Disclaimer: If you find a portion of your manuscript in the ‘Slush Pile of Shame’, do not threaten to sue me. Instead, be happy that I’ve kept all abstracts anonymous (I could have ‘named and shamed’), and use this as a small hint that your writing needs major work.
Slush Pile of Shame #6, added 3 January 2011
Childe Magnusson was the great-great-grandson of King Skene, and he now too was a ruler, a ruler of the last Scottish Clan. This Clan was hidden away in a cave fifty miles west of John O’Groats, and over the centuries this cloistered Clan had evolved into super beings, each with their own power. Some could bend objects with their mind, others could conjure fire or water, some could become invisible, and others could fly. The people naturally divided into their own groups, with those of one power staying together. Magnusson had all of the powers which was why he was King, plus he was conveniently heir to the thrown. But there was a usurper in the group. Donald Donaldson was the only Clan member to not have a power, but little did the rest of them know that he was smarter than all the rest, and this coupled with his jealousy pushed him into the brink of madness. He planned on taking Magnusson’s crown at all costs. But while the rest of the Clan was ignorant to Donaldson’s ploy, Magnusson knew what was coming because he had the ghost of his great-great-grandfather to help him out and see the future.
This is the very first paragraph of the book.
(Notes from the intern: Don’t give away the entire premise of your book in the first paragraph. Granted, the writing isn’t too good in this sample, but I’ve passed over a number of manuscripts that are very well written, and have the potential of being excellent novels, but all the conflict and mystery is spelled out on page one. Tip, I know you’re excited about that fabulous narrative you’ve come up, but let us get involved with the characters and the story, and that fabulous plot will be even better as we discover it for ourselves.)
Slush Pile of Shame #5, added 3 January 2011
Early in the 18th century, when I (Heaven help me) was a youth of some twenty years old, I was summoned suddenly from Bourdeaux to attend my father on business of importance. I shall never forget our first interview. You recollect the brief, abrupt, and somewhat stern mode in which he was wont to communicate his pleasure to those around him. Methinks I see him even now in my mind’s eye;—the firm and upright figure,—the step, quick and determined,—the eye, which shot so keen and so penetrating a glance,—the features, on which care had already planted wrinkles,—and hear his language, in which he never wasted word in vain, expressed in a voice which had sometimes an occasional harshness, far from the intention of the speaker.
When I dismounted from my post-horse, I hastened to my father’s apartment. He was traversing it with an air of composed and steady deliberation, which even my arrival, although an only son unseen for four years, was unable to discompose. I threw myself into his arms. He was a kind, though not a fond father, and the tear twinkled in his dark eye, but it was only for a moment.
‘Dubourg writes to me that he is satisfied with you, Frank.’
‘I am happy, sir…’
‘But I have less reason to be so’ he added, sitting down at his bureau.
‘I am sorry, sir…’
‘Sorry and happy, Frank, are words that, on most occasions, signify little or nothing—Here is your last letter.’
He took it out from a number of others tied up in a parcel of red tape, and curiously labelled and filed. There lay my poor epistle, written on the subject the nearest to my heart at the time, and couched in words which I had thought would work compassion if not conviction,—there, I say, it lay, squeezed up among the letters on miscellaneous business in which my father’s daily affairs had engaged him. I cannot help smiling internally when I recollect the mixture of hurt vanity, and wounded feeling, with which I regarded my remonstrance, to the penning of which there had gone, I promise you, some trouble, as I beheld it extracted from amongst letters of advice, of credit, and all the commonplace lumber, as I then thought them, of a merchant’s correspondence. Surely, thought I, a letter of such importance (I dared not say, even to myself, so well written) deserved a separate place, as well as more anxious consideration, than those on the ordinary business of the counting-house.
Sound familiar? That’s right; this is from Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy. However, someone sent it to us as their own work.
(Notes from the intern: There’s such a thing as influence, homage and appropriation of narrative. This is just plane old plagiarism. If you’re going to steel someone else’s story, change it a little and call an adaptation, don’t just cut and paste the first fifty pages off the Gutenberg Project. Plus, if we wanted to publish public domain literature, we could do it without your name attached.)
Slush Pile of Shame #4, added 20 November 2010
As Intern2 and I slushed through the slush pile in hopes of clearing out the old submissions, we saw the same problems again and again. I’ve made a list of the top five problems found in our little slush pile.
1. Submissions that don’t fit the remit of MNM.
So many people send us work that we would not publish: books that are in no way attached to Scotland, books on sports, children’s book, romance fiction, etc. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE SUBMITTING.
2. The cover letter says the book is one thing, but the sample chapter shows something else.
For example, one cover letter stated:
My book is in the style of Val McDermid but with my own original twists. But the sample chapter was romance fiction. I’m not sure if Val McDermid was chosen because she is a famous Scottish author and the person thought it might help convince us to publish the book, or if the book is crime fiction but the murder happens later in the book. Which leads me to the next point…
3. Get to the point.
So many submissions just ramble on. For some pieces, I feel like there might be something coming, but the suspense isn’t strong enough to keep me reading. I can feel like I’m wasting my time.
4. The author has the following motto: ‘The more adjectives and adverbs the better’.
It’s like they just opened the dictionary and started throwing in words for the sake of it. Fancy vocabulary should never over take a good story.
5. It’s a ‘true life story’.
I know memoirs are big business, but I’m just going to just say what I think, ‘Just because you think your life is interesting, doesn’t mean anyone else will.’
Slush Pile of Shame #3, added 8 November 2010
The following paragraph found on a cover letter in a slush pile is what sparked my request for a public debate: Why do you write?
Dear Sir or Madame,
I’m sick of everyone telling me that octogenariphilia is wrong, so in order to help the world understand the beauty of those nearing the century mark I have written a tender and passionate romance novel. I know once this novel is published, people will finally come around to the splendour of loving the aged, and the novel will certainly be a number one best seller.
I wrote the novel in a way that mimics a film so that it will be easier for you to sell the film rights, and I have already chosen the cast: Maggie Smith and the sexy Jason Hughes of Midsomer Murders will be playing the romantic couple. Unlike the unrealistic Harold and Maude, my novel (and subsequent film) is a more realistic story with intimate, lengthy and multiple sex scenes.
The letter then goes on to give an outline of the novel’s sex scenes and the accompanying camera angles.
(Notes from the intern: Out of morbid curiosity I read the first page of the sample first chapter. Only one way to describe it: porn with wrinkles. I’ll never eat porridge again.)
Proof that MNM isn’t the only publisher receiving these sort of queries, I found the following blog: Help I Need a Publisher. And outside of this one tongue and cheek post, this blog is an excellent resource for those wishing to get published.
Slush Pile of Shame #2, added 25 October 2010
The moment I sat down at the table I knew that my life was over Id never see my child grow up Id never see my grandchild. That knife screamed at me and it yelled Kill Yourself. I reached over to the knife and ran my finger along its edge drawing a thing cut along my finger print letting red blood drip down onto the glass table top. As she ran her finger along me I knew I was in control my shiney steal trimbled beneath her skin as I sliced threw. We both knew it would be soon and we could be one.
(Notes from the Intern: This is the most lucid portion of the five pages I read. I have no idea who is talking, or even what is going on. There were so many typos that I began to think that they were intentional. Hint to those submitting, get someone to proof read your work.)
Slush Pile of Shame #1, added 9 October 2010
Trapped beneath the city of Dunfermline Derick von Buggen knew that he only had one chance to get away. The coarsely woven rope made of strong jute dug deep into his wrists, and the finely tied sailor’s not cut across his hands. But Derick knew how to get free, for little did his captors know that he had double jointed wrists that could twist and bend in directions unnatural to most primates. He pulled his left hand free first, then his right. He reached into the upper left hand pocket of his fine Italian coat, but found his mobile was not there. Only moments before his captors drugged him with a cocktail of single malt whiskey and philosophogeline, the beautiful Margaritte, with her steely dark eyes and hair the colour of coal, reached across the bar and kissed him. Her bright red lips, wet and warm, felt right. Derick new that this woman was no good, but he wanted her anyway, and what Derick wanted Derick got.
Margaritte must have slipped her hand into his pocket during that kiss, alleviating him from his mobile. Little did Margaritte know that earlier in the day the prize winning scientist Professor Luther Martindale had fitted Derick with a small digital ear piece that could call anywhere in the world. Von Buggen was not going to be defeated. He would escape from that underground lair, save the world from nuclear holocaust, and make sweet love to Margaritte. He didn’t care if she worked for the other side, for Von Buggen thought it was titillating to mix love and war.
(Note from the intern: This is the opening paragraphs. The story might be clichéd and over written, but at least it jumps right into the action. Also, in my heart of hearts I’d hoped this was a parody, but after reading several pages, the synopsis and the outline, I realised that I was in no such luck.)