The “slush pile” is the publishing term for the hundreds of manuscripts received by agents and those publishers open to unsolicited manuscript each day. How can you make your manuscript stand out?
Harold Underdown, faculty for our Crash Course in Children’s Publishing and for our Revision Retreat, has some recommendations.
There is no 100% guaranteed sure-fire way, and even if your manuscript does get out of the slush pile to be more carefully considered, you may not get signed up or published. But here are 5 things you can do that can help your manuscript get past a first reading:
1. Send your manuscript to a specific person.
It may help to address your submission to a particular editor or agent, IF you have made a real contact with someone, either through an encouraging letter or through meeting them at a conference, so that they are likely to remember your name.
2. Polish your query letter.
Get their attention with your query letter, which should be no longer than half a page, or it won’t be read to the end. Give them a reason to read your manuscript by making it clear that that you have something unique for them.
3. Do your market research.
Try submitting your manuscript to lesser-known publishers and other forms of publishing, like regional, niche, magazine, and specialty publishers, IF it will work for them.
4. Work on your manuscript.
Work on the manuscript some more. Get your critique group’s feedback, and then go back and work on the manuscript again. Be tough on yourself! Many manuscripts that agents and publishers receive seem not to have been revised, critiqued, or rethought in any way–taking part in writer’s workshops or local writing classes is thus a very good idea.
5. Find your passion.
The best way to get out of the slush pile is to write what you are passionate about, and then try to find an editor or agent who shares your passion. Strive to get beyond competent writing on familiar topics to expressing something only you can write about. After all, if you aren’t passionate about your writing, you’re unlikely to make an agent or editor feel passionate enough about it to sign it up.
In the end, the manuscript has to speak for itself. There is no magic formula beyond that.