Why It's Called The Slush Pile

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin
Every writer pitches their ideas to literary agents and publishers. I've listened to many of these pitches personally at writers conferences and I've received stacks of these submissions as an editor and agent.

In a matter of seconds, I can tell if something is going to be worth reading and considering. Yes, seconds. Millions of submissions are in circulation at different offices. The editors and agents are actively looking because it is their business to find fresh talent and publish authors.
I've received many unusual submissions. The number and variety of these submissions grew that I started a file in my desk and labeled it, Strange But True. Recently, another one landed in my mail box. Just to be clear, I've worked at Morgan James Publishing for eight years. Our primary mailing address is in New York City. This handwritten letter was addressed:
Manuscript Review Committee
Morgan James Publishing
9457 S. University Blvd, Suite 621
Highlands Ranch, CO 80129
It came to my personal address yet it was addressed to the “committee.” OK. I opened it and thankfully it has an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). The letter (typed) began, “Dear Sirs,” Why would you address a single editor to his personal mail box with the plural Dear Sirs?
First paragraph: “If you could hold in your hands, this moment, the most urgent, significant, consequential revelations of the century, a manuscript so meaningful as to rival the Holy Bible of old, a manuscript containing the most sacred and controversial heavenly truths ever bestowed on the eath (she meant earth); would you publish it?”
OK, this paragraph is engaging yet full of exaggeration. It is in many respects over the top.
Second paragraph: “This manuscript exists. _______ is about 900 pages of the most sacred words of the holy angels of God. This is a powerful, dynamic manuscript from a heavenly perspective, not a mortal imagination. These are deep, thought-provoking, intelligent, inspirational words which will invoke an indelible emotion in the reader. Some will tremble in the soul. Eyes will fill with tears as they recognize these are actual truths of angel's wisdom. This is not another “angel book.”
A typical nonfiction book (which this claims to be) is 40 to 80,000 words. The world of books and magazine looks for the word count--not the page count. Estimating 200 words a page, this manuscript is 180,000 words or over 700 pages of a typeset book. That fact alone is enough to get this instantly rejected. The author has no concept of the challenges of book production or the difficulties that such a large book will mean to any publisher--much less thinking about the contents. I'm speaking only of the word count. It is way beyond the normal range.
Whenever as a writer you submit your material to an editor or agent, you only have one chance to make a good first impression. I answered questions about book proposals in a free teleseminar. This teleseminar launched my Write A Book Proposal training program. In 12-weeks, I teach step-by-step how to craft a book proposal and sample chapter which will gather the right sort of interest.
Every writer needs to learn all they can to make the best possible impression on the agent or editor. They are searching for a champion who will move their idea through the publishing process and they will ultimately get their book published and into the marketplace. As for this “submission” to the Manuscript Review Committee, it will only land in my “Strange But True” Manila folder. My hope is my article gives you an explanation why unsolicited submissions are called The Slush Pile. Rarely do you find something golden in there but it is possible and hope springs eternal. 
Are you targeting your submissions to the right editor or literary agent or leaping into their slush pile? Let me know in the comments below.

Wonder why the unsolicited submissions are called The Slush Pile? This prolific editor and author explains what type of submission might be in this pile. Get the details here. (ClickToTweet)

W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. His work contact information is on the bottom of the second page (follow this link).  He has written for over 50 magazines and more than 60 books with traditional publishers. His latest book for writers is 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed. Get this book for only $10 + free shipping and over $200 in bonuses. One of Terry's most popular free ebooks is Straight Talk From the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission. He lives in Colorado and has  190,000 twitter followers


Karen Cioffi said...

Terry, what excellent tips on what not to do when submitting a query letter. How crazy that the writer sent the query to your home! Thanks for sharing!

Terry Whalin said...


It is amazing what writers do to get published. My address in this post is my PO box because numerous times I've had authors show up unannounced at my "office" address with their manuscript. Thanks for the feedback and comment.


lastpg said...

Hi Terry, You prove such an excellent point by using a "slush pile" submission as an example of what NOT to do! It's too bad this submission was so unrealistic because the author proved that she can write! Thanks for sharing your expertise. It is always appreciated. I will share your post on my social media.

deborah lyn said...

Wow, Terry, your article is full of helpful advice. We need to avail ourselves of all the training we can get if we ever plan to be published. Thank you for your "Write A Book Proposal" training program. Proposals are challenging and I'm sure you have helped many writers.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

This, my longtime friend Terry, is your best article ever. It brings alive all the no-nos we've read but have a tough time cataloguing in our memory banks because we don't have a visual or a living example! Hooray for you.

And you are welcome for the review on publishing myths on my #SharingwithWriters blog. Your book does the same thing as your article. It sets these myths into the concrete in our brains (wherever that concrete might exist) so we never again will be tempted to accept misinformation spread by so-called experts we find all over the web. Find the review complete with a buy link to your Amazon page at https://sharingwithwriters.blogspot.com/2021/02/w-terry-whalins-publishing-myths.html

Your fan,
Carolyn H-J.

Terry Whalin said...

Linda, Deborah Lyn and CArolyn,

Thank you for these comments and feedback. They mean a great deal to me.


Suzanne Lieurance said...

Hi, Terry,

Great article. It just goes to show how so many writers don't do their homework when it comes to publishing, so no wonder they don't find publishers for their manuscripts. I hope more new (and not so new) writers will read this post. I'll be sure to share it.


Terry Whalin said...


Thank you for this comment and feedback. Yes doing your research and homework as a writer to send your material to the right place is a critical step--that can't be missed.


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