The Slush Pile Returns

First big news of the day, I asked if I could leave for lunch and Loraine looked at me like I was mad. The answer was, ‘Of course you can leave for lunch. This isn’t a prison.’ Ahhhh, a proper working environment, where have you been all my life?

However, I still haven’t gotten-up the courage to ask if I could use the toilet. Yes, I know, it sounds stupid. Of course, she’d let me use the toilet. But I feel like I’ve gotten myself in a bit of a cycle now. If I ask to use the toilet, she’ll then realise that I haven’t used the toilet for the last two days, which will make Loraine ask one of two questions:

1) ‘Was she holding it all day, and how weird is that?’
2) ‘If she wasn’t holding it all day, and she didn’t use the bathroom, where did she pee?’

We all know that the first question is the more appropriate, but I can’t very well say ‘I promise I didn’t pee in your garden, just have a look at my blog, where I go on and on about needing a wee but being too afraid to ask.’

But, I seem to have navigated that situation by leaving to go home for lunch, and making sure that I do my business while I’m home. Yes, I know, it’s not a long term solution, but it’s sorted out the problem for the moment.

Next on the agenda: the slush pile.

I’m back to the slush pile, and (believe it or not) it’s worse than at MNM.

One, MNM was a regional publishers, and — if people actually followed the guidelines for submission — they would have only submitted to MNM if they were Scottish or the manuscript had a Scottish bent to it, which means we got less submissions than the larger publishers. Where as, I am to shift through the entire Agency’s slush pile, not just submissions to particular agents. The guidelines for the Agency state that unsolicited manuscripts are to be sent to (this is not the real email address, so don’t send anything to this address!!!!) not to particular agents, which means we have broader submission guidelines, and, therefore, we get more submissions. And therefore, more dross.

Two, word has gotten out that most publishers do not accept unsolicited material, so most people query agents before they contact publishers. Which means, we get everyone’s first round of ‘please buy my manuscript’ letters. Which, in turn, means that we get more material than some of the publishers. However, there is also an upside. Agents are more likely to get the good stuff before the publishers. So, that’s a bonus. Although, finding that good stuff buried amongst the dross is going to be a hard task.

Plus, this job used to be done by an intern, but the Agency hasn’t had an intern since the end of the summer, so the submissions have backed up a bit.

The way the slush pile works at the Agency is that we only accept email submissions, which come directly into a slush pile folder on the shared drive. Each one is dated, and I’m to go through them in chronological order. Also, I am to remember each of the agent’s interests. Not only do some of the agents prefer to deal with clients in a certain geographical area, but they all have different genres and styles they like to work with. (Plus, there are some forms and genres we don’t accept: poetry, scripts, short stories, fantasy/sci fi, romance.) Over time, I’m supposed to know what each agent prefers to work with, and if I find something I think will suit that agent, then I forward it to that particular agent.

However, Loraine said that they don’t expect me to remember all that right away. Instead, I need to find an ‘author that has potential’. That was her guidelines. That’s it. So, I asked her to explain further. She said that, unlike a publishers, a literary agency wants to work with an author over the course of a lifetime, not just for one book. So, I am to search the slush pile not just for good writing or even a good story, but also for authors who have won awards, who have taken courses, and who have generally shown that they are serious about the craft of writing. And this must be coupled with a strong manuscript. She added that they’re willing to work with an author, if they feel that author has potential. However, an author will show his/her potential by submitting a perfect manuscript.

Personally, I think that premise sounds a bit cyclical, but I’m sure I’ll get the nuances of it all. Also, working at MNM, it was drilled into my head that they didn’t want a one-hit wonder either. They only wanted authors that could bring in sales over their lifetime. So, honestly, I don’t think it’s that different from sifting through the MNM/publishing slush pile, but it’s also possible I’ll regret saying that.

Oh, and since the slush pile was a bit back logged, they wanted me to clear it down as fast as I can without skimping on the time I spend on each manuscript. No, not difficult at all. (Said with sarcasm.) And one last thing, I have a form to fill out for anything I find that has potential. On this form is stuff that I’ll either have to research or just kind of figure out. For example, I have to fill in information on the author’s past writing history, online presence, live presence, marketing potential, demographic, and so on. Holy shit, maybe I don’t want to find a gem in the slush pile.

Right, so, here’s my plan for the night. I’ve turned a bunch of the slush pile manuscripts into PDFs, which have then been uploaded onto my new work-Kindle, and I’m going to go out into Dundee and find a nice quiet pub to read them while having a glass of wine. Even if the manuscripts are horrible, it’s a better way of spending the evening than sitting in an empty flat again. So, wish me luck that I find a gem…or at least a good Merlot.


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