Lift Yourself Out of the Slush Pile

I feel as if I’ve had a glimpse into what it would be like to rummage through the slush pile at a publishing house. For years now, seeing the quality of books that are being published, I’ve thought that the best books were being rejected. If what I’m seeing is any indication of the contents of a slush pile, I have to admit that the published books, no matter how mediocre, really are superior.

I entered the Court TV Search For the Next Great Crime Writer Contest, and have spent the past several days trying to read the other entries, but they are hard to get through. The best ones read like rough drafts, the worst like sludge. Interestingly enough, ranking is no indication of quality. The ones at the top for the most part are no better than the ones at the bottom; the top-ranked writers simply have more friends or a greater ability to network.

I can see why editors and agents send out form rejection letters; it’s hard to find something good to say without sounding patronizing or without discouraging what might be a budding talent. And new writers, flush with the thrill of having finished their first book, do not want to hear the truth even if they say they do.

Is it better to leave an enthusiastic remark on an unremarkable piece, thereby undermining my own critical ability and giving a false impression of the work? Or is it better to tell a bit of the truth and risk making an enemy?

I’ve spent the day wrestling with this dilemma, and not having come up with an answer, and certainly not getting any thanks for the comments I have been writing, I’ve decided to opt out of rating any more entries.

But I will give you the benefit of my wisdom:




When you are finished, set the work aside for a month or two or three, then rewrite it again.

That’s the only way to lift yourself out of the slush and sludge.

8 Responses to “Lift Yourself Out of the Slush Pile”

  1. nomananisland Says:

    I’ll try not to forget to say thank you when you’re visiting my site 🙂 . I take your and suzanne’s advice very seriously, even when I disagree. Perhaps especially then, as I have to think about what I’m trying to accomplish.

    Did you go on a marathon today? I found comments on like six or seven chapters!

  2. Bertram Says:

    I decided it was time to get caught up.

  3. Suzanne Francis Says:

    If my book is any good, and I don’t have any positive indication (i.e. sales or readership) that it is at this point, it will be because it was edited by the guy I am working with at Mushroom. It absolutely floored me how much just changing a word or two, or the order of the flow in sections has brought it totally into focus. I believe that even experienced authors cannot see all the flaws in their work. You just get too close to it. Everything you read, unless it is self-published, has been professionally edited. And that is the key.

    Have you ever noticed that as an author gets more famous the quality of their work goes down? I think it is because they get less editing as their success levels go up.

  4. Bertram Says:

    You are absolutely right, the more famous a writer is, the worse the quality of writing. To maximize profits, I image the publishers see no reason to waste money editing what will be a bestseller anyway. The major publishers generally do not waste money editing a new writer’s work either, which is why they have higher standards for someone trying to break into the business than they do for established writers. It’s a sink or swim proposition. You make a name for yourself within six weeks, or you’re gone.

    You are fortunate to be able to work with an editor. I have considered going the self-publishing route, but I want the whole editorial experience for myself. So I will keep plugging away.

    (With all the cliches in this comment, it’s no wonder I am still unpublished!)

  5. Shalanna Collins Says:

    You’re spot-on about the contest over at Gather. The popular one will win. I can’t help but wonder what they’ll do if the one that wins can’t be fixed without a lot of ghostwriting and editing. Do they expect people to buy it because they read the first three chapters on Gather? I suppose we’ll have to see what happens.

    I have a chapter in the contest. I need to read more of the other chapters and do some commenting–not for comments-in-response, but just because I think I should be participating more.

    By the way, I still believe most of the really good books are being rejected by editors. We’re not seeing them on Gather, either, because the writers see this contest as unproductive. I’ve had people tell me I should be spending my time sending out queries and partials instead of checking my Gather page, that the chances of winning are too slim. I keep promising not to do any more contests. . . .

  6. Bertram Says:

    Shalanna: I was so thrilled you came to read my blog, that even though I had no intention of doing any more commenting, I went back and voted on your entry. (The only 10 rating I gave, and well deserved.)

    One thing: I doubt the popular one will win; I have heard that the winners of the last three contests were not in the top fifteen of the popular vote, but were judges’ picks all the way. So the good writers who aren’t doing any networking have as good a chance or better than the bad ones who are networking. The top runner right now wrote his book in two weeks; makes me wonder how long it is. Including rewrites, mine took years!

    I would follow through on your idea about participating more. It’s an experience, that’s for certain. Also, I have a hunch that the winner will be the entry that will do the most good for gather, so I think participation is the name of that game.

    About winning: you’re right, the chances of any of us winning are slim, but someone WILL win. If not me, then I hope it will be you, if only because you had the good taste to come visit my blog!

  7. Idetrorce Says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  8. Bertram Says:

    Idetrorce: I am leaving your comment here because I don’t believe in deleting them, but unless you explain what you disagree with and why, it adds nothing to the discussion.

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