correspondence time (some of those manuscripts had been in the pile for over a year before I even started working there, which really bothered me). There was some fantastic (by which I mean hilariously bad, or tantalisingly mysterious) stuff, including long rhyming poems about Australian monotremes, densely-typed postcard manifestos written by paranoid schizophrenics, and a Periodic Table of the Elements boardgame (we didn't publish poetry, postcards, or games).

But my all time favourite find was a manuscript for an illustrated children's book called 'Knob Hound's Day Out', about a dalmation who doesn't know if he's a black dog with white spots or a white dog with black spots (though the badly-drawn illustrations clearly showed him to be the latter). The manuscript came with a thousand-word introduction by actress Margot Kidder, equating Knob Hound's search for identity with her own, very public, mental breakdown a few years earlier. The book itself was risibly bad, but with the introduction attached it inspired deep awe.

I think about that manuscript from time to time; I dearly wanted to make a copy for myself, but ethics prevented me. In fact, I've not told many people about Knob Hound, but I figure it's been ten years now, so I'm allowed. He will live on in my heart forever.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:59 PM on October 11, 2006

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