Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 27, 2010

Avoiding the Slush Pile

A few days ago we talked about the death of the slush pile.  Of course, slush is still out there, but you want to keep yourself out of it.  I found this article by Rachel Funari, a one-time assistant editor for a leading commercial genre magazine, on John Hewitt’s blog. 

Basically, you want to put your best foot forward, following the submission guidelines; no hand written manuscripts, no using an old typewritter, no little sparkles slipped in with the manuscript – just sending a very professional looking submission will help you stand out.  Remember, we are only talking about getting out of the slush pile.  You still need to work on your writing to really get noticed.

Here is an except of from Rachel’s article:

Escaping the Slush Pile

By Rachel Funari 

Imagine receiving a bulging and tattered business-sized envelope, bursting because a thirteen-page story is folded in thirds and stuffed into it. There is no cover letter, no SASE, no title, the manuscript has been typed on a 40-year-old manual typewriter, and as a means of editing his story, the unfortunate author has taped scraps of paper with corrected sections of type over the story, so that it looks like a ransom note. Hello, common sense! This is not what you want your submission to look like. If you stick to the following guidelines, your manuscript has a good chance of not becoming the joke of the day at the editorial offices.

Cover letters: Do tell your previous publication history. This information can help an editor to know how to judge the enclosed story: is it competing with the manuscripts of regularly published authors or with the other slush authors for the spot of a first-published story? (You’re better off competing for the latter as your competition isn’t anywhere near as stiff.) As for the rest’who you are, how long you’ve been reading the magazine, how you’ve just come to writing now that you are retired’ all that is gravy. The importance of the cover letter is that it looks professional and reads well: if you can’t put a decent sentence together in your cover letter, it is likely that you can’t do it in your story either. Do not ask for writers’ guidelines in the cover letter of your submission. You should have wanted them before you decided to submit. And avoid the line ‘I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.’ If you had so much fun writing it, then you probably weren’t working hard enough to produce a good story. Not to mention that it is a very unoriginal line.

The packaging: Do enclose a SASE, business-sized, if you do not want your manuscript returned — not a postcard, not an e-mail address, not a small envelope. And do affix the stamps or else they are likely to get lost. Do write in your cover letter that you have enclosed a SASE. This way, if your manuscript is found without a SASE, it will be assumed that the office lost it and you will be sent a response anyway. Do tell if your manuscript is disposable or not. If you do want your manuscript returned, enclose an 8×11 envelope (at least).

Do not fold your manuscript into a business-sized envelope no matter how short it is so that it can nicely fit into a flat pile if need be. Do not print your story out on fancy paper or send fancy envelopes or use fancy fonts — don’t make an editor put your manuscript down because her eyes hurt. Don’t send more than one story at a time or in close succession. Though many magazines do accept multiple submissions, if an editor doesn’t like your first or second stories, is she likely to give your third and fourth their careful due? Do not Express Mail your manuscript: it seems arrogant or obsessive. Do not send artwork with your story unless asked for. It won’t be used and you may get it back with coffee or blood stains (paper cuts).

I continually heard laments from aspiring writers that the publishing industry does not look favorably upon new authors. As assistant to an editor who could not find enough new authors to publish, I know that the editor isn’t the problem. Ask yourself why you want to be a writer. If you don’t read, if you don’t think language is amazing, and if you don’t see writing as a craft in itself rather than as a means to an end, then you probably shouldn’t be writing.

The one overriding aspect that I have distinguished between the stories I recommended and the stories I rejected is that the former ‘show’ a story, whereas the latter only ‘tell’ a story. It is difficult to articulate what this means, but it has to do with skill and talent. Most slush stories follow patterns that jumble together the following basic elements: a description of characters’ physical features, an explanation of their pasts, a description of their personalities, and unrealistic dialogue indicating the relationships between characters. Good stories, or novels for that matter, do not rely upon a narrator explaining a character to the reader, but show personality through interaction and reaction, reveal characters’ pasts through their present thoughts and emotions, intersperse descriptions of setting and time throughout the story, and create suspense through gradated revelation as to a characters’ motivations and personality quirks.

Read the rest of the article:

In my personal opinion the best way to avoid the slush pile is to come out to workshops and conferences where you can meet editors and agents and get their feedback on your manuscript. 

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I agree 100%. Conferences, workshops, networking dinners, all of these are critical as learning tools, and for making personal connections with professionals in the publishing industry. Not to mention the tremendous value of peer critiques at mentoring workshops. I would never have ended up with a finished manuscript without everything I learned from the above.


  2. I just love this type of article. It seems no matter how many articles/books I read on the subject of writing, I never tire of it, and you never know where you’ll find that “gem” that sticks with you in a more clear or profound way. I’m going to read the REST of it!…*hops and skips with a tra-la-la* 🙂


  3. Good Stuff!


  4. I recently watched a Children’s Book Insider vlog about how to avoid the slush pile altogether by looking at writing conference participants, finding out which agents/editors will be there, and then doing research on them, following them on Twitter, etc. That way when you attend the conference, you have something interesting to say. Then if they’re interested in you, you can tell them a little about your manuscript and ask if they’re interested in seeing it.


  5. Good, practical advice! 🙂
    I definitely need to find some conferences in the area.


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