Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Wading through the Slush Pile

I was lucky enough to be chosen by Brenda Drake to read through the slush and help sort it into the yes, no and maybe folders for Pitch Madness (don't know what I'm talking about? Check it out here.) There were SO many fabulous entries, it was an easy click to send loads to the YES folder. But there were also a lot that just didn't hit the mark, and made their way into the NO or MAYBE folders.

Of course I'm not going to give details on specific entries, but these were the overall, common reasons that I had for sending an entry to one folder or another.

The YES folder
  • Great voice - if you were following my tweets as I went through the slush, you'd have seen these two words pop up a lot. Voice is what draws me in, makes me care about the MC, makes me keep reading and forget that I'm reading. Yes, I'm talking suspension of disbelief and all that. If an entry had great voice but a pitch that was just meh/so-so, voice won. If the premise was something I'd seen before a bunch of times, voice won.
  • Fantastic premise - this is what would make me sit up a little straighter and grin like a character from Southpark. Fresh, new idea that had me wondering about the story before I even started the 150? Yes, please! Of course, this needed to be backed up by the 150, but if I went in wanting to like the excerpt, that's always a plus.
The NO folder
  • Not following the rules (for example, exceeding the word count in the pitch) led to a very sad, automatic no for a few entries. These sucked the hardest.
  • Flat, unpolished writing - if my attention was grabbed by the pitch but lost within the next 150 words, the entry wasn't strong enough for me.
  • Vagueness - a LOT of entries went down this road. "Zippy lives a normal life until he realises he's a goblin. As if this doesn't suck enough, his life becomes a twisty, spirally thing that he needs to figure out OR ELSE." In fact, the 'or else' is more than a lot of pitches included, stakes-wise. 35 words is a teeny-tiny number to pitch your novel with, so make every word count. The pitch is what makes theoretical book-buyers pick up your book and want to read it. The first page is what makes them KEEP reading. But you won't get to the point where you grab them with the fabulous voice of your MS if the pitch is blah. The fact that your book is about a mermaid/alien/squirrel called Dave isn't what makes your book unique. It's not enough to make someone want to spend a whole novel's worth of time finding out the real hook. Tell them up front what choice Dave the squirrel has to make, and the possible consequences for poor Dave. N.B. "Dave must choose to kill every squirrel in the forest or choose to move to a new tree" isn't really a conflict - the choice is obvious. Keep the conflict REAL, even if your MC is a squirrel.
The MAYBE folder
  • If the voice was good but not great, and other elements hadn't quite sold the entry for me, it got sent to the maybe folder for a second opinion.
  • If the genre or premise just wasn't something I was interested in, I sent it to the maybe folder. This made it too subjective for me to make the call fairly.
My main focus when going through the slush was getting as many great entries through as possible, and being as fair and objective when making decisions as I could be. I know how hard it is to not get through to the agent round in a contest, so I didn't send any entries to the no folder lightly.

I'm hoping the tweets and this post about the slush-reading have been helpful, and feel free to ask me any questions or add comments in the box below.

And above all else, CONGRATULATIONS to the fantastic entries that will be going through to the agent round! You're getting the chance to pitch to an amazing group of agents (*cough* especially my agent, Molly Ker Hawn. *cough*)



  1. I totally want to read about Zippy the goblin. There just isn't enough goblin representation in today's literature...

  2. Thank you for the post, Friday seems so far away.

  3. Thanks so much for spending time wading through all of our slush! I've enjoyed reading your tweets throughout the process. It's been such a helpful and insightful week!

  4. Thank you for doing such a fantastic job in the slush! You've got a great eye! <33333

    1. Thanks for having me as your slushee! <3

  5. So interesting to hear all of your thoughts. It's not like it's anything new, really, but it helps to keep hearing it. Maybe it will get pounded into us sooner or later! :)

  6. Nice working with you and great post!

  7. Thank you for posting the slush pile break-down. I appreciate the amount of attention you put into selecting the best of the best. Good luck everyone!


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