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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Slush Pile and Meh

Gotta tell ya, the slush pile was a different experience to what I was expecting.
If you don't know what a slush pile is, read briefly about it here. If you're hoping I'm going to mock some of the more attrocious submissions from the Black Dog Books treasure chest, you'll be disappointed because I don't want to do that. But you can find someone who does here (though they're not from the BDB slush).

I was looking forward to the slush pile! Delving in, finding something amazing, or even learning from the shockingly appalling.

But mostly what I found wasn't terrible, but it wasn 't amazing either. And it has to be amazing to be published. They have to be able to see who they could sell it to, and how they could market it to booksellers.

I probably found more that I put in the "Under Consideration" pile than one of the editors would, because I was hoping to find gems and give everything the benefit of the doubt, whereas the editors know they have X amount of spots on their list for new works and it's gotta be amazing if it's going to be considered.

A little bit of background about BDB. Black Dog Books - like all publishers - are busy. They have authors that they work with a lot and if they want a book on a particular topic they can go and ask one of those authors if they could write something.
Similarly, they have a stable of authors who write successful books, so they keep publishing more by those authors.

They like fresh new writers and ideas - absolutely they do - but they don't need them.

So when looking through the slush (which is all done in their own time, and considering they work overtime anyway, I now, when I have my writers hat on, will cut editors way more slack when they take awhile to get back to a submission) though they dream of finding that next big amazing book, they don't need it. And often it's just not in there.

That said, my pal Shirley Marr's first book Fury was one of the FOUR BOOKS EVER found in Black Dog's slush that they have published.

A lot of the slush doesn't meet their needs.

Black Dog Books are currently looking for longer works, so junior fiction and YA novels. Junior fiction they prefer series, otherwise stand-alones can get lost in the overwhelming number of junior fiction titles out there. They're moving away from really thin junior fiction books, and they're really not into rhyming picture books. The picture book market isn't amazing at the moment anyway.

Most of the submissions in the physical slush, are for picture books. So they had a pretty slim chance of making it through. I found several 2000 word picture books (if you don't know, picture books are generally 500 words or less) and many lacked illustration advice so I couldn't really picture what their stories were about.

Most of the submissions (that I got to) in the email slush, were junior fiction and YA. I found a couple of YA that sounded interesting, but didn't really fit with the type of YA Black Dog are publishing at the moment, which are a bit darker, edgy, serious books. About murder (Shirley Marr - Fury) a car accident in which one of the characters dies (Karen Tayleur - Six) and the danger of taking dares too far (Sue Lawson - Dare You). They have more great dark serious stuff lined up for next year (I know because I read them).

Not only do you have to write something amazing, dear writers, but you have to write something amazing that complements the other amazing books they publish.

It's a difficult business, is it not?

That was all a little depressing, wasn't it. But fear not! Today I sat in on a meeting in which a debut author was offered a book deal! She was calm and collected and in control in the meeting but if the minute she was out of sight she didn't do a happy dance, I will be sorely disappointed. I expect she grinned all day.

Tell you about it later.



  1. Okay, I'll admit it. In my head, the slush pile is this huge pile of manuscripts in t room, and what you do is you go into the room and dive in and out of them Scrooge McDuck style, doing backstroke every so often.

    That's exactly what it's like, right?

  2. That is EXACTLY what it's like. But my favourite is butterfly.

  3. what an excellent look into the bdb treasure chest... a must have resource for anyone thinking of submitting to black dog

  4. I really enjoyed this post, Sarah...and thanks, Shirley for posting it on Facebook:)

  5. Thanks Sarah for a very interesting post. 4 ever published from the slush pile - that's a bit daunting for all the aspiring authors. Good thing I'm no good at statistics and geniunely think one day I'm going to be one of the lucky ones!
    I look forward to your next exciting installment.

  6. Shirley - "a must have resource for anyone thinking of submitting to black dog" I'm gonna put it on my business card. :)

  7. Thanks Dee! It's been a thoroughly worthwhile experience. Bit disheartening, but now we are forearmed! With knowledge, I mean. Not fore-arms.

  8. Sally - I know, horrible odds, aren't they. But it CAN happen! Shirley is testament to that. I kind of want to hate her on principle...


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