Friday, April 9, 2010


Up too early this morning, just one of those mornings when there's no reason for insomnia but it strikes anyway. So I finally gave up the attempt and crawled to my desk for a good old slush dive.

In an hour, I banged through about two dozen subs. That works out to roughly 2.5 minutes per sub, except that averaging them out in this way doesn't give a good representation of how the hour was actually spent. I opened the submission and scanned right away for three things:

  1. Is it romance?
  2. Is there erotic content?
  3. What is the word count?
Today I was able to eliminate about half of the opened submissions within 30 seconds because they didn't pass that 1-2-3 test. So that means I spent maybe 6 minutes on a dozen subs, and nearly an hour on the remaining dozen.

That still works out to about 4.5 minutes per sub, and though that's almost double our earlier average, it probably still seems like I'm skimming or not giving enough attention to each manuscript.

But again, averages don't show the whole picture. Of that dozen subs that passed the 1-2-3 test, probably 10 were rejected quickly for problems in the technical aspects of the writing. In general, if the first page contains multiple verb tense errors, dangling modifiers, bad dialogue tags, punctuation errors, and so on, we know the rest of the manuscript will be in much the same shape. Those can be rejected in probably two minutes each, three if I get distracted and start editing in my head.

So let's estimate 6 minutes on the subs that are completely wrong for us, and another 20 minutes on the ones that are fast rejections for bad writing. This leaves us with two manuscripts and about half an hour left in the hour or so. If the writer followed our guidelines, this means we're looking at two one-page synopses and two ten-page partials.

For the first the writing is very good. Lots of energy in the prose. Clear characterizations. Good stuff. But from reading the synopsis, it's clear that there's a structural problem in the plot. I make a few notes to be included in the rejection letter -- this is a good writer, and the problems are fixable, so it's worth a few minutes to jot some notes of encouragement and explanation for her. Still, this one doesn't take more than ten minutes of my time, including my notes.

That means that the one good submission, the one that is appropriate for our house, well-written, and (based on the synopsis) well plotted, gets roughly 20 minutes of my time. This is ample to read enough of the submission to know that we want to see the full manuscript. I don't need to perform a detailed analysis at this point, after all.

Perhaps worth noting is that the two best submissions also had the best cover letters. One opened with a log line clearly encapsulating the characters and conflict. Then followed a paragraph with a conflict-focused plot summary and a paragraph with credentials and similar data. Based on the submission, I can tell that this story is very character-driven with lots of emotion and a prominent conflict. The query letter plays to these strengths.

The other opened with some discussion of her theme and premise, both of which are unusual enough to be eye-catching. She only gave a quick sketch of the plot, just enough to fill in some blanks left by the discussion of the premise. This works, though, for this particular book, and again, it plays to the submission's particular strengths.

In other words, both of these cover letters demonstrate a clear-eyed understanding of what makes these books stand out from the pack. Neither used "hooks" but they managed to hook me, just the same.



Eva Gale said...

My inbox, I iz scared of it now. :-o

Sylvia said...

It's fascinating to see your process.

Livia Blackburne said...

Here's an interesting article in the new york times about insomnia and depression.

Julie Harrington said...

I suffer from seasonal insomnia. It used to be horrible when I was in my 20s. I'd be lucky to get 2 hours of sleep for a week or two before I'd swear I was going crazy from lack of sleep. Then I tried changing my sleeping position -- my head went where my feet were, my feet where my head usually rested -- and it worked like a charm! I do that all the time now and recommend it to people who mention they're having problems with insomnia. Then, when it feels "right" to flip back (or you start not being able to sleep as easily again), you revert back to the "norm."

I actually found out there's fung shui behind it. Who knew? Also, try eliminating blankets and quilts if you sleep with a lot of them. The cooler you are at night, the lower the body temperature, the deeper the sleep you'll be able to achieve.

Oh, and I love hearing about the submission process from the editor's pov. It's always enlightening to a writer. It's amazing how much time you could save (for both or you) if you just read the guidelines and submit as appropriate, and how easily an experienced editor can weed through a pile of submissions. I think these are among the topics I enjoy the most and find the most useful.

~ whose word verification was "reeke" (sounds like the pronunciation of reiki) which is amusing considering I went all Fung shui.

Edittorrent said...

You think I'm depressed? Really? Actually, it's probably because of spring allergies. I'm trying some new medication.

Riley Murphy said...

Theresa asks: You think I'm depressed? Really?

Murphy says: Nope - but I'd bet money that there are a number of other people who are - after your, um, slush pile extravaganza. ;)

Murphy - who has her own plague theme going on with allergies this season. :D

Eva Gale said...

Allergies are a NIGHTMARE this year. Spring hasn't sprung, it exploded pollen all over your face.

Take a shower every night to wash it off your face and out of your nose and to make sure it doesn't linger on your pillowcases, too.

Dave Shaw said...

Most places, they measure pollen count. Here in South Carolina we measure pollen accumulation. Everything is neon yellow this spring, because of the sudden transition from highs in the 50s to highs in the 80s over the last 2 weeks. My allergies are mild, but they're bad this year. My daughter, who's much more sensitive, is absolutely miserable. We feel for ya, Theresa!

You know, the optimist's take on your post is that it only took you an hour to find a submission worth following up on. Is that typical?

Edittorrent said...

Dave, like you, I have very mild allergies but am struggling now. Yesterday after I took the dog outside, I happened to glance in the hall mirror in passing and noticed some strange flecks on my eyelashes. So I looked closer and discovered that my lashes, brows and hair were all sprinkled with pollen.

It's really hard to say what's typical in the slush pile. I occasionally track it, as I did for that post, just to give writers a feel for how it looks on my side of the desk. But really, some days I can find ten gems in twenty subs, and at other times, I can go weeks without finding a single good sub.


Wynter said...

I'm still reeling from how quickly you can determine a bad sub! And the sheer number you must contend with. Also makes me feel honored at having survived the slush:-D

Leona said...

purposefully posting on old post so you can monitor.

I had the funniest thing happen to me while writing. See my blog for details.

It has nothing to do with writing, other than the adventures I get into trying to make it happen!

If you don't mind, please share it as many will find it funny :D

Otherwise, read it and laugh yourself after the slush pile blues :)