The Slush Pile: Enter at Your Own Risk

Click the picture to read the caption

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 recent 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. 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…..

  • A proposal for a book of poems to read to your dog. The book will “help dogs feel more loved and more understood.”
  • A phone call from a fellow who wants an agent for his novel, his screenplay, and his non-fiction books. He said I had to go to his site to see what he had to offer, I replied that I prefer he go to mine first and follow the guidelines. We agreed to disagree…  Afterwards, out of curiosity, I visited the site and discovered conspiracy theory material and advocacy for the legalization of marijuana.
  • 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.”
  • A novel that is “made up of multiple lessons and experiences…layer upon layer of actions, emotions and moments…woven together to create an indelible legacy…” (in a long run-on sentence.)
  • 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
  • Opening line from a query letter: “Imagine a combination of a romance by Danielle Steele, an epic novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford, and an action novel by Nelson DeMille.”
  • 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.”
  • 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.”
  • Letter begins with, “Before my first psychotic break….”
  • Book “based on true experiences” with a subtitle of “Eye floaters as shining structure of consciousness.”

There you have it. A sample of some of the more exotic pieces that have recently crossed my desk.

[UPDATE: Three hours after posting this blog I received a phone call that would have made it on the list if it had come earlier. 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.]

Read these excellent articles about “The Slush Pile”

Laura Miller “When Anyone Can be a Published Author” – Salon Magazine
Rachelle Gardner “Why Oh Why Did I Get Rejected?”
Rachel Funari “Escaping the Slush Pile”
Katherine Rosman “The Death of the Slush Pile”
The Rejectionist “A Good Author is Hard to Find”

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

  1. Cheryl Wolverton October 14, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    all I can say is…WOW, Steve. I had no idea. So at least, mine would be on top of the slush pile, I hope! LOL!

  2. PatriciaW October 14, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    I find it so hard to believe these are real submissions. When I read a post like this from an agent, I wonder whether we writers are being “punked”. Then I feel enormous sympathy for the agents who must endure…

  3. Douglas Perry October 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    A while back I tried to be an agent for a day. What an eye opening experience, and I didn’t see anything close to those. I’m afraid I’d either be laughing so hard that I wouldn’t be able to do anything for a couple hours, or so creeped out that I would be afraid to open my email.

    What it tells me is that you really do love books.

  4. Scoti Springfield Domeij October 14, 2010 at 7:41 pm #

    When I was editor at Harvest House, I received a manuscript entitled “Memoirs of an Amnesiac.” When I opened the manuscript, all the pages were blank. That was my most memorable submission.

  5. Andra M. October 14, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    Douglas said it perfectly. You really do love books. I don’t think I’d have the patience or tenacity to last a day as an agent.

    I’ll stick to annoying them by sending crappy query letters 😉

  6. Rick Barry October 14, 2010 at 8:08 pm #

    Say, have you ever considered a contest for the most bizarre query letter? Sounds like a fun exercise in absurdity.

    On the other hand, considering samples like the above, truth might be stranger than fiction ever could be. 🙂

  7. Sally Apokedak October 14, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    Thanks for posting these. Now I’m feeling much less embarrassed by the dog of a proposal/manuscript I sent you several years ago. Or maybe time has just dulled my memory and I should be thankful you didn’t have a blog back then.

  8. Jim Rubart October 15, 2010 at 8:43 am #


    I’m getting the impression you don’t believe I’m the person from Revelation. Hmmmm. It was nice talking to you anyway.

    To be serious for a moment, if your readers haven’t latched onto Slush Pile Hell they should. It’s quickly become one of my favorite blogs.


  9. Steve October 15, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    Jim? You are a special friend because the Verse for Today was written with you in mind. Proverbs 1:25-26.


  10. Jim Rubart October 15, 2010 at 9:40 am #


    A true LOL moment! Thanks for providing the laughter.


  11. Lenore Buth October 15, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    As if it weren’t enough fun to read those hilarious queries, I love the exchange between you and Jim. Clever use of today’s verse, Steve.


  12. Katie Ganshert October 16, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

    Well, Mr. Fugate, at least you can’t complain about a lack of entertainment.

    P.S. Slush Pile Hell makes me roll. Literally roll.

  13. Pam October 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    This is scary!

    Scoti, the amnesia submission you received was too funny! Makes me wonder if one of your authors might have been pulling your leg…kinda like something Jim would do to Steve. lol

  14. Jim Rubart October 17, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    What?! I would never, ever do anything to Steve that would … uh, I better stop now or Steve will do something cruel like look up one of those verses about lying.

  15. Sarah Thomas October 17, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    These are great examples and I know they make many writers feel that at least their proposals aren’t THAT bad. What I’d really like to see, though, are the almosts. The ones that are pretty good, but missed some vital something that resulted in rejection. I think there are quite a few of us “almosts” out here and we’d love to gain a better understanding of the thin line–not the broad one.

  16. Steve Laube October 17, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Sarah, you make a good point and ask a great question. The problem is that the “fine line” is so incredibly subjective that it would not be that instructive. I know of many writers who got an “almost” and then stuck with it, made changes, and are now successful. Ask Jim Rubart about that. He will GLADLY tell you (with glee) what I said about the first draft of his chapters for the book which eventually was published under the title of ROOMS.

  17. Jim Rubart October 17, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

    Ha! Love the verse.

    Sarah, here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

    I submitted ROOMS to Steve at the Mt Hermon conference in March of ’06. Part of his rejection letter said, “You’re a good writer, BUT your protagonist is so antagonistic I cheer for his failure.” (Yes, that’s a classic line that will only grow grander as time passes.)He also told me my original title was lame.

    The reality? Steve was right on both counts. And I changed my protag and title based on his input.

    Steve does a teaching where he points out that (good) agents don’t have time to take on books that are 85% of the way there. They don’t have time for books 90% of the way there. They are slammed with so many good submissions they can’t afford to take anything but the great submissions. Steve might put those at 97 percent ready and above.

    The truth is, when Steve looked at ROOMS it was probably 85% of the way there. Before it was contracted I did significant work on it and got it into the 95% + range.

    Here’s the hardest part for an agent: They WANT you to succeed. They want your book to be published. Steve didn’t have to give me any feedback on ROOMS. (The Mt Hermon guidelines instructed agents and editors to tell authors, yes, I want to discuss this book further, or no, I’m rejecting it, nothing more was required.)

    He gave me comments because he and other good agents are wired that way. But (here’s the hard part) they simply don’t have time to explain to all authors who query what–in their opinion–will take a book from 85% – 95%.

    Because of their time constraints, conferences are one of the only places they can give specific feedback.

    Finally, this is an extremely subjective business as Steve points out. One agent loves it, one hates it. One editor raves about a manuscript another thinks tepid would better describe it. Do you realize both can be right?

    And take heart from the fact that people miss manuscripts the market has a hunger for. ROOMS hit the ECPA Fiction Bestseller list in September, but it was rejected by everyone. Everyone. (Even B&H who eventually bought it.)

    I know this is easy to say from where I sit today, but I believe our job as writers is to pursue our calling with passion and excellence, and leave the rest up to God.

    I think He knows what He’s doing.


  18. Katie Ganshert October 17, 2010 at 6:32 pm #

    Jim – that was incredibly inspirational. Especially since I received a couple quick rejections from some publishers last week on a new proposal my agent submitted. I had this feeling. Like, “If these two publishing houses don’t like it, why will any other publishing house like it?” It’s good to remember that it’s subjective….but oh so hard to keep in mind in the midst of waiting and hoping!

  19. Steve Laube October 18, 2010 at 9:54 am #

    Wow Jim! That was generous of you to tell the story so completely. Every writer should read that!


  20. Georgiana Daniels October 18, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    Whew! So glad I didn’t make your list.

    Thanks for the laugh 😀

  21. J.C. Martin October 19, 2010 at 3:28 am #

    Oh, dear, *LOL*. I’m not as worried about my plotline now! Still worried, but not *as*. 🙂

  22. Suzy Turner October 19, 2010 at 7:21 am #

    Reading this certainly gives me a little hope!

  23. Richard Mabry October 19, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    Steve, I’m glad you made it clear at the outset that you weren’t mocking the writers by posting these, and I enjoyed and learned from them. (Well, I knew most of it anyway). But I’m betting that someone, somewhere will still slam you as being mean, vindictive, and anti-author. Nevertheless, thanks for sharing.

  24. Nicole Bourque December 19, 2010 at 2:34 pm #

    WOW! That definitely made me laugh today! I think that makes me feel slightly better about my own queries. Think of it this way: Never a dull moment at work!

  25. Christa Johnston December 29, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    Oh, dear, *LOL*. I’m not as worried about my plotline now! Still worried, but not *as*. 🙂

  26. GibbsGILDA June 1, 2011 at 6:34 am #

    Set your own life time easier get the credit loans and all you require.

  27. Anthony J. Langford September 5, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    Hi Steve,

    Very funny post but informative too. Nice to hear from the other side. We often imagine agents and publishers as these cruel beasts with scythes, eager to slash and reject with glee over the ensuing misery. As someone who has done the rounds with courses and festivals etc, trying to learn as much as possible, it is frustrating to have the ‘system’ so clogged up by people who are either non-professional or so deluded in their own (non-existent) abilities that those with some talent become lost. Unless of course, I too am deluded in which case I’m talking about myself.

    A nice comment too from Jim.

    Cheers to you and my fellow warriors (or peasants, depending where you end up) in the Slush Pile.


  28. chippawaboots September 22, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    Saved being a favored

  29. Catherine Owen February 9, 2012 at 2:16 am #

    wow funny – but now an scared … 248 word childrens book looking not to get lost … glorifies gods love but can also be read and enjoyed by non christians … just keep swimming! xxxx
    at least those proposals make me feel sane …

  30. Terika Farmer January 17, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    Good afternoon Steve and “The Steve Laube Agency” Team:
    I appreciate your blogs and posts and I am learning so much about the world of publishing.

    I am curious. Do you all consider novellas for possible publication or only full length novels?

    I am encouraged to keep writing, as I read your blogs and all the comments.

    Terika Farmer

  31. Mark Conte March 16, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    I was accepted by Alpha Wolf who promised hardbacks. Solstice bought it, published the ebook and paperback and I am not happy with them at all. The book is The Ghost.
    “A decaying body of an eight-year-old girl is found near a sand dune on the Navarre-Pensacola Beach road. The law enforcement officers soon discover she was actually the second victim and the terror begins in Northwest Florida. Although every precaution is taken by parents and school officials, the killings continue. There is fear in the streets, in the schools, in the playgrounds and in every home. The Sheriff departments of four counties, the FDLE and the FBI seem powerless to stop it.”
    Can you get me a better publisher?
    Mark Conte
    Member: Authors Guild

  32. Anthony G Thompson May 19, 2016 at 9:56 pm #

    You owe me a keyboard. Coffee in the sinuses hurts!

  33. Cynthia Mahoney/aka Claire O'Sullivan May 29, 2017 at 1:57 pm #

    Hi Steve,

    so … here is a generic question that applies to all email submissions: agent/or publishing house receives three chapters, synopsis etc. Emails author back: Please submit the entire manuscript (for all the positive reasons one could think of) and please fix these mistakes.

    At that point, I have (and am not sure if this is correct) submitted the entire manuscript, subject line ‘Requested Manuscript Name of Novel’ and in the body of the email replied to the person requesting:

    Dear Name- (Mr. / Mrs. Name),

    Hi, ______,

    Attached please find the manuscript ‘Name of Novel’ that you requested.

    (But, what I really wrote was ‘By some quirky miracle, all pages of Novel Name fell into submission and I can breathe, attach, and send. Watch. I’ll send the email without the attachment, or the xcel sheet with my diet info.’

    Thank you,
    First Last name
    (and attached MS)

    Should my response be attached is MS… and not the latter? (after having shared several emails with said agent/PH in humorous exchange)

    Cindy Mahoney


  1. Tweets that mention The Slush Pile: Enter at Your Own Risk | Steve Laube -- - October 14, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jennifer H Taylor, Jennifer H Taylor. Jennifer H Taylor said: The Slush Pile: Enter at Your Own Risk: Click the picture to read the caption The … […]

  2. Tuesday Publishing Links for You « Chazz Writes - October 26, 2010

    […] The Slush Pile: Enter at Your Own Risk | Steve Laube‏ […]

  3. Mind Sieve 9/12/11 « Gloria Oliver - September 12, 2011

    […] the Steve Laube Agency – The Slush Pile: Enter at Your Own Risk. Great insight into aspects of the […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *