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The Slush pile

Help for writers

The ‘Slush Pile’

When I started working in publishing over thirty years ago it was part of my job to check through the pile of unsolicited manuscripts that arrived on a daily basis, and like every other enthusiastic young editorial assistant, I dreamed of finding the next bestseller in the ‘slush pile’. I was soon disillusioned for the reality is that of the thousands of new books that are sent to ‘The Publisher’ by unknown writers each year, only a handful are good enough to be published.

Some of the manuscripts I looked at were truly terrible and I quickly found out how to make a quick assessment of whether a submission was worth a thorough read. Many arrived in a bad state: grubby manuscripts that looked as if they had already done the rounds of other publishers. Often the accompanying letters were written on scraps of cheap paper in poor handwriting with bad grammar and lots of spelling mistakes. None of this encourages the busy publisher to believe that there might be a new bestseller hidden within its pages; it only appears the author can’t write at all.

Letters in which the writer grovels, begging you to read their book, are off-putting; it’s hard to believe it can be any good if the writer is that apologetic. But so too are letters boasting about how great the novel is – especially if this is backed up with how all their family and friends love it!

Publishers don’t want to know your life history in a letter, only what is relevant to your qualification for writing the book. Nor will they read through a long, rambling letter about the book’s contents.

A well-presented manuscript, typed in double-spacing on clean, good quality paper, will grab one’s attention. As will a letter that is well laid out, like a business letter, and appears professional in its tone. It should be concise and to the point, focusing on the type of book you’ve written and what kind of readership you hope to attract. It should be accompanied by a fairly short, and again concise, synopsis, outlining the contents of the book. It’s also best to submit just one or two chapters first and ask the publisher if they would be willing to read the full manuscript.

So, if you’re about to submit your book to a publisher, here are some points to remember:

  • Send a clean, well typed manuscript
  • Keep your letter and synopsis short and well focused
  • It can help to find out the name of the editor who handles your genre and address it to them personally
  • Aim to appear totally professional at every stage

If you’ve written a book, you will have put lots of hard work and time – and a big emotional commitment – into it. Don’t let yourself down at the point of trying to get it published. If you want to become a professional writer, you have to act in a professional way right from the start of the submission process. Remember, this is where the marketing starts. You have to sell yourself and your work – so send a letter that sparks interest and enthusiasm in the publisher and make them believe that reading your book may be worthwhile.

Good luck!

Kay GaleWritersServices editor who has worked for many years as a freelance editor for number of publishers. is a WritersServices editor who has worked for many years as a freelance editor for a number of publishers. She has also has a wonderful blog about food and travelling, Travel Gourmet.

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© Kay Gale 2009