The Slush Pile: Enter at Your Own Risk

The publishing world is divided between those who have read the slush pile and those who have not. If you have, then you can understand some of the cynicism and jaded eyes you see behind the glasses of an editor or an agent.

If you have not, then it is difficult to comprehend the unbelievable variety of ideas that can cross our desks. Let me provide you with some examples but with a huge caveat. I am not mocking these writers. I’m using them, as a teacher would, as an example of what not to send to an agent.

[For “fun” you just have to read the origin of the phrase “slush pile” in this great article by Jane Hu.]

I don’t doubt the sincerity of the writers who create these ideas. In fact I’m impressed with anyone willing to put their ideas out on display. I’m not sure I could ever have that much self-confidence in my own work. I only wish some would spend a little more time to determine if their project is a good fit for a particular agency and learn how to best write a quality pitch (and not overstate their case).

So, with that disclaimer in place…..18 examples:

  • Query letter begins with, “Before my first psychotic break….”
  • A proposal for a book of poems to read to your dog. The book will “help dogs feel more loved and more understood.”
  • Email begins, “I would love the opportunity to send my fictional novel to you.” [An aside for our blog readers: Is there such a thing as a non-fictional novel?] However, the query is embedded in a WeTransfer email where our agency would need to download 17 files in order to look at anything.
  • Person on the phone wonders if we represent memoirs. Why? Because this one is special, caller claims, because caller believes that he/she is the actual person/woman found in Revelation chapter 12. This new development has brought understanding to the caller’s experiences with UFOs…and the caller’s UFO support group concurs.
  • Email leads with: “I am a Feng Shui and Four Pillar of Destiny consultant. This book illustrates the Feng Shui setting in 360 degree with a lots of diagrams supported by the ancient Feng Shui principles.”
  • Query letter asks, “Are you able to negotiate a $10k advance? Are you able to sell 12 million copies within 3 months? Are you able to ensure it to be available in bookstore from September..?” (the letter was sent in July)
  • First sentence of the description of their novel [I’ve edited out the character names]: “One day, sitting in the sun happily, xxxxx and xxxxx met with God. All three were out fishing out on the lake when a duck landed near God who, through instinct, flinched and then fell overboard. Contrary to popular belief, God wasn’t an omnipotent being and promptly drowned.”
  • Cover letter proclaims that the book’s, “… real author is the Holy Spirit… The book could come next to the Holy Scripture in terms of divine authorship.”
  • Handwritten note written with a black marker on purple paper. “Please pay attention to this letter. The key to solving all the problems in our nation is a good top-notch EDUCATION!! our nation is failing miserably in this area. Everyone cries and complains but no one has an answer. I have the answers – believe me – trust me.”
  • A non-fiction study revealing that Moses was Satan in disguise. According to the author, Moses was “the worst serial killer in recorded history.”
  • A letter addressed to The Steve Laub Agency [misspelled my last name]…and then the salutation of the letter began: “Dear Mr. Fugate.”
  • A book titled Cosmic [expletive deleted] described that it “has the audacity to speak the truth. It says, ignore all the [expletive deleted], believe in your dreams and do what you love– it WILL work out! It is as fearless and fun as it is comforting and inspirational.”
  • A book with a subtitle: Actual Raw Photography of Fairies, Gnomes and More.
  • An email that reads in its entirety: “I got your email from your website. I have finished a book and am looking for publishing. I can be reached on email as well. Thank you so much.” [no proposal or pitch included]
  • In the body of a query letter: “Not since the LEFT BEHIND series has the subject of Christ’s Second Coming been so engagingly addressed.  Not since THE SHACK have spiritual themes been so articulately conveyed.”
  • Email reads: “The [expletive deleted] in this book is heavy and goes deeper than blood and if you’re not ready for that level of spiritual growth then stop reading right now. I lost my [expletive deleted] mind and to be hospitalized and relocated multiple times due to the nature of this book. It ain’t no joke. I have never written a book before and I don’t even know if this classifies as a book or not. I’m just writing. You don’t have to read it. No one is forcing you to do anything.”
  • Book “based on true experiences” with a subtitle of “Eye floaters as shining structure of consciousness.”
  • Last sentence in the email reads, “If you are not interested, then please ignore this email. I am not interested in rejection letters.”

Astounding creativity. That much is true.

And you wonder what we agents do with our time…

 

[Some of these were previously posted on our blog in October 2010.]

27 Responses to The Slush Pile: Enter at Your Own Risk

  1. Mark Moss August 6, 2018 at 3:50 am #

    I read this to ensure you did not include my submission. Whew, what a relief.

    • Leah Walker August 6, 2018 at 7:46 am #

      This gave me a great laugh for Monday morning!

  2. Elisabeth Warner August 6, 2018 at 5:25 am #

    Now I know what literary agents mean when they say they are “busy”, searching through the slush pile for a needle in a haystack. Thank you for giving us examples of what not to do!

  3. Judith Robl August 6, 2018 at 5:33 am #

    This list left me speechless. There is a limit to everything but idiocy.

  4. BK Jackson August 6, 2018 at 5:36 am #

    The only one that didn’t sound too out there (although maybe not right for the agency) is the book of poems to read to a dog. Don’t know if you’ve seen the video circulating on social media but it’s a thing for kids to volunteer to read to dogs at shelters and it has been successful.

    It just sounded appealing to me. I’m all for anything that slows people down from their crazed lifestyle. I hope that person persists & finds their niche.

    • Nancy Massand August 6, 2018 at 7:41 am #

      It’s also a thing to bring service dogs into schools so reluctant readers can snuggle up and read to them. The kids are less intimidated and improve in fluency over the year. Pitching a book of high interest/low reading level stories for at-risk students to read to dogs might have a shot in curriculum markets…but it’s a loooong shot!

  5. Lynette Eason August 6, 2018 at 5:48 am #

    Wow…just…wow. But I needed this laugh this morning. Thank you!

  6. Bill Hendricks August 6, 2018 at 6:25 am #

    What you say is absolutely true. I once visited Simon and Schuster’s headquarters on Avenue of the Americas in NYC. As my host led me to a conference room,we passed a room in which there were two enormous laundry baskets on rollers (the boxy, canvas kind), each overflowing with stacks and bundles of paper. I asked what they were, and my host replied, “Those are all the unsolicited manuscripts we get every day. There’s no way we can read them all, so we just collect them for the recycling bin.” That’s when I realized that agents are the publishing world’s first line of defense against a world of crazies!

  7. Lori August 6, 2018 at 6:54 am #

    I think you may have the genesis for your next humor book. But which one of you would represent it . . . ?

  8. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 6, 2018 at 7:49 am #

    Needed the laugh today, Steve. Thanks.

  9. Jill Osborne August 6, 2018 at 7:52 am #

    I’m sitting in the airport laughing out loud. Thanks for the early morning ab workout!

  10. HEATHER FITZGERALD August 6, 2018 at 8:02 am #

    Wow. Just wow! As cringe-worthy as those are (along with an enormous waste of your valuable time), it must provide some comic relief as well. Both hilarious and painful!

  11. Tiffany Price August 6, 2018 at 8:14 am #

    Some of these examples were mentioned during your informative sessions at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. I remember my astonishment then, but this full list is quite staggering.

    Thank you for reminding us what not to do – I can only imagine the frustration you experience while sorting through the “slush pile.” I hope a few of these examples are able to offer some comic relief as you work through your bewilderment!

  12. Jennifer Mugrage August 6, 2018 at 8:15 am #

    These are funny, but not very helpful to those of us who actually research agents to determine whether they would be a good fit … carefully study each agent’s unique requirements for how to query and follow them … spend hours crafting a synopsis, proposal, and cover letter … run spell check, check ten times to make sure we get the agent’s name right, and so forth … and still get a form rejection. Obviously there is a lot more to finding an agent than avoiding crazy statements, blasphemy and swear words.

  13. Loretta Eidson August 6, 2018 at 8:25 am #

    Wow…unbelievable. Like Lynette, I needed a good laugh.

  14. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D August 6, 2018 at 10:09 am #

    So, Steve, dear friend, was this Fun Friday blog accidentally posted on Monday? It gave me some of the biggest laughs I’ve had since….Friday.

    Does this mean that you wouldn’t be interested in a fictional novel about aliens fishing with God, aliens, and gnomes? Drat the luck. Now I’m going to have to start from scratch.

    So you wouldn’t represent it, even if I pitched it over the bathroom stall at ACFW in September? (I still remember that hysterical video blog you had a few years back).

  15. Murray Grossan M.D. August 6, 2018 at 11:47 am #

    Now I see I am in trouble. My, “Portrait of Secrets” tells how she is freezing, tells God she will do charity, sees the heavens light up and wakes up in a charity home where she can do charity.
    But, the heavens light up was a big fire to keep warm, and the rescuer took her to the charity home by automobile. !
    After reading your such fund, how can I submit this one?

  16. Steven Fantina August 6, 2018 at 12:36 pm #

    That gave me a good laugh but also made me realize that my children’s story about a the Holy Family getting a puppy while Jesus was still in the manger is pretty mainstream. However I doubt that like the poetry book proposal that it will make dogs feel more loved.

  17. Frenchy Dennis August 6, 2018 at 1:16 pm #

    Steve, As a former editor, I sympathize. I laughed. But I sympathize. I once got a memo that said, “We will replace the windows in the Teen House with members of the congregation.” Hope that gives you a smile for today.

  18. claire o'sullivan August 6, 2018 at 1:37 pm #

    Steve,

    I read your previous blog on this, and had a good laugh back then, and now. I especially enjoy the ‘after my last psychotic break…’ I think readers look at titles and go on.

    My, oh my. The ones that are now self-published (because no self-respecting Christian agency/publishing house would touch these) are the “How to Be a Christian Psychic,” another one, “Being the next prophet.” “UFO’s in the Bible.” And my favorite waste of paper is.. ”How Archeology proves the Nephalim took over the world.” Demons walked the earth polluting ‘good’ people.

    The sad thing is people are latching onto these, the message of the Gospel is not taught. Just as nature hates a vacuum, so does the world of the spiritual. If we can’t have a watered down message, then we have the name it, claim it. Then we go back to milk toast churches. Then it’s the pulling away from the Gospel to supernatural things hiding behind our doors.

    Slush pile, delete. I feel for you because I know how patient you folks are, and yet you forge ahead, hours past the norm.

  19. Kathleen Denly August 6, 2018 at 5:08 pm #

    As one who has not had the opportunity to peek at a slush pile, I have to ask: These are the exceptions, right? Surely most submissions at least come close to the mark or show some level of effort to understand your agency and what you are looking for. Or am I giving the public too much credit?

  20. Brennan S. McPherson August 8, 2018 at 4:17 am #

    Quite a few of these submissions sound like they were written by people struggling with common mental health issues, such as schizophrenia and bi-polar mood disorder (the manic phase in bi-polar is often characterized by delusions and hallucinations, along with grandiose self-thought). My brother has bi-polar mood disorder. Virtually everyone with bi-polar mood disorder has a psychotic break, which is a total break from reality. Point being. . . a number of these submissions don’t imply stupidity, but a broken body in need of clinical help. Mental health is a physical issue, and I’m glad Steve gave the caveat that he’s not mocking these people. Though I can understand how difficult it could be NOT to mock them, when getting so many proposals devoid of any background on the person or why they’re sending what they’re sending.

    • Emily August 9, 2018 at 11:44 am #

      Exactly. Its quite obvious (as are the queries in the SlushPile Hell blog) that most of these are written by people struggling with mental illness and suffering grandoise delusions (hence the book was given to them by God, will be the bigger than Harry Potter, etc.) I don’t see the point in using these as “lessons for writers.”

    • Steve Laube August 9, 2018 at 3:45 pm #

      Brennan (and Emily),

      I am sorry to hear that your brother suffers with mental illness. I suspect it was the first entry in the list that triggered your response.

      I don’t disagree per se, but please note that I did not say any of them were stupid. Far from it. If you read the words carefully you’ll see where I declare admiration for sending out their material at all.

      Emily? If the teaching point is missed than I failed as a teacher.

      The point is to illustrate the sheer variety of proposals we receive and how often strange and unusual things come to us which demand equal time for evaluation.

      When teaching at a conference I emphasize the point by saying, “Do you realize how easy it is to look professional with just a little attention to detail?” That is the point. The pitch and proposal is a job application.

      What some readers want to see are the real time proposals that get rejected for reasons like poor writing, poor ideas, non-existent platform, etc. But that is not practical, and would create more confusion for new writers. Thus the comment about the world being divided into those who have seen a slush pile and those who have not.

      Better, in my opinion, to show the ones that stand out for being odd or poorly conceived. Most readers found the humor in what I was attempting. But like most humor, not everyone will smile at the same thing.

      Since I have obviously offended both of you, I apologize.

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