Thursday, May 2, 2013

How To Tame The Wild Slusher: Formatting Your Submission to Professionally Stand Out in The Slush Pile

Authors, if you are looking to submit to KC&A, I hope you will find this post useful, as it gives some insight to the slushpile process, and the animals that guard the threshold, the slushers.

Kimberley Cameron & Associates has one of the classiest submission policies that I have seen.
Firstly, the policy allows--in fact even would rather--you attach the first 50 pages of your manuscript. There is no need to convince them to read your partial via the dreaded and ubiquitous QUERY LETTER. Your writing sample is right there, and yes, it gets read.
Secondly, every query is responded to. every. single. one. This does back up things a bit, so have patience, you will get a response, hopefully within a few months.
Thirdly, the submissions are open year round. All the time. Whenever you want.

This means that already, as an author, you have an advantage submitting to KC&A. Your writing is getting read! That means you can go wild, right? Submit! Submit it all, right now! SUBMIT! Feed the beasts!

I am here to say, please, take a moment, a breath. As a slushpile reader, I beg you for my sanity and the sanity of the other agents/interns in the office, please follow the submission guidelines and make sure your query is clean and easy to read. Let's put it this way. We are reading 100 plus emails a day, sloughing through hundreds of writing samples a week. Our eyes hurt, our brain hurts, our butts hurt, heck, even our hair hurts. But we do it, because we love it. We love to read, and we love books. And when we do stumble across that breathtaking novel, it's all worth it. That excitement of getting someone signed, watching their manuscript draft develop into a full-blown book, and then seeing it out on the shelves, there's nothing like it. We are not evil gatekeepers, rather hopeful hunters. So when you do send us your query and writing sample, take the time to make it as painless as possible for us to read it. Trust me, if you do this, you have an advantage over other submissions, because a grumpy slusher is way more trigger happy with the rejection button than a slusher in a good mood.

A few things to sooth the wild beast that is the slushpile reader:
  1. First and foremost. Formatting. Times. New. Roman. 12 point. Double spaced. Please. For the love of sanity, NO COURIER NEW. Don't get me wrong, Courier New is a lovely font. It looks great on some websites, fine on paper, adds a touch of class to designed work, makes poetry pop, but on the screen, after straining the eyes reading for five plus hours, multiple pages of Courier New looks like a bunch of ants squirming around on white sand. It hurts. Beastly we may be, but we're not anteaters.
  2. "Unique Formatting." Know this. Anything that is meant to make your submission stand out, i.e. images, colored fonts, LARGE FONT, borders will not make your submission stand out in a good way. It will appear unprofessional, and again. IT HURTS THE EYES! This causes the slusher's hackles to raise and they can't read like that.
  3. Your front matter. A lot of authors like to insert in their submission an opening quote, or dedication, or table of contents, as if it were already in print. It's not. This is a draft manuscript. Anything that requires more work to get to that opening sentence, the less patience the slusher has. The less patience the slusher has, the more likely your manuscript gets chomped.
  4. Italics. Or more specifically, the loathed ITALICIZED PROLOGUE. I must confess I have been guilty of this offense as well. It looks so... dreamy. I now realize, dreamy = blurry which equals, rumbling growls from the slusher and no desire to read any of it. *see comments on Courier New for a clearer explanation. (Now if you have the sort of manuscript that has caught the slusher's eye, and they are happily reading along, when suddenly flashback! Pages and pages of italicized flashback! It goes on forever and ever and ever! You may have just broken the slusher's spirit. Doesn't mean you'll get a full request though. Just a tear stained rejection.) 
  5. Which brings us to the prologue. Try reading your manuscript starting at Chapter 1. Does it need the prologue? Yes? Then the prologue is Chapter 1. No? Take the prologue out. Start your manuscript where the story/action starts, i. e. Chapter 1. Trust me, this will make your slusher purr.
  6. Minor points. Number your pages. Don't use the term "heaving" to describe a woman's uhm assets. Have your name and the title of your manuscript at the top. Make your query brief (a paragraph, maybe two). Address your email query to the agent you are querying and spell their name correctly. Follow their submission guidelines. Try to keep your manuscript between 75,000 and 90,000 words.
  7. Finally, the big one. The thing that causes the slusher to bare their teeth and growl and futilely swipe at the screen. The cliche introduction. Here's the big three cliches. In the first paragraph, does your main character: - Wake up? - Look in a mirror (or any other reflective surface)? - Die (or almost die)? If your character does one (or all) of these these things, don't be ashamed. You are the majority. Over 50% of the submissions that go through the slusher's claws have one of these three cliches in the opening paragraph. Just slink away, start your story in a different, unique way that is full of action.
If you are reading this blog, then you are already ahead of others in getting your submission to stand out. Remember, although content is king, formatting that content professionally will create the gentle reading mood to sooth the wild slusher and may even cause them to drool just a little bit. If your slusher is drooling and purring, then that means your submission is in the place you want it to be for a proper read.

For tweets on slushpile advice follow me @Mary_C_Moore
To see what I'm about besides slushpile reading:


  1. Lauren Roedy VaughnMay 4, 2013 at 7:33 PM

    I thank Kimberley Cameron and Associates for all their blog posts. You are a class act and serve authors in the most beautiful way.

  2. This succinct post is appreciated. Thank you, Mary.

    Heather Villa

  3. Brilliant. :)

    Talking weird fonts... I remember trying to read The Neverending Story in its eye searing red and green fonts. Who in insanity ever allowed that to actually be published that way?

  4. This is good information. I wish I ran across something like this when I first started emailing out query letters. It would've made things a lot easier.