Adventures in the Slush Pile: 5 Manuscript Categories

Attention aspiring writers! What’s the fastest way to get your manuscript to a publisher? Hint: it’s not by mailing it directly to their office. Here the manuscript will be added to the slush pile to reside forever. (If you actually don’t know the first step in getting your book published, don’t expect wisdom here. There are about 4,000 resources out there.) And so masterpiece after masterpiece is relegated to the corner of an unused office until some freelancer takes on the task of finding the diamond in the rough. The very small diamond in the very, very big rough.

Thankfully, there’s hope. Soo Jin Oh (of the wonderful press New Directions) moonlights as a slush pile reader for a major New York publisher, and she’s come up with these handy categories. If your manuscript falls into one of these, don’t forget to add glitter, some candy and a headshot to that manila folder! 

Her Long Blonde Hair Fanned into a Golden Ray As Her Convertible Sped Into the Sunset
“First rule of sending an unsolicited manuscript: know the publishing house. Yes, millions of women (and even some men, no doubt) read steamy romances every morning (I see it on my daily commute), and there’s gold there, I tell ya, gold! I must confess that I spent a good deal of my pre-adolescent years reading romances for teenagers. Love Match was the best, seriously. You won’t get any snobbery from me where romance novels are concerned… but please, please send it to Harlequin. And don’t start with a cliche. Read Love Match. One can pick up a few pointers on how to keep romance novels funny.” 

I Am Empowered, I Am a Survivor
“When did poetry become therapy? I am not sure how poetry, which bards used to memorialize epic wars, which courtly lovers innovated in various sonnet forms to describe their beloved, which the Enlightenment era lengthened into Alexandrines that stretched their sardonic wit, which the Romantics suffused with doubts of a new era of experimental governance and the Industrial Revolution, which the Moderns reconstructed into language concrete as sidewalks…. When did all of this lead to the most popular form for describing the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, the talking sessions needed to get over incest, the many scorching brutalities of life that left one in drug rehab (albeit not as colorfully depicted as in A Million Little Pieces). Dante thought the tercet fit to describe the trinity of heaven, hell, and purgatory. While many of these would-be poets have survived hell, they have yet to learn how to make of language a raw and lean art sublime enough to make our living purgatory into a reader’s paradise.”

This Letter Is From an Inmate
“Yes, we all know that there are famous writers who emerged from jail, be it Etheridge Knight, Bobby Seale whose BBQ talk made it into Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, or the many writers whose works have made it into PEN American Center’s This Prison Where I Live. However, general ratio of passable unsolicited proposals (roughly 1 out of 3000… by the way, I am just making up that ratio) still prevail.”

The Angry Divorce Revenge Proposal
“These proposals start off, ostensibly, as a ‘How To Get Divorced Without Getting Screwed.’ But the suggested title says it all: the anger over the recent divorce obscuring any practical useful advice. Oddly enough, it seems that only husbands want to get revenge on their recent ex-wives by writing the sordid details of the unfortunate marriage, the court wranglings… and the alimony. Perhaps much of the rancor is due to the fact that women are the primary recipients of alimony. This is slowly changing (was everyone else as shocked by the salaries quoted in the article?). I recommend such how-to writers that they not descend into a froth of expletives.”

My MFA Thesis
“Okay, I know that the writer just shelled out a fortune to ‘learn’ how to write, so maybe they are entitled to thinking they are due for a book contract. Sadly, all their money went to a plush university, not to a vanity press. Nor did the money go towards the getting of experience, the elixir of life with which, when combined with observation, much reading, reflection, and long years in a hovel writing and rewriting might get you a book (either that or a bent back and bad eyesight). Most such manuscripts are marked by a bildungsromans theme with most of the sympathy reserved for the children and rarely for the parents.”

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1 Comment

Filed under guest, industry, writing

One response to “Adventures in the Slush Pile: 5 Manuscript Categories

  1. Ben

    “Until their youngest child recently turned 18, Ms. Barnes, who earned a total of $8.7 million in fiscal 2007, was receiving child-support payments from her former husband, according to court records.”

    Yes, those numbers shocked me too. Nice post!

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