I was thinking the other day about slush piles, those heaps, literal or virtual, which every editor has sitting on their desk awaiting attention. For the editor, they feel like a vast heap of coal to be shovelled in search of that one elusive diamond. For the author, the experience is a bit like that of Steven Appleby’s Captain Star on the Lonely Planet. Most of the time you sit in your wheelbarrow, waiting and waiting and waiting for the message rocket with orders, and as the sun sets with no communication, you think, maybe tomorrow. “Maybe tomorrow” keeps you going. I wear (too) many hats and deal with both sides of the slush pile, but I realized a while ago I had had, as an author, some rather amusing slush pile experiences. So here they are.
Long ago, after waiting and waiting and waiting to hear back about a submission, I finally wrote, a year later, to the publisher asking for an update. They phoned back to say, “Gosh, we’re glad you got in touch, because we lost the envelope, the cover letter, and the first page with your address on it and we want to publish it and we couldn’t figure out how to find you …” (How did they manage that? I still don’t know. This was long, long ago, in the days when, although I had email, publishers did not.)
Then, once upon a time, I submitted a short story collection to a publisher. To be precise, I submitted one sample story and nine outlines. Their guidelines said they took at least three months to respond. Lots of time to write the rest of the projected stories, I thought. A mere week later (how did Canada Post manage that?) I got a letter back requesting the rest of the MS right away. Fastest short story collection ever written, I can tell you.
You’d think I’d have learnt my lesson after that, but I once had a YA novel that I abandoned during a bout of, to put it mildly, discouragement, about two-thirds of the way through. Quite a while later, it occurred to me that I really should submit that project somewhere, great grey clouds of discouragement or not. So I did. And they said, Yes, please, they would like to buy it, could I send the compete MS asap? I went to do so and discovered a complete lack of complete MS. How exactly was this story supposed to end? Only one way to find out. I wrote frantically, and it turned into a series. This is not, however, a procedure I would recommend for everyday inspiration.
There was the time that a publisher called me in a panic to say, “You haven’t sent back the corrected proofs; you had to have the corrected proofs back by yesterday.” To which I said, “I did send back the corrected proofs and Canada Post’s tracking system says they were delivered.” So they went off and panicked some more, and eventually found that someone had put my corrected proofs in the slush pile.
A publisher once emailed me to ask if I could possibly submit a manuscript to them, please, because I’d been highly recommended by another author and they would really like to see something from me. And I said, “Er, you’ve had something in your slush pile for at least six months now.” And they said, “Oh.” It was published later that year.
And then there was Blackdog, which was sent in when Pyr had a brief open window of looking at unsolicited, unagented submissions. And as the editor tells it, he was all excited to have discovered it and thought what a wonderful Cinderella story it was. And then he looked me up. Nineteen previous books or not, from my point of view, it was still a glittering ballgown and a coach and six! #SFWApro