Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How To Stand Out from the Slush Pile: a First Reader's Perspective

We writers often bemoan the challenges of traditional publishing -- from landing an agent to promoting a book. But it's interesting to look from the other side. What does it take to capture an editor's eye? As a first reader intern with a literary agency that receives 200-300 submissions each week, I anticipated the daunting task of separating the wheat from the chaff. But it's actually quite shocking how little stands out from the slush pile.

The truth is, simply following basic industry guidelines for a well-written query letter with an original topic will at least get you noticed above the norm. Proper punctuation helps too. Then, of course, the synopsis/proposal/sample chapters showcasing your impeccable writing follows.

I've compiled my own list of DOs and DONTs based on the past few weeks:

  • ask the agent how to write a query letter, or what you should include in your proposal.
  • send an email stating, "I write fiction. Would you like to see it? I hope you are interested. Let me know."
  • start your query with an apology for introducing yourself or your work, stating "I'm not a professional writer but I really love to write," or telling how you won an award in elementary school but have only begun writing again recently.
  • reference your blog as a platform to promote your writing if it doesn't have more than one posting or it hasn't been updated in the last six months.


  • follow the specific guidelines stated on the agency's website (synopsis, proposal and/or first 50 pages), including attaching documents if requested. (Reading all day on the computer is hard on the eyes, especially tiny text within the body of an email.)
  • choose the right agency for your subject matter. (If an agent represents fiction with strong women characters, or self-improvement books with a feminist slant, DON'T start your novel with a graphic scene depicting women as glorified victims of violence.)
  • ask more than one person to copy edit your work, including your query. Comb carefully for grammatical errors. ('your not going to get anywhere with that". Said the agent.)
  • create characters that stretch beyond one dimensional cliches such as : "She was tall, slim, full-breasted and beautiful."
  • make sure that your proposal or manuscript is ready. Some people take years to write great books! Scrimping on the stages of research and revision, or sending out mediocre or incomplete work to a random list of agents, just wastes your time and theirs. Join a critique group or pay an editor; DON'T rely on friends and family to tell you it's good.



lakeviewer said...

Yeah, it's a tough world out there! But then, what isn't?

lakeviewer said...

That last line is gold!

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