Unsolicited manuscripts, the slush pile, and everything in between

Part of my job is to respond to general enquiries. Many of which are emailed manuscripts, despite the fact that our website states that we do not accept unsolicited manuscripts by email. It also goes on to state that if someone is going to submit a work of fiction, they should send:

  1. A query letter with a one paragraph synopsis.
  2. The first fifty pages.
  3. An outline of chapters.
  4. SASE for response.

The website also states:

If you are interested in sending work to MNM, we highly recommend that you familiarise yourself with our titles, and make sure that your submission would be a suitable title for our catalogue.

It would only take a quick browse through the website to discover that MNM only publishes Scottish related materials, and we do not publish children’s fiction, poetry, fantasy, sci fi, romance, teen fiction, or self help. Despite the clearly marked guidelines, people seem absolutely unable to follow them.

MNM has a cork board in the back office, and on that are posted about 20 of the worst email submission letters that we’ve received. Here are a few beauties:

Please accept my attached 897 page manuscript. I would have printed it out and posted it to you but it was too expensive to print it out.

Your website states that you only want the first 50 pages, but I don’t feel that this is long enough for you to really get to grips with my novel, as the action doesn’t begin until page 215.

Congratulations! You are now reading the first of many emails from your next number one selling author.

Attached are scanned copies of the poems I wrote in my University creative writing class. Will you publish them?

You only want a paragraph summarising my story. My novel is so intricate and philosophical that it would be impossible to explain what it’s about in so few words. Instead, I’ve attached a 12 page manifesto on my thoughts while writing the novel.

Please find enclosed a novel about a warrior space-princess’s torrid romance with an alien. The novel is about loving someone others do not accept, and is a metaphor about inter-racial dating.

 And this is only a small sampling of what ‘s on the ‘submission fail’ cork board.  

When I receive these types of emails, I have been given the following stock response to send out:

Thank you for submitting to MNM; however we do not accept unsolicited manuscripts by email. Please see our submission guidelines at [website here].

Why, why, why can’t people read? They had to go to the website to get the email address. In fact, the email address is at the very bottom underneath the submission guidelines. It makes me wonder, are these people illiterate or just arrogant?

On occasion, people manage to read and follow instructions and send us material as set out by the submission guidelines. While we aren’t really accepting unsolicited manuscripts (‘unsolicited’ means that it hasn’t come through an agent or we haven’t directly asked for the material), we don’t automatically discard work that comes in. Instead, we put them into a ‘slush pile’.

The ‘slush pile’ gets skimmed by an initial reader, and if that person thinks it’s okay, then it will go on to the commissioning editor.

Our ‘slush pile’ is divided into fiction and nonfiction.* I’m told that much, much less nonfiction comes in (maybe one or two a month), while we receive probably ten to fifteen pieces of fiction a week. While much of the fiction in the slush pile is automatically returned because it doesn’t fit in with our catalogue, we still have a mound of it.

Of the unsolicited submissions that come in by post (and include all the correct information), the nonfiction submissions go to the NFEditor, and Intern2 has been given the task of reading the fiction slush pile. Until today

My advice to anyone submitting an unsolicited submission to a publishing company…only send material to appropriate publishers, read the guidelines and follow them.

*A really interesting note is that even though we only require the first 50 pages and an outline, all fiction should should be finished when querying a publisher. Whereas, nonfiction manuscripts are expected to be incomplete at the commissioning stage.

For more information on slush piles from people who’ve been at it longer than two weeks, check out Slush Pile Hell, Confessions of a Slush Pile Reader, and Looking for Diamonds in the Slush Pile.

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