Singing the Slushpile Blues

The unsolicited pile of proposals in my office (aka the slushpile) and the inbox full of unsolicited email proposals taunt me every day.

An average of fifty times a week a new one appears and croons, “Come over here! Look at me!” Tantalizing with immanent possibilities. Imagine each person who sent that proposal is standing outside the office door waiting with anticipation for attention. I say to myself, “Maybe it will be the next one I look at. That will be ‘The One.'” But when will I have the time to give them the attention they deserve?

I’ve been told that many of you enjoy reading some of the offbeat letters or intriguing proposals that cross the desk. So here is a sampling (typos included but some info is deleted or adapted to protect the writer’s identity). I have also added commentary within double-brackets:

“I am seeking representation for my First book: … I have 17 more. This book could very well Save the World.”
[[That alone would scare away most agents and editors. But then to claim this one could save the world? Hyperbole does not create the desired response from a reader.]]

“… 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.”
[[This obfuscates the importune oblation.]]

“Maggot … my inspirational Christian Literature fiction book.”
[[It may very well be a marvelous book, but for some reason the image of squirming little carnivores makes me a little queasy. I do remember rejecting a book that had Locusts in the title; it ended up being published with that title and sold well for a number of years (nonfiction). I couldn’t get past the insect in the title.]]

“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 (7 X 666 = 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.”
[[Any commentary needed?]]

A two-page letter written in ALL CAPS. One line reads, “I HOPE I FOLLOWED YOUR GUIDELINES TO YOUR SATISFACTION.”
[[All caps means “shout.” I’d prefer not to have someone scream their idea at me.]]

The query says, “Do you read picture books?”
[[I wasn’t sure how to answer. Yes, I read them to the grand kids. No, I don’t read them for relaxation when I get home from work. Oh! You meant to ask, “Does your agency represent children’s picture books?”]]

“I respectfully request that you forgo standard protocol with the submission of my works considering their importance and historical significance. More importantly, time is of the essence. The world has never seen anything like this before, nor will it again. For the first time in nearly 2000 years….”
[[An undiscovered secret to the universe is revealed in the rest of the query.]]

“In this tantalizing story, the protagonist’s best friend dares him to enter a male dancer contest to cheer his spirits, which he does and actually wins a part-time job at the club. He becomes enticed by the stripping world and wild atmosphere….”
[[I have questions. What, on the Steve Laube Agency website, would suggest that we would be interested in representing this novel?]]

“I  have recently self-published a novel which has had one review. I enclose this review and would like to know if you are interested in reading the e-book (click to get a copy from Amazon) and possibly representing me.”
[[I suppose that’s one way to increase the sales of your book.]]

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

“Okay, I know this sounds pretty desperate, but … I am offering $100 to anyone of your literary agents to read my latest novel….”
[[Yes, it is desperate. But we are not that desperate either. If any agent or agency asks for money up-front as a “reading fee,” run away. A legitimate agency doesn’t get paid until the author is paid.]]

“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).”
[[Actually, this was a very clever query. It was self-deprecating and humorous. But requiring to click on a link is asking for the delete button. We can handle attachments, but going to an unknown site even with up-to-date virus and malware software is asking for trouble. Believe it or not, we get a number of “please visit my website for a sample of my book” proposals. Make it easy for the fella; just attach the proposal and the sample chapters. It’s not rocket science. (Unless your book is about rocket science.)]]

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

23 Responses to Singing the Slushpile Blues

  1. Roberta Sarver August 30, 2021 at 5:12 am #

    Your experience as a literary agent calls to mind the words of Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

    • Tim Eichenbrenner August 30, 2021 at 5:50 pm #

      Hilarious, Steve. These proposals give me hope mine will at least rise near the top of the pile!

  2. Sherry Stacy August 30, 2021 at 7:02 am #

    What focuses a writer on good writing? What helps us understand how to be professional in our proposal writing? Plain and simple examples of what isn’t professional instruct us to hone our writing, do our market research, and learn to be better at what we do.

    I met you at a writers conference four years ago. I studied for that short fifteen-minute pitch of my yet-to-be-written book to be as professional as I could. I learned so much in my pitch to you in your thoughtful and experienced answers. I wrote the proposal when it was done and sent it to you. Again, I learned so much from your comments. You rejected my proposal but I didn’t feel rejected, I felt I had been instructed on how to write a better book. Today my book has over 100 five-star reviews and I have sold a modest 1,000 books in one year. Your slushpile stories help writers to think we need to be those “ferocious self editors” as Jerry Jenkins describes to be professional in all we do as writers. Thanks for sharing, these examples make us smile, but make us think as well.

    • Steve Laube August 30, 2021 at 8:16 am #

      Thank you Sherry.

      You created a great cover for your book by the way.

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 30, 2021 at 7:05 am #

    I know, Steve, that it’s wearying,
    a Sisyphian ordeal,
    all the endless querying,
    but I’ve a book here that will heal
    your heart in this long run of days
    when you’re pushed beyond capacity
    (L. Ron Hubbard’s offered praise,
    and has vouched for its veracity).
    I’ve read each sign and portent,
    and all the roadkill auguries
    to solve the most important
    of Creation’s mysteries
    that will ease your slushpile blues:
    the world ended back in ’92.

    In ancient times, augurs claimed to read the future in the entrails of dead animals, leading the famous Stoic Cato to remark, “I wonder how one augur can pass another without laughing.”

    • Steve Laube August 30, 2021 at 8:17 am #

      Very clever Andrew.

      That L. Ron Hubbard endorsement is truly amazing since he died in 1986!

  4. Kristen Joy Wilks August 30, 2021 at 7:36 am #

    Ha ha! These are so fabulous! I love that you received both a replacement for the Harry Potter books (which I’m sure are not derivative) and the long lost 2,000 year old secrets of the universe!

  5. OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU August 30, 2021 at 7:42 am #

    Thanks for sharing,Steve! God bless you.

  6. Virginia Tolles August 30, 2021 at 8:13 am #

    These query letters make me think of a Snoopy cartoon. He writes a query letter in which he says his novel is too good to send out. The agents and publishers will have to come and get it.

    • Steve Laube August 30, 2021 at 8:19 am #

      Virginia,

      I have a memory of one Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy wrote, in response to a rejection letter, “I think there has been a misunderstanding. You were supposed to publish my book and send me $50,000!”

  7. Steve Laube August 30, 2021 at 8:23 am #

    Virginia,

    If you want to enjoy the antics of Snoopy as a writer, get a copy of “Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life” https://amzn.to/2WCRoGX

    It is delightful!

  8. Elliott Slaughter August 30, 2021 at 9:08 am #

    Steve,

    I wonder if you might do a blog at some point about more “average” reasons someone is likely to get rejected. The extreme cases are fun to read about, but I certainly hope most of your readers (myself included) aren’t making these mistakes!

    I assume the #1 reason is that it doesn’t make it past the reader. After that, then what? Of proposals that do actually make it past your reader, what are the most common rejections?

    Thanks.

  9. Steve Laube August 30, 2021 at 9:23 am #

    Elliott,

    Our blog is a treasure trove of information. You’ll find your answers here:
    https://stevelaube.com/why-was-my-submission-rejected/

    here:
    https://stevelaube.com/top-three-reasons-office-rejects-submissions/

    and here:
    https://stevelaube.com/five-reasons-why-you-may-never-get-published/

    • Elliott Slaughter August 30, 2021 at 12:41 pm #

      Thanks, Steve. I’d forgotten about Bob’s recent post. That one’s especially helpful since it takes a sample of actual submissions and goes through the rationale for their decisions.

  10. Becky Crowe August 30, 2021 at 9:42 am #

    I HAVE TO SAY THAT AFTER READING ALL THAT, I DO FEEL FOR YOU STEVE! 🙂 Seriously though, I guess I never realized how bad it really gets. I can certainly relate to not clicking any links. I had an employee who clicked the wrong link and our PayPal account was drained thousands of dollars for clicking it!

    • Steve Laube August 30, 2021 at 9:45 am #

      Becky,

      How awful!
      This weekend my personal submission inbox received 14 new proposals. One of them wrote, “I believe it would be much easier to click on the link and look at my stuff in one place rather than attaching documents.” and then provided a link to a Facebook Group

      Nope-ity, nope, nope, nope.

  11. Bill Bethel August 30, 2021 at 10:09 am #

    Some of those query letters gave me a good laugh. Hope mine don’t do the same. I will try to learn.

  12. Brad Dixon August 30, 2021 at 6:23 pm #

    I have a non-fiction story that solves all at the same time the joint problems of Covid, Afghanistan, hurricanes, and California wildfires. It’s based on a formula found in an ancient South American site written in Egyptian hieroglyphics and translated to French by scanning it upside down into a Medieval music notation plan. The book has a sense of realism that draws the reader in, open-mouthed, at the revelation of simple solutions to complex conundrums.
    I you’re interested I will create a website that features both the book and your commitment to act as agent.

    • Steve Laube August 30, 2021 at 7:34 pm #

      Brad,

      Our best to you in your search for a literary agent who reads query letters.

  13. Pam Halter August 31, 2021 at 5:55 am #

    Sooooo … you’re not going to disclose the secret to the universe with us? 😉

  14. Bill Hendricks August 31, 2021 at 10:00 am #

    True story: I once had the opportunity to tour Simon and Schuster’s headquarters in New York City. Along the way we passed an office where I saw what appeared to be two or three laundry baskets—you know, the large canvas-sided containers on wheels that you see at a dry cleaners. All three were brimming over with piles of paper. “What goes on in there?” I asked our host. She replied, “Those are the unsolicited manuscripts we’ve received today. We don’t have time to read them, so we just pile them up and toss them out every evening.”

  15. L.G. McCary September 1, 2021 at 6:42 pm #

    “I have questions.”
    You don’t want the answers to those questions! 🤣 I laughed out loud at that entry. Why don’t people check who they’re submitting to?

  16. Carol R Nicolet Loewen September 1, 2021 at 8:51 pm #

    These gave me quite the chuckle, Steve. Hope I learn from these and submit a stronger query when I’m ready!

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