Ask Me Anything: The Slush Pile

The question:

I hear a lot of mixed things about slush piles. What is the real, behind-the-scenes story of the submissions process? :)

What kind of mixed things could you be hearing--that sounds scandalous!

It's actually pretty simple.

Writers send queries either via email or mail.

The queries are read either by the agent him/herself or an assistant.

If the agent loves the manuscript/non-fiction proposal, they'll call the author (mostly likely after stalking the author online). As long as that goes well, they'll offer representation.

Some NL specific details:

We still get a few snail mail queries but I'd say 99% of our queries come into our email (query[at]newleafliterary[dot]com). If that's an option I'd say email is the way to go. It's cheaper and faster.

You don't have to be referred. About 95% of our clients have come to us from just a query and those first pages.

Triple check your draft and read it aloud before you hit send. I always get a couple queries (each week!) where someone has replied with a desperate apology about spelling my name wrong or having a typo in the first sentence or not following directions.

Secret: you want the assistant to be the one reading the queries. They request more. They're new and not jaded and exciting about finding a good project, even more than the agents like me who sometimes sit down to read queries at 1 am and think I have too much to read already! The assistants are also terrified of passing on something big and getting fired. (Ok that might sound extreme, but the last thing any assistant wants is to be the assistant that passed on The Hunger Games). 

At NL we share manuscripts and projects we want to take on with the team. We talk foreign rights and film/TV and market and everything as a group. We like sharing expertise.

I have decided to pass on manuscripts before because of either the phone call or online presence. This is a business and I work closely with all my authors. Even if that author could somehow guarantee that the project would make millions of dollars (which is impossible by the way), it wouldn't entice me to work with someone who is on the wrong side of crazy or a terrible human being. There are so many writers out there who are lovely and wonderful people. And I'd rather work with them.

Got any slush pile myths you want to run by me? Leave them in the comments and I'll let you know if they're fact or fiction.

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J Lenni Dorner said...

You mentioned passing due to the phone call-
What if a writer were unable to properly communicate verbally due to a medical condition? Would that be held against the author?

Unknown said...

In the case I mentioned, the author and I didn't mesh well. The expectations and vision for the book were different. We just weren't a good match.

So no, not a medical condition, I don't think anyone would hold that against an author, but of course, we have to know about it.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathleen B said...

You also mentioned passing due to a person's online presence. Do you mean you would pass if someone doesn't have an online presence? I mean, some people love writing and are good at it but don't necessarily like sharing their writing or their life around on the internet.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

I'm actually really intrigued by the "passing based on the phone call" part (although I'm guessing based on your subsequent comment that this is fairly rare.) So how does that work? I guess I was under the (mistaken) impression that "the call" was just a formality that meant you wanted to sign. So do you have the conversation and then at the end say, "Sorry, I can't offer representation at this time because we don't mesh well?"

Unknown said...

Kathleen--No online presence is okay. That does mean I could be in for more work with an author. I always hope someone has SOME kind of presence, just to show they're trying to start somewhere. If I look up someone online though and they don't seem professional or they're just out there spamming or they're overly antagonistic, then I'm going to be turned off.

Stephen--I don't think "the call" is a formality at all. I set up a call, I ask the author questions, we discuss the manuscript and what they're interested in for their career etc. Then I could offer representation, I could ask the author to do some revisions, I could tell them I'm going to discuss with my team, or I might say that I really like their book, but I'm not sure we'd be the right fit or have the same vision for the book.

I can say that most of the time, that phone call can turn into an offer, but it might not.

shan said...

Hey, a bit of a late comment , but with the online presence thing would be be a turn off if someone had a learning disability? I am dyslexic, but of course i don't let that get in the way when i read and write. Where as my MS, and stuff will be polished, thanks to the help of lovely CP's, my blog is only maintained by me. I write a writing tips blog, and it has a few typos here and there, but i do try and be helpful on it. would seeing that be a turn off?


Unknown said...

@shan--not a turn off. Actually that's a good story, especially if you're open to talking to students about it.

A turn off would be someone ranting or making prejudicial comments, etc.