Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 20, 2010

Slush Is Dead



Ms. Meyer sent 15 query letters about her teenage-vampire saga. She got nearly 10 rejection letters; one even arrived after she signed with an agent and received a three-book deal from Little, Brown. She doesn’t need to send out query letters anymore.

The Death of the Slush Pile
Even in the Web era, getting in the door is tougher than ever
Wall Street Journal January 22, 2010 by Katerine Rosman

Katerine Rosman, discusses the plight of Hollywood studios and publishers having to defend themselves from writers who want to sue, because the studio or publisher, released a similar story as something a writer sent in through the slush pile. A Random House editor said she hadn’t found anything in the slush pile since 1991.  Thus the reason Katerine says…

Slush is dead, or close to extinction.

Film and television producers won’t read anything not certified by an agent because producers are afraid of being accused of stealing ideas and material. Most book publishers have stopped accepting book proposals that are not submitted by agents. Publishers say they can scarcely afford the manpower to cull through the piles looking for the Next Big Thing.

As writers try to find an agent—a feat harder than ever to accomplish in the wake of agency consolidations and layoffs—the slush pile has been transferred from the floor of the editor’s office to the attaché cases of representatives who can broker introductions to publishing, TV and film executives. The result is a shift in taste-making power onto such agents, managers and attorneys. Theirs are now often the first eyes to make a call on what material will land on bookshelves, television sets and movie screen.

Still, discoveries do happen at agencies, including the biggest publishing franchise since “Harry Potter”—even though it basically took a mistake to come together. In 2003, an unknown writer named Stephenie Meyer sent a letter to the Writers House agency asking if someone might be interested in reading a 130,000-word manuscript about teenage vampires. The letter should have been thrown out: an assistant whose job, in part, was to weed through the more than 100 such letters each month, didn’t realize that agents mostly expected young adult fiction to weigh in at 40,000 to 60,000 words. She contacted Ms. Meyer and ultimately asked that she send her manuscript.

The manuscript was passed on to an agent, Jodi Reamer. She liked what she read, a novel called “Twilight.” She signed Ms. Meyer, and sold the book to Little, Brown. The most recent sequel in the series, “Breaking Dawn,” sold 1.3 million copies the day it went on sale in August 2008. The latest film grossed more than $288 million in the U.S.

At William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, Adriana Alberghetti only reads scripts sent to her by producers, managers and lawyers whose taste she knows and trusts. The agent says she receives 30 unsolicited e-mails a day from writers and people she doesn’t know who are pushing unknown writers, and she hits “delete” without opening. These days, she is taking on few “baby writers,” she says, adding that risks she would have taken five years ago she won’t today. “I’ll take very few shots on a new voice. It’s tough out there right now,” she says.

Book publishers say it is now too expensive to pay employees to read slush that rarely is worthy of publication. At Simon & Schuster, an automated telephone greeting instructs aspiring writers: “Simon & Schuster requires submissions to come to us via a literary agent due to the large volume of submissions we receive each day. Agents are listed in ‘Literary Marketplace,’ a reference work published by R.R. Bowker that can be found in most libraries.” Company spokesman Adam Rothberg says the death of the publisher’s slush pile accelerated after the terror attacks of 9/11 by fear of anthrax in the mail room.

A primary aim of the slush pile used to be to discover unpublished voices. But today, writing talent isn’t necessarily enough. It helps to have a big-media affiliation, or be effective on TV. “We are being more selective in taking on clients because the publishers are demanding much more from the authors than ever before,” says Laurence J. Kirshbaum, former CEO of Time Warner Book Group and now an agent. “From a publisher’s standpoint, the marketing considerations, especially on non-fiction, now often outweigh the editorial ones.”

Click here to read the rest.

Try not to let this upset you.  That is why you go to conferences where you can meet the editors and agents.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Kathy, the value of a well-run, successful conference is truly INvaluable!


  2. I agree that conferences are invaluable. Via the SCBWI, I found Jim Whiting. He’s considered a manuscript MD. I contacted him last Jan., and he began working on my manuscript in early Feb. We’re in the final stages! May even be done this week. It’s been an amazing process. I’ve loved every second of it. Jim is a master editor. Very easy to communicate with. Gets back to you asap. I can’t say enough about him. And with the industry tightening its belt or so it seems, one can’t do enough to perfect his/her work. I encourage anyone looking for some assistance to inquire with Jim.


    • Thanks for the link, Chris. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go that route, but it’s comforting to have 😀


      • Donna,
        It can’t hurt to inquire! I had received very good feedback on my story during and after the last 3 NJ conferences, but I felt like I was struggling to get it right. And wasn’t sure if I could. Have to say, I wasn’t looking for a manuscript MD. Didn’t know they existed. Just stumbled upon it, and I recognized Jim’s name. For what you get, his rates are more than reasonable. I’ll stop promoting now. Just wanted to throw that out there.


    • Chris, I see Jim’s personal work is non-fiction. Did he help you with fiction?


      • He did. His non-fiction is for kids, so that helps quite a bit! I wrote a fictional stoy, which includes a lot of factual information. And Jim was very good at helping do that in the right way. Again, it was the perfect fit for me. I had used one of his non-fiction books for a research project in college, so I was a little familiar with his style. Although he and I seemed to be on the same page from the get go, I’m sure he would be able to assist anyone with writing a children’s book. Also, everyone writes differently. I consider myself a “hot” writer, which makes for an extensive amount of editing after…and that’s another reason why Jim was so good for me. I can’t speak for all “hot” writers, but if they are like me, they hate going back and editing. Jim took some of that burden off me.
        I thank the SCBWI for providing the MD info.


  3. Writers should also keep in mind that there are still some smaller publishers who read their slush pile. I should know, that’s how my first novel was picked up.


    • Alissa,

      You are correct. I’m glad you pointed that out, since I should have mentioned that in my post.




  4. You’re right, Kathy. The NJSCBWI conferences and workshops give us direct access to editors and agents. What a gift. Thank you.

    I also noted this in the above article:

    “In 2008. HarperCollins launched, a Web slush pile. Writers can upload their manuscripts, readers vote for their favorites, and HarperCollins editors read the five highest-rated manuscripts each month. About 10,000 manuscripts have been loaded so far and HarperCollins has bought four.”

    Has anyone checked this out? Look at the odds–4 in 10,000. That is sobering.


    • Authonomy is a popularity contest. I worked it for about six months and became disgusted by the writers ‘buying’ votes by trading reads and automatically voting favs up the ladder via the forums.

      If you write for children there’s also Inkpop. It’s Harper’s teen line. But it’s the same thing and the same pop contest – just less mature because you’re mostly dealing with teens or very young adults.

      Got picked up by an Indie publisher who DOES read slush. MuseItUp Publishing. Best thing that ever happened to me. I’m in the process of editing my first of five books to come out next year.


      • Wow, Rebecca…thanks for that info. It reminds of me of how the Oscars are won too! And congrats and good luck with your books! 🙂


      • Rebecca,

        That is great news! I’m so happy for you. When did all this happen?



  5. Another thing that I have to say thanks to Kathy for is her endless info., especially on contests. As I shared with her yesterday, I received an email from an absolute authority on writing. This person who I’m not sure would be okay with me saying his/her name, gave me an unbelievable email. Kathy can confirm it. I was told that I made it into the top 100 and well over a 1,000 stories entered! Without Kathy’s info., I wouldn’t have known about the contest. I was told I should somehow include that in my query letters…how?? I guess I could ask that person, if he/she minds.
    THANKS—KATHY!!! I don’t know how you do it!


  6. Didn’t Time Warner have a version of Authonomy out about 2000? It too was a popularity contest. An author even submitted a work which had been contracted and was told by peers and the moderator that her work was below par. This is just sad. Not all can afford to travel to conferences to meet editors and agents. This means that the same voices are heard. The same type of stuff gets churned out because the same minds are stirring it. Vampires and weres rule at the moment. I wonder why?


    • Where do you live? I think there should be a conference in almost every state?!
      Affording it is a whole other issue. However, noone knows how difficult that can be more than me. I’m a single custodial father of 2 girls. Have been since they were in diapers. No child support and no help from mom. In fact, she left a few years ago and never came back. Somehow, someway, I scraped the money together to go to the conferences and attend a dinner in NYC, etc. I even found a way to go back to college. I rarely eat out, and I don’t buy much, except when it comes to BOOKS!


      • Good for you, Chris! I have some issues myself, and it does make it very difficult, but somehow we still can make things happen, sometimes with the help of others 🙂


  7. Mid-market and small publishers are still a great option–my first two books were picked up by medium-sized houses, one that since has become one of the fastest growing houses in the USA.

    Smaller publishers are much more willing to “take a chance” on a new author…and there is nothing wrong with not being with a big pub house. Plenty of authors have garnered cult followings and have even become bestsellers via these smaller houses.

    Keep your chins up! If you are good at what you do, the right person will find your work. The key is perserverance and a willingness to try some smaller houses. I have sold two novels (and have a series in the works) to two traditional publishers, all without using an agent.
    You CAN do it! 🙂


    • Danielle,

      That is great news! Congratulations the book contracts and thanks for sharing.



  8. Ten or fifteen queries is NOTHING! Many of the now ‘name’ authors waded through many times that before they found their yes.
    Perserverance is required in an industry beset by current political and economic issues.
    Write on.


    • pckr,

      You are so right. Jerry Spinelli wrote five novels and wrote for 15 years before he got someone to pick up his sixth book, so perserverance definitely is required. BTW, Jerry never sold those first five book. He says, they taught him how to write.



  9. Yay! By accident you answered my question on word count length for YA books.

    What I think is strange is that there are still so many authors out there who don’t know this stuff, that don’t know that publishers don’t usually accept unsolicited material. *sigh*


    • Naomi,

      It can take years to learn everything you need to know in the industry. That is why if you want to succeed, you have to read books, read blogs, ask questions, and network. Hope you stop by again.



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