Surviving the Slush Pile  

© Judy Bagshaw - All Rights Reserved







I recently began working as a slush reader for a publisher and with the first few manuscripts that crossed my desk it quickly became apparent that a refresher was needed on how to survive this crucial step on the road to getting published.

Let’s start with the query letter. First of all, send your submission to the right person in the company, in most cases an acquisitions editor or senior editor. If possible, research a name. But if one is not available, use best business letter writing practices. You are not writing to a friend. This is not a casual email exchange. This, in effect, is a job interview. Treat it with that kind of seriousness.  

Make sure you have read the submissions guidelines and follow these guidelines to the letter. With the growth of small press online, there are a plethora of romance publishers out there. Each one has their preferences for romance "heat levels". It would be a waste of your time, and the editor’s, to send an erotic romance to a company that primarily deals with sweet romances, or a Regency to a company that specializes in paranormal romance. Almost all companies now post their guidelines right on their websites. There is no excuse for this kind of error. 

Already with these two little steps you’ve shown that you are a professional who does your homework. 

Keep your book blurb short and your previous experience pertinent. Don’t make your little blurb a truncated synopsis. Study book jacket copy and learn how to craft a catchy blurb for your story. Remember, you’re trying to sell you and your story. This is your ad copy! And avoid gushing about how much everyone who has read your story really loved it. Frankly, the editor won’t care, and will look at this as very amateurish. Is it important to your romance writing career if you’re a Girl Scout leader and you give blood regularly to the Red Cross? Probably not. But the fact that you belong to Romance Writer’s of America and you won an award in a short story contest would be. 

You have every right to be proud of finishing your manuscript, and it’s tempting to pontificate a little on how relevant your book is to issues in contemporary urban society, but, well, again, no one cares. Make sure your book is relevant and fits with current tastes and would sell, but let the editor decide this. Pretension leaves a bad taste in an editor’s mouth. 

There is sooooo much information available now, on how to write a proper query letter and synopsis. Find it, read it and learn it! Keep in mind that this is the first impression you are making on an acquisitions editor. You want to make sure it’s the right impression. You want to come across as sane, professional, prepared—a master of the craft of writing. 

And a further note on synopses; editors are busy, busy people. The company I read for receives upwards of 700+ manuscripts a month. They accept less than 1% of submissions. So a submission has to really stand out from the crowd in order to be noticed. And no editor has time to wade through 700+ synopses that are rambling, pages long, and overly detailed. Ask yourself which would you rather read through; a snappy one page query with a well-written concise synopsis, or a rambling overblown homage to the greatness that is you and your book? 

And make sure your synopsis matches your manuscript (Don’t laugh. This happens.) Nothing is so jarring as to read the first few chapters of a manuscript and wonder if an error has been made because you haven’t run into the main characters mentioned in the synopsis yet. 

Oh, and by the way, it’s not cute to get to the end of the synopsis to find a teaser saying "I didn’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ve left out the ending here". Not cute! A synopsis must include how the book ends. Period. 

Now let’s assume that your query letter and synopsis pass muster and the editor is excited to read your manuscript. Don’t disappoint. Make sure that you have sent the best written, most polished of work. The opening scenes should grab the editor and inspire the need to keep reading. The characters should be well developed and have distinct voices. The attraction between the hero and heroine should sizzle. POV’s should be clear. No head hopping please! Keep the verbs active rather than passive, and minimize those adverbs. Keep the pace of the story moving at a good clip to keep the reader engaged. And as with any good romance, have that satisfying "happily ever after" ending (or at least, "happy for now").

In other words, write an entertaining compelling story, one that will have the editor giving it the thumbs up for publication. 

One final note; if by chance you get a rejection letter, stifle the impulse to respond with a snarky note about how misguided the publisher is and how he’s missed the opportunity of a lifetime in rejecting your book. The publishing world is like a small town. People talk and word gets around. Don’t burn your bridges. 

Here are a few other articles that might be helpful.


Dazzle the Editor or Agent with a Query Letter by Selena Robins

Set the Hook; Grab Them With Your Opening by Jeff Colburn

Blurbs, Taglines, Teasers and Ads by Judy Bagshaw

Tips from a Slush Pile Find: How One Writer Got an Agent by Ronlyn Domingue


About the Author: Judy Bagshaw has been published since 2000. Writing romance featuring full-figured heroines, her publishing credits include several novels, a collection of short stories, and short stories in multiple anthologies. She was also part of the writing team for the Ginn Reading Series, and Reaching Readers Series, used in many elementary schools. Retired from teaching, she writes full-time from her home in Ontario, Canada. Visit Judy's website





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