Monday, August 31, 2009

Tales from the Slush Pile

I spent all day Saturday reading slush subs. I didn't keep count as I was going through them, but based on my best estimates:

  • About 3% thought they were submitting to an agent.
  • About 10% submitted work that is not even remotely close to what we publish -- memoirs, religious books, dissertations, cookbooks, etc. (Why is there always a cookbook?)
  • About 20% submitted fiction, but not even remotely close to our type of fiction -- hardboiled detective novels, fictionalized childhood memoirs, YA witches and vampires, stories a la Tom Clancy and Louis L'Amour, etc.
If you're doing the math so far, that's about one-third of our submissions that are wildly inappropriate for us. It's a waste of my time and yours to send that sort of submission to our house.

(Side note -- Last week I asked for your input on our submission guidelines. I took many of your suggestions. New guidelines are here.)

So this leaves about two-thirds of the original pile. This somewhat-reduced group is all more or less romance and may or may not have enough erotic content for our needs. Of this remaining two-thirds:

  • One out of three will be disqualified for multiple spelling errors, egregiously bad grammar, or other signs of a writer who is barely literate. These are the most mystifying submissions. You have the stamina to write a whole entire book, but can't take the time to run the spellchecker? Really?
  • About half will be capable of writing a clear sentence in the English language, but won't understand basic fiction mechanics. These are the people who got As and Bs on all their high school papers and would probably make strong nonfiction writers. If they learn things like scene structure, pacing, characterization, and the like, they will probably eventually write publishable fiction. But they're not there yet.
If you're still doing the math, we've now culled almost nine in ten (roughly 88%, by my estimate) manuscripts from the slush pile. Most of these have been easy decisions. From opening the submission, scanning the contents, through sending out the form rejection, I should not spend more than five minutes on each of these submissions. However, if I spend a full five minutes on each, this amounts to about seven and a half hours of reading time per one hundred slush subs, and I would still have twelve to read to finish off that batch of a hundred.

Of those remaining ten or twelve subs:

  • One-third (roughly three or four) will have great external romance plots, competent writing, and an interesting premise, but will leave me guessing as to what kind of erotic content is included. These are sometimes rejected, and sometimes get a request for a full with a reminder that we publish erotic content. I usually suggest that they make sure they have the right heat level before sending in the full. In about half of the cases, we don't ever see these fulls, which leads me to suspect the story wasn't hot enough to begin with. Of the ones that are submitted, they are usually not erotic enough to suit our needs, but if the author is willing, it's very easy to pump up the erotic content. (Usually.) For this reason, we tend to request the non-hotties more often than we reject them.
  • Another three or four will be hot enough to melt my eyeballs, but will have weak characterizations, trite external plots, occasional awkward phrasing, and other glitches. Sometimes these are fixable, but much depends on the skill level and willingness to work of the author. These are the ones editors evaluate with one eye on the clock: "How much of my time will it take to get this into publishable shape?" The answer, almost always, is too much. For this reason, we tend to reject the hot-clunkies more often than we request them.
  • Another three or so will be just right. Good plot, good heat, good writing -- or good enough, anyway, to be fixed in under a hundred editor-hours. With some sense of anticipation, we will request fulls on all three. Two will eventually show up.

What's the lesson in this? Read the guidelines, run the spellchecker, and respond to requests for fulls. Be willling to work and revise your stories. You can improve your odds a lot just by doing these basic things.

Theresa

26 comments:

JewelTones said...

I remember hearing an editor (from another house, of course) explain a few years back that of the approx 500 manuscript queries they received each week, 10% would get a request (meaning 90% would be rejected). Of that 10% (approx now 50 requested partials) 10% would get requests for a full (so that's 5 requests and 45 rejections). Of those fulls? They might seriously consider 1 or 2 of them. It seems like those kinds of statistic run common across the editing board, having read today's blog.

A lot of romance writers who heard that felt really discouraged instead of realizing that -- had they had a successful query response, they were on to something. Had they received a response to a full, they were *really* headed in the right direction. And moving beyond that? They were kicking some writing ass!

I found it quite motivational. :)

And that probably had no relevance whatsoever to this, did it? LOL.

JT

Dave Shaw said...

The new guidelines are very clear, Theresa. I say that as someone who will probably never write anything that fits them.

Oh, does that mean I should stop submitting to you guys? >;-)

Edittorrent said...

JT, you're exactly right. Any good response means good things about your writing.

That doesn't mean a form rejection is a sign of bad things. It might just mean we didn't have time that day to write something more personal.

As far as the percentages holding true across the board, I would agree that we do tend to reflect the industry average of around 90% culled in the first round. I thought it might be useful to show how that 90% breaks out. They're not all alike.

LOL@Dave.

Theresa

Murphy said...

The new guidelines look great, but I'm a little bummed out that the Mantasy story wasn't included as a WHAT NOT TO SUBMIT example. *sigh* Such a shame!
Murphy:D

Jenny Brown said...

Re the poorly spelled ungrammatical queries.

What makes you think they're finished? I keep running into people on author critique boards who query agents and editors after they've finished a chapter or two because they have no clue how things work.

I'd make fun of them, except that back before I stumbled into ROMEX and learned how publishing worked, I did the exact same thing. I queried an agent after writing two chapters of what I hoped would be a brilliant novel. My excuse was that I didn't know any novelists. Most people don't.

But for every person that reads the blogs, how-tos, and attends the conferences there must be 100 who don't even know these resources exist.

P.S. Thanks for the blog, I really enjoy it, even though I don't write in your genre.

sylvia said...

Psst, spell-checker seems to have failed on the guidelines: Be patient, and rememeber that no news is good news.

Wes said...

Does this mean you won't publish my dissertation, THE EFFECT OF ALTERNATIVE OPTIMIZING CRITERIA ON URBAN TRANSIT STRUCTURE AND PERFORMANCE?

Edittorrent said...

Yikes. Thanks, Sylvia. I will ask the web person to correct that.

Wayne, alas, we won't be publishing that, nor my dissertation on "Products Liability in the EU." I'm sure hordes of people will be crushed with disappointment.

Jenny, Romex, now there's a blast from the past! I knew loads of people on that list, but I wasn't on it because I was too stupid to work the internet. LOL! Of course, I also couldn't work my word processing software. How things have changed. :)

Theresa

Murphy said...

Wayne? Is that your penn name, Wes? Man, nobody tells me nothing around this blog...:(

Edittorrent said...

My mistake. I have a friend named Wayne, and my fingers just autotyped the wrong thing. I swear, story of my day. Time for me to walk away from the computer before I do anything else wrong.

Theresa

Catherine Bybee said...

Hmmm? How about an erotic cookbook? No, just kidding. It's amazing how a little homework can save everyone a little time!

rachelcapps said...

I don't write in your genre, yet with all your great advice I should. The guidelines you've updated are easy to follow and gave me a cool, gooey feeling for "write what you write best and love most".

And this post was uplifting, suprisingly! The stats are always scary stuff, but you've added an explanatory edge that lends a gal hope. Thanks, as always :)

Iapetus999 said...

huh, I never realized this was your genre. My wife loves writing this. I really need to get her motivated to finish something; she has mad writing skillz.
Anyways I LOL'd at "You have the stamina to write a whole entire book, but can't take the time to run the spellchecker? Really?"

Did they send in their submissions on napkins?

Iapetus999 said...

Oh yeah, +1 on the "Mantasy" rejections...those are a hoot.

Sewicked said...

This is great info. Thanks. Your blog looks interesting (& if you have any questions on witch-y research reading material just ask, you'll get about 3 answers/pagan). Is is possible to follow your blog (for those of us who can't find stuff otherwise)?

Edittorrent said...

lapetus999, not only is that Red Sage's genre, but Red Sage was the first American publisher into this market. Black Lace was doing something similar overseas before us, but we were the first here. In fact, back then, they didn't even have a name for it. The term "erotic romance" wasn't coined until much later.

But I've worked with other genres, too. Between us, Alicia is more the romance specialist, though she, too, has other experience.

Rachel, "write what you love" isn't just a slogan for us. We really mean it. We've spent 15 years just slightly ahead of the trends, and this is one way we manage to do that. We give our writers lots of freedom.

Sewicked, what about an rss feed? Our blog is set up for those. Is that the sort of thing you're looking for?

Theresa

Wes said...

An erotic cookbook? That's got potential. Yum, lots of finger foods..........and games.

Wayne

Dave Shaw said...

Not much story in an erotic cookbook. An erotic romance novel about writing an erotic cookbook might have potential for meeting Red Sage's guidelines, though! Feel free to write it and credit me for the idea. ;-)

Catherine Bybee said...

We could come up with many, many puns.
"Finger licking good."
"Lick the bowl, if you please."
"I like the way you whip those eggs."

Sorry, my mind is swimming with ideas now! lol

Wes said...

Dave, you nailed it!!! Go for it. Think of the scenes for developing the recipes! And, Catherine, you're on a roll.

Murphy said...

Erotic cookbook? You guys are bad! (Insert lightbulb coming on here) But hey, if anyone feels the need to give it a whirl - make sure to include my cucumber and melted chocolate recipe in there - would ya? I know Dave's in need of it. And, Wayne? I want to know what you've done with Wes - he'd never talk like that.
Geez, Theresa, I hope you didn't unleash his alter ego - that could spell trouble.:D

Wes said...

Actually, Murph, when I was in college I started an erotic cookbook, which would be pretty tame by today's standards. It was entitled THE BACHOLOR COOKBOOK, OR HOW TO MAKE OUT IN THE KITCHEN. (Yeah, I know that's lame.) I was 21 and a bartender on Mackinac Island, MI, and teamed with a vastly older woman, 42, who had been a showgirl in Vegas and Cuba (the term cougar hadn't been coined then).

Murphy said...

Well, Wayne, that doesn't surprise me - now where's Wes?

Murphy

Catherine Bybee said...

Murphy... Damn, I completely forgot about the veggies... Oh, baby and I was going to write a series called "Confessions of the Scrap-booking Club"... Looks like I may have to start "Kitchen Confessions" instead! lol

Genella deGrey said...

Looks great, Theresa!
:)
Thanks for the info about the wait time! ;) I'll be that'll cut down on a few submission status emails.
Well, one can only hope.
:D
G.

Genella deGrey said...

That should read: "I'll bet that'll . . ."
One dropped "t" will kill ya!
LOL
G.