Monday, December 9, 2013

Simple Ways To Get Through The Submission Slush Pile--What I've Learned From #PitchWars

As many of you know, I am participating as a mentor in the #PitchWars contest hosted by Brenda Drake.

What this means for me, and approximately forty other authors also acting as mentors, is that I have temporarily stepped into the role of a discerning agent or editor. I HAVE A SLUSH PILE! Hundreds of writers have submitted their query and first five pages to to me and my fellow mentors. Our job is to read through all these submissions and decide on one pick that we will mentor into the next round, which is the agent round. We only get ONE pick! All these amazing submissions, talented writers, exciting stories, and we only get to work with one. I have a new appreciation for what agents and editors go through when faced with an ever-increasing slush pile. Fortunately for me, sometimes writers make it easy on me with very common mistakes. Here's my two cents on what to do get past the slush pile:
  • NEVER open with a question! I thought this was a really well-known no-no, but apparently not. I don't want to asked difficult questions about what I would do if faced with an intergalactic alien king who is hell bent on killing me. :/
  • Don't get super creative with format. Stick to the basic structure:
  1. Hook section which introduces character and setting
  2. Conflict section which sets up the general story
  3. Stakes section which explains what terrible things will happen if your main character can't overcome the conflicts
  4. About section which highlights the author, word count, and comps. 
Within this framework, you can get all sorts of creative, but don't disrespect the format. It makes it easy for agents/editors to dismiss you outright if you don't be respectin' them rules!
  • PLEASE make it easy for the agents/editors to contact you or research you. At the end of the query, hyperlink all your junk: email, website, blog, twitter handle, facebook page, etc. If you don't do this, the agent/editor will either 1) assume you don't have any social media presence at all; or 2) that you aren't professional enough to help them out--they don't have time to google you, and sort through pages of google listings of super creepy people out there that share your name! Which brings me to my next point...
  • HAVE a social media presence! I realize that this is probably a controversial subject because I'm sure we can all name a few authors who got picked up without so much as a twitter account (Stephen King just got his twitter account--fifty million bucks later). Whatever. You're not Stephen King! Get a blog, and even better, get a website. If you're serious about getting published, just do it. Go ahead and rant at me, and tell me all the reasons why it's not necessary until your published or whatnot. Tell me about the agent who told you that it didn't matter to them. Well, it mattered to my agent, and it mattered to me as I was trying to narrow down the field of contestants. 
  • GET a professional author picture, and upload it to all your email accounts, social media, etc. Even if you don't love pictures of yourself, pay someone a nominal fee to photoshop the crap out of you! (As long as it still looks like you). Gmail, hotmail and I'm sure all the other email hosts provide you with an option to upload your picture to your account settings. I swear this will help! I swear that agents/editors don't want to see a character out of the HOBBIT movie in your profile pic!
  • OF COURSE, it won't hurt to have:
  1. A completed manuscript with appropriate word count for your genre. 
  2. A voice that shines and resonates with the intended audience
  3. A marketable premise that hasn't been outdone (paranormals, dystopians, angel books...sorry, but you are at a huge disadvantage right now).
If you do these things, you will already be placing yourself above most of the slushers!

And thus endeth my preaching. Amen.


  1. Great, great, comments on how to shine in the slush pile. Since we don't get to see everything getting submitted we don't always get to see the overdone commonalities that will make us sink in the mire. I love having your perspective.

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  3. Thank you for this input. It's encouraging that, according to you, I am doing everything to the advantage of my writings!

  4. Thanks for passing along your two-cents, especially the part about social media presence. I think it's time I coughed up the money for a professional author pic!

  5. Oh no! Social media! Me no likey... ;-) thanks for the advice! Looks like I need to add a few things to my to do list.

  6. Preach on! I love hearing about wading through the slush from the perspective of an author.

  7. Love this advice! So kind of you to pass on the knowledge, Jessie.

  8. Advice that all writers should come to heart.

  9. Thanks for sharing. Great advice on how to catch an agent's and your attention.

  10. I love all of this. A good friend of mine works as an editor for a mid-sized publisher and I'm sometimes AMAZED what people send to her... (not in a good way, lol)

  11. This is very helpful, especially the part about the different sections that should be included. And I actually started following Stephen King on Twitter. That's one of the reasons I joined Twitter; that is, I noticed that several interesting authors were Tweeting, including Anne Lamott, Amy Tan, and Joyce Carol Oates.

  12. Thanks for the reminder, Jessie!

  13. Good luck reading through the slush pile, Jessie, and thanks for the excellent tips!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

  14. Props to you for helping writers during Pitch Wars! Very cool how much impact the blog contests have. Querying really is its own beast. It pays to read up on it and posts like this are so helpful.

  15. The comparisons (comps) are so the agent can see that you're honed in on where your book will fit in the market. It does NOT mean your book is in the same writing style. For instance, "My story will appeal to readers who enjoyed _______, since it also features a strong female protagonist who is constantly attacked by odd creatures."