Friday, August 24, 2007

The Slush Pile is Dead - Long Live the Slush Pile

On Tuesday, NPR's All Things Considered ran a story about an Gather.com's (an online community referred to as "Facebook for adults") open competition for authors to have a novel published. While this method is nothing new - read any writer's magazine to find contests offering cash plus publication - the comments on the slush were particularly abrasive to my ears.

Before publishing houses were part of huge conglomerates, before Sept. 11 and the anthrax scare made all mail suspect, writers would often send their unsolicited manuscripts off to publishers, hoping against hope that they'd be discovered. Those manuscripts would end up in what the industry called the "slush pile." And every now and then, a group of editorial assistants might assemble in a boardroom, order some pizza and read their way through the pile — on the off chance that greatness lurked within.

But those days are gone.

"They're no longer eating pizza," says Mark Gompertz, vice president and publisher at ouchstone books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. "They're sitting at their desks eating salads. And they're most likely working on a marketing tip sheet for the sales department, to promote books that are coming in in the more traditional ways. So really the slush pile is no longer
there."

Perhaps, as the Editor of the nonprofit literary journal cream city review, my experience is biased. Trent Hergenrader, a local SF writer and friend, recently alerted me to a post by the Slushmaster (Doug Cohen) at Realms of Fantasy, in which one of his short stories is mentioned. The slush is alive and well at lit journals and magazines - which I admit noone is arguing against in the NPR piece.

While pizza and the slush pile my have been replaced by the generalization of marketing materials and salads at Touchstone, I don't think it holds true across the industry, especially at the most vibrant level - the small publisher. Dustin Long's Icelander surfaced from the McSweeney's slush pile. Furthermore, the notion that you need an agent to get a book published isn't a maxim I want to believe, either. Frances Hwang, author of Transparency, recently reported in Poets & Writers that she got a deal with Little, Brown without an agent.

I want to believe that talent and originality will find an arena and supporters, both in the publishing world and from readers. But, I need your help.

Below, I will attempt to compile a brief, incomplete, and anecdotal account of the vivacity of the slush pile. Leave your stories and knowledge in the comments below or send us an email. Check back for updates.

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It Came from the Slush...

Icelander by Dustin Long:

"[I] sent it off to McSweeney’s and sent query letters to a few agents. The agents rejected me. Eventually, about six months later, McSweeney’s contacted me to say they were vaguely interested. About seven or eight months after that, they decided they wanted to publish the book..."

(from our own interview)

agent sine agent

Transparency by Frances Hwang

"Michael Mezzo, an editor at Little, Brown at that time, saw my stories in Best New American Voices. He wrote and asked to see more of my work, and I sent him an unfinished manuscript with six stories. About a month later, he offered me a contract. I didn't have an agent, but this seemed like a pleasant dilemma now that I had a publisher."

(from Poets & Writers)

3 comments:

Justin Riley said...

Some avoid the slush pile altogether...by self-publishing. I've self-published a half-dozen comic books, and recently collected a four-issue miniseries ('Sawdust: The Workshed Anthology')into a trade paperback. I wonder if finished product sent along to a prospective publisher might go a little ways toward establishing credibility and a knowledge of the process. Also, self-publishing can be an encouragement to 'hidden' writers; a shot in the arm to see something they worked on in print and available.

Richard Nash said...

"Slush" strictu sensu, ie with virtually no connection at all, not just no agent, in the last few years (in the early years almost everything was)

Amputee's Guide to Sex by Jillian Weise
The Whistleblower by Peter Rost
Awake: A Reader for the Sleepless
Men, Women, Love and Power
Putting the Pieces Together

Richard Nash (Soft Skull) said...

"Slush" strictu sensu, ie with virtually no connection at all, not just no agent, in the last few years (in the early years almost everything was)

Amputee's Guide to Sex by Jillian Weise
The Whistleblower by Peter Rost
Awake: A Reader for the Sleepless
Men, Women, Love and Power
Putting the Pieces Together

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