Notes from the Slush Pile

My press opened for its first national submission period on Jan. 1, and oh, how each fresh manuscript feels like a gift! Truly. Even the ones that don’t fit our mission or taste. It means so much when someone shares a novel with us, the product of many hours of hard work.

For years, I’ve been on the other side of the slush pile, revising novel after novel and trying to figure out query letters. While I learned a ton from submitting my own work over the years, I’ve learned even more from bloggers and authors and agents who have taken the time to pass on some notes and suggestions.

So I want to share a few things, while they’re fresh. They’re not necessarily related to any specific submission, mind you, but more a response to patterns and issues I’ve seen over the past three submission periods.

Please remember to address the correct agent/editor/publisher. This is a big one, folks! I’ve had queries asking for representation that clearly were supposed to go to an agent, and queries that are addressing a different press or editor or publisher. Mistakes happen, sure, but if you’re going to double check a submission, start with making sure you’re sending it to the right person. 

Research, research, research, and then submit to the people who have the best chance of loving your book. I’ve been most impressed by authors who are able to tell me why they think their manuscript is a good fit for Forest Avenue Press. Those who have taken the time to figure out what we do seem to be submitting the manuscripts that are piquing our attention. I expect it’s the same for other publishers. If your manuscript is not something we usually do, we’re not going to accept it, because we won’t be the best home for it. You may send me the very best short story collection in the world, or the very best sci-fi novel, but I’m seeking literary novels, and if you give me something else, no matter how brilliant, I will pass, so spend your time on a market that is looking for what you have to offer.

They’re literary novels, not literary fiction novels. Take care to avoid redundancy in your initial approach; after all your letter is showing us how you write, so revise until it’s as clean and convincing as possible.

Follow guidelines. My standard request is a query letter with 50 pages, which is why I’ve been quiet here on the blog so far this month–so much fun reading to do! I have no problem with people who send 45 or 55, based on when an arc ends, but I’m not ready to see a full manuscript until my committee decides to ask for it. If you give me fewer than 50, it’s uncomfortable to have to go back to the author and beg for more pages. I do tend to give authors the benefit of the doubt and read extra pages, even if I think the beginning is not quite right, so submitting the number I’ve asked for is in the author’s best interest.

Along those lines, if an editor or agent requests a certain format or font, do it! You don’t want to stand out for not following directions. I’m pretty flexible on format, myself, but a weird font, or a lack of a title page, definitely stands out when everyone else is following industry standards, and our suggestion of Times New Roman.

Check for typos. They’re hard to spot, I know, and really I mostly ignore them, but sometimes a word (or, worse, a character’s name) is spelled inconsistently on one page, and that erodes my confidence in the story. I would not use a typo as a reason for rejecting someone, because hey, we all make them, but lots of typos = red flag that the manuscript has not been carefully edited and is probably not ready for publication. Inconsistent character name spelling feels like it’s even more than a typo; I feel like the author hasn’t worked with that character enough to make the typing of his/her name automatic.

Happy querying!

And for those of you literary novelists who are curious about our open submission period, you can learn more here. We’re open through March 5!

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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3 Responses to Notes from the Slush Pile

  1. I try to be forgiving about mistakes and typos and so on, but sometimes, if something’s on the edge, that can be the deciding factor. I was reading a blog post recently, not somebody I follow regularly, and I was considering commenting when I saw “reign” used for “rein.” That put me off a tiny bit, I will admit. I ended up not commenting.

    “Literary fiction novels” 🙂

    I’ve looked at resumes at work that show a very interesting job history, but one that doesn’t relate in any way to the job in question. It does make you wonder. I, however, have done my research about your wonderful press, and that’s why I continue my unbroken streak of not submitting any of my stuff. 🙂

  2. jmmcdowell says:

    I am still amazed that agents and presses receive submissions that are clearly not what they represent! I would never submit a sci-fi novel to an agent or press that only works with literary novels or mysteries, or anything not related to my story. And yet the fact that you see such submissions makes me wonder 1) if these writers are really serious about the craft, or 2) if their egos are so inflated that they believe anyone would be thrilled to take on their manuscript.

    While I hope you’ll one day have the opportunity to read a sci-fi novel or mystery I’ve written, you can rest assured I won’t ask you to publish them. 🙂

    • I’m glad that there are people out there who pay attention to submission requirements and take them seriously, jm! I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt–assuming, perhaps, they haven’t done research on how the process works–but there’s so much information out there now. And I do hope to read one of your novels someday!

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