Is the slush pile dead? (Plus weekend prompt)

Publish date:

Just read a great article in The Wall Street Journal, Katherine Rosman’s “The Death of the Slush Pile.” While the piece recaps what most writers know—you need an agent to get your work published by big presses, breaking out of the pile can take a miracle—it spotlights slush piles across a variety of writing outlets, and some intriguing stories from within them (such as that fluke that prevented Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight manuscript from being immediately canned).

It also has some solid sound bites—as Jim Levine (Levine Greenberg Agency) says, “These days, you need to deliver not just the manuscript but the audience. More and more, the mantra in publishing is ‘Ask not what your publisher can do for you, ask what you can do for your publisher.’ ”

And then there’s the recap of the Paris Review’s slush pile policy: Interns and grad students sort through some 1,000 subs, and two people review every piece. Stories receiving two thumbs up are moved on to an editor, and ultimately, a single piece makes the cut each year.

(Check the full WSJ article out here.)

For the curious, at WD, our slush pile tends to run behind because of the size of our staff and the amount of work that goes into each issue. But we do sometimes buy stories from it. (I bought a lede piece for InkWell a few weeks back, and every so often we’ll nab a solid feature query.)

My advice for surviving the slush pile, at least in the world of magazines: Break out of it. In the absence of an actual contact for a submissions/acquisitions editor (few and far between), track down the managing editor in the magazine’s masthead, and then search for that person’s contact information by Googling their name with an “@” symbol. Even if you can’t find the editor’s e-mail address, label the subject line of your slush pile query with 'Attn: the (appropriate) editor’s name,' which makes your piece harder to ignore, shows you’ve done your homework, and can cut down on response times. Or use market books like Writer’s Market that have contact breakdowns often delving beyond slush inbox addresses. Be easy to work with, and once the assignment is complete, stay in touch. At the end of the day, nurturing solid relationships can be the key to becoming a go-to writer for assignments, and ensuring that you stay out of that particular slush pile—for good.

*(And, as always, read the submission guidelines and the publication before pitching to make sure your idea is indeed an ideal fit, and search for your subject on the magazine’s website to make sure the topic hasn’t recently been covered.)


WRITING PROMPT: Your 15 Minutes
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings.

You’re watching a daytime talk show. A familiar face walks onto the stage, you drop what you’re holding and she utters your name on national television.

Lacie Waldon: On Writing What You Know ... But Keeping it Interesting

Lacie Waldon: On Writing What You Know ... But Keeping it Interesting

Debut novelist Lacie Waldon discusses how her agent encouraged her to write what she knew, but then her editor made her realize that what she thought was boring might not be the case.

Pedal vs. Peddle (Grammar Rules)

Pedal vs. Peddle (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use pedal and peddle with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Marissa Levien: On Pinning Down Your Novel's Middle

Marissa Levien: On Pinning Down Your Novel's Middle

Debut author Marissa Levien discusses how she always knew what the beginning and the end of her science fiction novel The World Gives Way would be, but that the middle remained elusive.

Drawing the Line for Withholding Secrets in Young Adult and Middle-Grade Novels

Drawing the Line for Withholding Secrets in Young Adult and Middle Grade Novels

Middle-grade and young adult author Ren Koppel Torres shares the top tips for how you can keep secrets from your characters and readers.

Payal Doshi: On Letting Rejection Bring You Clarity

Payal Doshi: On Letting Rejection Bring You Clarity

Middle-grade author Payal Doshi discusses the sometimes-disheartening process of querying a novel and how she used rejection to fuel her passion for writing.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Writer’s Digest Conference Announcements and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce that our 2021 Annual Conference will be virtual, registration is open for our 2021 in-person Novel Conference, and more!

Rajani LaRocca: On Letting Your Synopsis Guide Your Writing

Rajani LaRocca: On Letting Your Synopsis Guide Your Writing

In this article, middle-grade author Rajani LaRocca discusses how the synopsis for her newest release, Much Ado About Baseball, guided her writing process.

From Script

Adding Your Personal Connection to Your Stories and Building Your Brand As a Writer (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by, Script’s Editor Sadie Dean interviews Dickinson creator/showrunner/EP Alena Smith, learn how to divide and conquer as screenwriter in the business and creating fruitful relationships. Plus, a brand new Script Talk video interview with writer/director/actress Djaka Souaré about her journey as a mentor and mentee in the WOCUnite and #StartWith8Hollywood mentorship programs.