Honest Critiques

No, I mean it. REAL honest. Email your excerpts or full stories, up to 1000 words or so, to honestcrits [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk. Synopses would also be welcome. My backlog is so daunting now that I recommend not submitting anything you are not prepared to wait a couple of months for a response on.
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  • Monday, November 07, 2005

    A coupla questions

    From 'Yogy Bear':

    You say you're an editor at a publishing house and manage the slush pile. I thought publishers didn't have slush piles any more because they all refuse to read unsolicited unagented manuscripts. Is this a myth, or is your company an exception?

    We certainly do still have one. It is becoming rarer and rarer, but I still believe it is a valuable resource for publishers.

    In other blogs I've read that agents (and editors) find the size of their slush piles so overwhelming that as a self-defence mechanism they read each unsolicited manuscript expecting to hate it and looking for a reason to reject it so that they don't have to spend further time on it. This sounds very understandable, but it's a daunting prospect. Is it true?

    It's not so much the size as the quality (as the actress said, etc). If you've just read thirty terrible manuscripts in a row, it may create a strong suspicion that the thirty-first is also going to be terrible. And usually it is. However, when you say we're then 'looking for a reason to reject it', that's not really the case. We don't look for minute errors in formatting, or bad spelling, or wonky punctuation - that's the sort of thing that gets picked up at the other end of the process. We do look for things like awful prose and boring, hackneyed stories.

    You soon learn to give even these a chance, because it's surprising how often the start of a book is the absolute worst bit.

    One of the most pervasive myths I've come across reading writers' blogs and advice sites is that most often editors will not give a submission a fair hearing. If we did that, it'd defeat the point of the exercise, and it's not a particularly fun exercise, at that. Unless the MS is physically difficult to read, or is completely inappropriate for the list, it'll get a fair crack of the whip. Two examples from my time doing children's books: the occasional granny-submission, in spidery biro on onion-skin paper which requires a jeweller's loupe to read - nope, not going to bother. Sorry, Nan, please read the guidelines, and I'll take a chance on you not being the next JKR. Or the man who wanted us to publish his collection of erotic postcards.

    I've also read on other blogs references to editors/agents having to 'fall in love with' or 'feel passionate about' a manuscript before they consider making an offer. This seems rather a tall order; I've never fallen in love with a book in my life. Again, is it true?

    Have you not? That's a shame. I do, very often. What these references are probably getting at is the fact that, with publishers' lists very strong, a book needs to be extra-special to muscle in. And some books do require a champion. Editors and agents like nothing better than to discover and fight for a talented new author - it reflects really well on them - and that's something that's worth being passionate about. Besides, we get to talk about books for a living - it's better than going down t' mines.

    On the other hand, lots of books - the majority, I'd say - get published without extraordinary levels of love and passion; they happen because they seem like shrewd bets commercially. So, don't worry too much.

    One thing that you might hear in a rejection is 'I didn't love it', which is one of those stock editor phrases. What this means is 'This book is reasonably competent, but I wouldn't have been too bothered if I'd put it down half-way and never picked it up again; it's not exceptional; I'll wait until something exceptional comes along.' It's a tough thing to hear, but it's miles better than most.
    Torgo, 6:45 pm


    I was floored by: “I’ve never fallen in love with a book in my life.”

    What on earth drove that person to become a writer if not for the fact that they fell in love with books?
    Blogger Heather, at 7:33 pm  
    To Heather: I think we may mean different things by 'fall in love with'. I sit up half the night reading to find out what happens next. I read some books over and over again and get swept away every time I open them. I cry over some. I laugh over others. Sometimes both at the same time. I miss my stop on trains because I was in another world. If this counts as 'falling in love' then I do it all the time. But in the sense that I couldn't live without a particular book, or I'd pine away if my copy was lost and I couldn't get another - hasn't happened yet, I'm afraid.

    To Torgo: Thanks so much for your answers and for the blog in general.

    Yogy Bear
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:52 pm  
    Ah well I think you're holding us to higher standards of love, then, Yogy - what you describe yourself doing is exactly what we're looking for in a book we love.
    Blogger Torgo, at 7:54 pm  
    Hi, I've been poking around this blog for a while now, and finally deciding to comment. I think you're doing great stuff here. Keep it up.

    Anyway, I also was surprised to hear that a publishing house would accept unsolicited, unagented manuscripts. Is this something you allow within guidelines, or do people just send stuff?
    Blogger Darby, at 11:11 pm  
    Hi Darby. Some do, some don't. You have to check each place's guidelines individually.

    Not that people pay any attention - we closed down our submissions once for nine months and got exactly the same amount of stuff all the time. We read it and considered it anyway - it'd be silly not to - but didn't feel obliged to keep to our six-to-eight-week reply rule if it wasn't convenient.
    Blogger Torgo, at 11:15 pm  
    Hey, you're back and you're busy. Serves me right for not looking in more often. Happy days are here again.
    Anonymous koala, at 4:20 am  

    Sorry, just curious. What's your definition of terrible? Competent prose, has the mechanics down, but boring and a chore to read? Or truly unreadable?

    Argh. It's just that I'm sending out a novel/querry letters for the first time (after two "practice" books) and I'm stressing about the competition.
    Blogger The Gambino Crime Family, at 12:58 pm  
    I must read a hundred books a year, and only about three of them are exceptional. Maybe half I put down and forget to pick up, or read them out of sheer boredom.
    But I love to read, I love to lose myself in a story, and when I do find a book that's exceptional, it stays with me all my life.
    Blogger Jennifer Macaire, at 3:34 pm  
    Torgo, the site is sizzling. What fun to read all the comments and your new posts. Congrats to S.W. on the sale. And to Bookner, if I could spell that raspberry sound, I'd put it here.

    Torgo, I'm amazed your house has a "six-eight week reply rule" and the editors feel obligated to respond within that time frame. Unbelievably quick. I've never had a response that soon and wouldn't even expect one.

    I wanted to comment on children's editors of major U.S. houses: I've gone in slush, requested, and agented, have always been read in full, and never received a form rejection. Prior to signing with my agent, pitching on my own, I received ONLY personal, thoughtful, lengthy letters with either a revision request or a request for more work. It's always about the story. Good stories will sell to an appropriate house when the time is right. I have the utmost respect for the anyone in the business, on either side of the desk. I've never once felt disrespected as a writer and waiting is just one part of the game.

    Diana *climbing down off soap box*
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:37 pm  
    Dear The Gambino Crime Family -

    Really, really awful. Flat-out balls-achingly unreadable. Seriously: if you can write a coherent sentence about anything you are already in the top half of a slush-pile.

    Competent but boring is a fairly large slice. Check out Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Slushkiller for a good breakdown - just google for it.

    Good luck with the book - hope they make you an offer you can't refuse.
    Blogger Torgo, at 7:32 pm  
    Great. Phrew... Thanks. Right now, I think I'll settle for being competent but boring. I've never taken a writing class, so it's easy to imagine the competition as being these brilliant geniuses (all of whom are also way more suave and infinitely better looking). Anyway, that's a load off my mind...
    Blogger The Gambino Crime Family, at 2:44 pm  
    This may be something too amorphous to really answer, but I've been wondering about it for a while. What factors would cause an editor to ask a writer for a rewrite rather than to reject the submission?
    I've read Slushkiller more than once, and TNH mentions factors like 'author has written the wrong book', ie from the viewpoint of the 'wrong' character, the story begins in the wrong place, that sort of thing. What would be the signs that tell an editor that the submitter could revise this into the right book, and that it's worth asking them to?
    -Barbara (forgotten my blogger password)
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:00 pm  
    Hey Torgo glad you're back. I hope that I am near the top of the list by now. I put that project aside until I heard from you. Just a reminder, its the on that starts in a radio station.
    Anonymous OneTeamOneDream, at 2:34 pm  
    Torgo, you say you believe the slush pile is a valuable resource. How many novels has your company published from yours?
    Just curious.
    Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:55 pm  
    November 16.
    Blogger Bernita, at 3:50 pm  
    Thanks for the insights into the process.
    Blogger HanktheDog, at 8:34 pm  
    Torgo, please...
    Just a line, something to keep hope alive, that you haven't been creamated,incarcerated, fled the country, smothered by a stack o slush,wiped your hard drive, run down by a bus, anything...
    Blogger Bernita, at 2:29 pm  

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