TIPS FROM THE MFA PIT, PART 16

One of my students referred to a book she read recently that referred to a once-common publishing term known as the “slush pile.”  Which led me on a discussion on open submissions and small publishing houses and how a new author can get their manuscript read without first having it vetted by an agent…

In your journal for this week you refer to William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade and his mention of the slush pile. In any event, the slush pile is a real thing, books (or screenplays) sent “over the transom” as they used to say, which means without an agent or a targeted call for submissions. Some of the smaller publishers—and even some bigger ones, though NONE of the Big Five—will still take unagented or open submissions, which can be considered the slush pile of today. Some editors love them, usually what’s referred to as the “baby editors,” former editorial assistants who work under a senior editor and are now building their own list, as they’re always on the look-out for the next big author or trend.

Young editors/agents are often the best to query as they’re more open to submission, and a good website to keep an eye on is Publishing…and Other Forms of Insanity, as their posts always highlight new agents looking for clients. The site also lists publishers of all genres who accept unagented submissions, and it’s really eye-opening how many publishing houses are really out there. So much emphasis is put on getting published by the Big Five, but in truth, your chances for publication are much better if you query a smaller house. Many turn out to be hidden (or unappreciated) gems as far as how they value their authors, and many are willing to take a chance on new ones. And don’t discount their influence either as far as getting discovered. One of my favorite stories is of a small-house author making is big named Nelson Johnson, author of Boardwalk Empire. He published a book with Plexus Publishing, a small house out of Medford, NJ, and he was just lucky enough to have it read by HBO showrunner  Terrance Winter, who eventually turned it into a hit series for HBO!

I guess the moral of this story is you never know where your fortunes lie, and if the opportunity arises, just take it. You never know who’s reading!

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