This Business of Writing

THE Secret to the Slush Pile

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on March 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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We all know the best way to an agent’s heart is through a well-crafted query. The problem of course, is how to see that query past their hands and into their heart. However, did you know even if you’ve written the world’s best query, there’s a chance it might not be placed on an agent’s desk at all? Would you like to know why? It’s because the agents are not the first to review it.

I listened to a panel of agents a while back and they revealed a secret about queries. That is subalterns read your query first. Only if it passes their inexpert eye does it move into the agent’s inbox. So the first issue we as authors face with our book or novel, is it must pass muster with an inexperienced person. Now, I’m not knocking agent’s assistants, for we all have to start somewhere, but I have to rely upon an unproven stranger’s abilities to advance my writing career? This is not the most comforting thought, if you ask me.

So, how does your fraught-with-angst query get out of the infamous slush pile? That same agent’s panel I mentioned above gave me that answer too. All three agents agreed ninety percent of all queries are, and I quote, “crap.” Imagine! Nine out of ten queries are not even acceptable, let alone worthy. As severe as that sounds, I see it as an advantage.

Think of it this way. One hundred people apply for an important position at a company. Ninety of the applicants arrive in jeans and t-shirts, while ten of them are dressed in business suits. Which ones will move past the admin? The lesson here? Wear nice pants. Well, that too, but the real message is to learn the craft of writing. And the craft of writing includes the knowledge of how to formulate an effective query.

Now, armed with these two pieces of information, can you tell me what an agent’s assistant looks for? Here’s a hint, it’s not the next Great American Novel. The agent simply teaches them to spot a well-crafted query and to pass it along. With this information, the answer on how to avoid the slush pile, like so many answers in life, is simple. Write an effective query. How many times have we heard that one before?

I’ll bet we are all intelligent enough to craft a query letter, so I’ll assume everyone who reads this blog post will get theirs into the agent’s inbox. Now, comes the real problem. Once your query lands on an agent’s desk the process is, as you might suspect, subjective. And there ain’t nothing you can do about subjective. So, learn the craft of writing, pen an excellent query letter, be persistent and have faith.

The formula for an effective query is clean and simple and can be found all over the Internet. But in case you’d like an assist, here are some people and their article that tell you how to, and how not to write a query.

Rachelle Gardner

Nathan Bransford

Kathleen Ortiz

YA Highway

Chuck Sambuchino.

Until we meet again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


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  1. Wonderful piece of advice Patrick, thankyou so much for this!

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