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To help the author develop and create the best book possible. Material that has both commercial appeal and long-term value.

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To help the author determine the next best step in their writing career. Giving counsel regarding the subtleties of the marketplace as well as the realities of the publishing community.

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Recent Posts

Singing the Slushpile Blues

by Steve Laube

The unsolicited pile of proposals in my office (aka “the slushpile) taunts me every day.

“Come over here!” it says, tantalizing me with immanent possibilities. I say to myself, “Maybe it will be the next one I look at. That will be ‘The One.'”

I’ve been told that many of you enjoy hearing some of the offbeat letters or intriguing proposals I see. Here is a sampling from the past few months [typos included but some info is deleted to protect the writer’s identity]:

“I am seeking representation for my First book: … I have 17 more. This book could very well Save the World.”

“… is a polyphonic composition in which anti-hero…inner conflicts are given voice, subjected to contrapuntal treatment, and developed into an intricate narrative marked by a stunning climax.”

“Maggot … my inspirational Christian Literature fiction book”

“I have deciphered the number 666….The beast has 7 heads, each head represents a country or countries that have ruled over Israel. Egypt being the first, and its empire started in the year 2630 B.C. This was the beginning of the pyramid era. Take the number 666, and multiply it with the number 7 headed beast. (7X666=4,662) The last country or countries to dominate over Israel is the United Nations. The U.N. qualified for this distinction when it reestablished the existence of the country of Israel in 1948. Project the number 4,662 forward from the year 2630 B.C. and you arrive at the year 2032, or the end of our era.”

We received a two page letter received written in ALL CAPS. It said “I HOPE I FOLLOWED YOUR GUIDELINES TO YOUR SATISFACTION.” And then proceeded to pitch a 2,200 word Children’s picture book…which our guidelines specifically says we do not represent.

A proposal for a novel whose audience is described as “American and Middle Eastern readers, particularly Christians and nominal Muslims open to hearing Christian evangelism.”

Subject line of the e-mail reads “If you cut a tree , you cut your own mother / 210 pages – my Poetry book attached.”

“This is a tale specifically written to ‘replace’ J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. No joke and no exaggeration.”

“I am not going to waste your time by telling you how awesome my book is. You can simply see the awesomeness by looking at the preview of the book by following the link below. I just self-published my book because I am impatient, and publishers don’t typically give me the time of day. It’s okay though, because I’m …, and I don’t have feelings. This is a business opportunity, and I hope you treat it as such. Take care, and let me know if you are interested in representing me. I will compile a list of agents and select the one that is most diligent, relentless, and ethical (like me).”

Therefore while the siren song of the slushpile is played, its tune it is rarely that enticingHowever, I must admit like the old prospector, “Sometimes there’s gold in them thar’ hills.”

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High Concept: Catching Readers One at a Time

Not every fiction proposal needs something called a High Concept, but I like to see one. A High Concept shows that the author can hone in on the story and has thought about what it says and how it can be positioned in the marketplace. It helps the publisher know in a snap of the fingers the unique and compelling nature of your story. One popular way to create a High Concept is to compare your work to two books or movies. You can choose extremely famous titles or venture into lesser known works with self-explanatory titles. I will make up a couple of examples:

Star Wars meets Across Five Aprils in this alternative history novel in which a spaceship lands in the middle of the battle of First Manassas.

The Wheel of Fortune meets Missing in this thriller about a Las Vegas kidnapping ring.

High Concepts like these are capsules that help orient an editor or marketing director to your work. They lend excitement and anticipation to the proposal.

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Have You Discovered Your Catalyst?

I just spent 3 days or so with a wonderful group of women writers in a cabin in Tahoe. We explored the elements of powerful writing, and had a number of rousing discussions. But we really came alive when we explored this question:

“What is your emotional catalyst for writing this book?”

What, you may ask, is a catalyst? Well, if we were talking screenplays, the catalyst is that precise moment when the hero/heroine’s world changes, when they can no longer turn back and are forced to head out into the unknown.

For those of us writing books, though, the catalyst is within us. It’s the ember that burns deep inside us. An emotional catalyst runs throughout each book we write. Sometimes we explore new aspects of it, sometimes the catalyst itself changes. But it’s there, simmering beneath the surface.

The catalyst is the underlying reason for you to write your book. It’s the question, you want answered, the hope you want to impart, the insight the reader longs for. Catalyst has significant impact on your life, your characters’ lives, your readers’ lives. It’s the spark that captures our hearts and minds, the longing buried deep inside, the fear that won’t leave us alone.

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Get Attention with the Right Title

 When an agent or her assistant tackles the email slush pile, she sees one subject line after another written by authors vying for attention. Some lines describe the book category, while others make a claim about the author himself. But most include the book’s title. I tell authors not to get attached to titles because all too often, they are changed somewhere between the time the editor takes the proposal to Committee and when the book goes to press. However, putting thought into the title at the proposal stage will help orient us to the book and a really catchy title might excite us enough to open your email proposal right away. Who wants to read a boring book?

Consider these fiction titles:

Rodeo Sweetheart by Besty St. Amant

The Guy I’m Not Dating by Trish Perry

Sketchy Behavior by Erynn Mangum

These titles made me smile and want to learn more.

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