Saturday, February 19, 2011

Why It's Called The Slush Pile

Every writers pitch their ideas to literary agents and publishers. I've listened to many of these pitches personally at writers conferences and I've received stacks of these submissions as an editor and agent.

In a matter of seconds, I can tell if something is going to be worth reading and considering. Yes, seconds. Millions of submissions are in circulation at different offices. The editors and agents are actively looking because it is their business to find fresh talent and publish authors.

I've received many unusual submissions. The number and variety of these submissions grew that I started a file in my desk and labeled it, Strange But True.

Today another one landed in my mail box. Just to be clear, I've not worked for Howard Books for five years Yet a handwritten letter was addressed:

Manuscript Review Committee

Howard Books

Suite D-3 #481

23623 N. Scottsdale Rd.

Scottsdale, AZ 85255

It came to my personal address yet it was addressed to the "committee." OK. I opened it and thankfully it has an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). After I post this message, I'm going to print this entry and mail it to the author with the hopes it will help her see the necessity to have a much better presentation with her pitch.

The letter (typed) and dated February 15, 2011 began, "Dear Sirs," Why would you address a single editor to his personal mail box with Dear Sirs?

First paragraph: "If you could hold in your hands, this moment, the most urgent, significant, consequential revelations of the century, a manuscript so meaningful as to rival the Holy Bible of old, a manuscript containing the most sacred and controversial heavenly truths ever bestowed on the eath (she meant earth); would you publish it?"

OK, this paragraph is engaging yet full of hyperbole (exaggeration). It is in many respects over the top in terms of exaggeration.

Second paragraph: "This manuscript exists. _______ is about 900 pages of the most sacred words of the holy angels of God. This is a powerful, dynamic manuscript from a heavenly perspective, not a mortal imagination. These are deep, thought-provoking, intelligent, inspirational words which will invoke an indelible emotion in the reader. Some will tremble in the soul. Eyes will fill with tears as they recognize these are actual truths of angel's wisdom. This is not another "angel book."

A typical nonfiction book (which this claims to be) is 40 to 80,000 words. The world of books and magazine looks for the word count--not the page count. Estimating 200 words a page, this manuscript is 180,000 words or over 700 pages of a typeset book. That fact alone is enough to get this instantly rejected. The author has no concept of the challenges of book production or the difficulties that such a large book will mean to any publisher--much less thinking about the contents. I'm speaking only of the word count. It is way beyond the normal range.

While these changes are mostly cosmetic (the lack of a personal name address and the lengthy manuscript), let's address a core issue with submissions. You have to send your pitch to the right agent or editor. It has to be someone who identifies with the topic. Howard Books is a "Christian" part of Simon and Schuster. While there is broad definition for the word Christian, as a minimum, the editors hold to the basic Christian doctrines. For example, what do the editors believe about the Bible? I would expect their view to agree with what Billy Graham writes on his website, "But the Bible isn't just another human book. The Bible claims to be something far greater than this: It claims to be the Word of God. In other words, it says that behind its human authors was another author: God Himself. The Bible says, "For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). If this is true (and as a Christian I believe it is), then it means we aren't free to pick and choose what parts of the Bible we will believe. The whole Bible is God's Word, and the whole Bible teaches us God's truth. The Bible says, "As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless" (2 Samuel 22:31)."

This submission includes a page of quotations to entice the editor to request a partial or full manuscript submission. Here's one of the quotations, "About hell: "This is not for you or others. Do not be afraid because you think yourself not good enough to enter heaven. Even the most sinful of souls have a place in God's plan. A place will be waiting for all souls, where each will find happiness."

Really? You can follow this link to see what Billy Graham writes about hell but it is a real place.

Bottom-line this author has no idea how to approach an editor with the book idea nor how to send this idea for proper consideration.

As I have written here before, you only have one chance to make a good first impression. Tuesday, I'll be answering your questions about book proposals in a free teleseminar. I hope you can attend and will ask a question and pick up my free Ebook.

Also this teleseminar will be the launching my Write A Book Proposal training program. In 12-weeks, I teach step-by-step how to craft a book proposal and sample chapter which will gather the right sort of interest.

Every writer needs to learn all they can to make the best possible impression on the agent or editor. They are searching for a champion who will move their idea through the publishing process and they will ultimately get their book published and into the marketplace. As for this "submission" to the Manuscript Review Committee, it will only land in my "Strange But True" Manila folder.

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3 Comment:

At 7:08 PM, Blogger Tom Gilson Left a note...

I'd like to believe you made that whole thing up--but something tells me you didn't need to.

At 2:11 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


I didn't make any of it up. The quotes are real quotes from a submission I received last week. It is a brand new example of what people submit.


At 9:48 PM, Blogger mokie Left a note...

"Every writers pitch their ideas" - should be "Every writer pitches" or "Writers pitch".

"The number and variety of these submissions grew that I started a file in my desk and labeled it, Strange But True." - should be, "grew so large" or something similar. Your file's title should also be in quotation marks.

"I've not worked for Howard Books for five years Yet a handwritten letter..." - You need a comma and a lowercase Y there.

"The letter (typed) and dated February 15, 2011 began" should be "The letter, typed and dated February 15, 2011, began"

I don't point these out to be snarky, but because your article is about making the right first impression on those who might buy your work, and it's selling a seminar series. And, frankly, an article full of errors mocking someone for a typo like 'eath' comes across as mean-spirited, not helpful.

You may want to tidy the article up, to make the better first impression on potential seminar attendees and better get your message across.


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