From Sarah L’Estrange at Radio National, a chat with various publishers including ‘newbie’ Geordie Williamson about slush piles.
Text publishing is quite unique in that all their submissions are hard copies (about one hundred a week), and they sit all together on Fridays and go through them. Each manuscript is read twice.
Geordie says of the readers at most publishers, though, ‘who knows whether they are a good reader, whether they’re tired, or about to quit. The notion that there’s some standard response to unsolicited manuscripts – it’s not true.’ (Williamson calls the slush pile ‘the unhappy place’ which I think is cute and horrifying and true.)
One of Scribe’s publishers – Lesley Halm – read the slush pile for two years when she first started working there. She ‘loved it’ because she’s a writer herself. This plays to an anxiety I have, that circulating your work (as a writer) around the traps when you are trying to get a book contract for your novel leaves you vulnerable. I have heard stories (overseas mostly) of writers pitching ideas or submitting whole manuscripts, to be rejected and then have to watch as their story idea was used and commercialised by another creative.
There is some final advice:
‘Whatever you do, don’t hassle them (the publishers).’
‘It doesn’t even help to push a publisher, if they haven’t responded.’
– join a writers class – try to get representation from a literary agent – go back to re-read a book you loved and study it; look at how they balanced character, exposition and dialogue scene.
Well worth a listen – runs for about 11 minutes.