The New Slush Pile: Benefits and Drawbacks

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Slushpile Here’s a daunting figure for aspiring writers: most literary agents receive 100-300 queries per week. Of those, they usually request extra material from 1 or 2 writers, at most. Out of that coveted request pile, agents typically only take on a handful of new clients per year.

So, basically, the slush pile odds are not good. If you take a look around places like Slush Pile Hell, or un-agented author websites that advertise their litany of rejection notes, it can seem like getting signed is impossible. Futhermore, it doesn't help anyone feel better to read the streams of articles about the entertainment industry’s universal belt tightening in their search for new writing talent.

Despite these foreboding signs and predictions, I do not believe the slush pile is dead, nor is it a futile climb to nowhere—it’s just changing with the times, like everything else in publishing. And in some important ways, it’s changing for the better.

Remember the old-school query process? Authors found agent addresses in Writers Digest, printed their queries on some stationary, mailed them in with an SASE enclosed, and crossed their fingers. It was a lonely and slow moving process.

Things are different now. Almost all agents accept queries via email or through online submission forms. Even better, some agents check there email continuously throughout the day, and may respond to queries much more rapidly than before—sometimes even within minutes! It’s also a short online skip and jump to find a database of agent contact info and submission guidelines. Basically, access to agents is often easier, faster, and more transparent than it was, say, ten years ago.

However, with this ease of communication comes a substantial increase in the number of queries agents receive. For writers, this makes it all the more important to write a concise, eye-catching query letter. Screen shot 2010-09-02 at 5.05.07 PM This need played a key role in the design of our AgentInbox application’s online interface, which helps writers quickly display the unique elements of their project to interested literary agents. I believe that, for better or worse, querying will continue evolving into a more streamlined and efficient process as agents explore ways of moving through their slush faster.

Yet, with all the changes that are taking place in publishing, some constants remain: if a writer understands the current market, is persistent and strategic with their querying efforts, and (most importantly) has a good manuscript that engages readers, they stand a good chance at securing representation from an agent. To catch that glimmer of hope and some inspiration from the bottom the slush pile, (if that’s where you’re currently standing) check out some success stories (from WEbookers too!) and remember, they all started in the same place.

I'm interested to hear from writers as well. How do  you feel about the changing agent submission process and slush pile?

—Ardy Khazaei, President of WEbook 



AK headshotArdy is a veteran of the digital media world—both as an entrepreneur and a corporate executive, including six years at HarperCollins Publishers where he was the SVP of Electronic Media. Go here to learn more about him.



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