In a recent entry, Nathan Bransford (San Francisco agent extraordinaire) wrote about something called the “slush pile“. Essentially, he explained that this “is a repository of hopes and dreams for the authors who populate it, and a Herculean and Sisyphean task for those charged with making the pile go away to make way for the deluge still to come. The slush is full of half-baked ideas, the truly out-there, the very occasional undiscovered gems, but mostly good-solid efforts by perfectly respectable writers, who are up against simple math that simply isn’t in their favor: maybe one in a thousand, if that, make it from slush pile to publication with a major publisher, and the odds are getting steeper by the day.” The image I get in my head of that is like a pile of dusty gemstones, lost and forgotten by a dragon who (rightfully) found himself interested in something bigger and shinier.
As I read his entry (which mostly touches on the expansion of e-books and equal-opportunity-publishing-thanks-to-things-like-Kindle), I found myself missing the point entirely and straying to think… I have my own “slush pile”. It’s certainly smaller than the one Bransford is talking about; perhaps it would be more just to call it a “slush puddle”. It’s the place where all the good ideas go. There are plots with no characters, characters with no story, old first chapters, half-written stories, short stories I’m not fond of… all these things that will never probably see light again. There are so many good ideas in the world that there is no way everything can be recognized. So we writers – like agents, editors, and publishers – only pluck the biggest, reddest apples from the trees. A lot gets lost in translation, for better or worse (usually better).
The writing world is still hard, though. Even if you’ve picked your reddest apple and given it to the trickiest hag to deliver, that doesn’t mean Snow White is going to want to eat it. This week, she may be partial to kiwis. Even people with great manuscripts and amazing agents (and I would never, ever try to publish without an agent, but that’s my personal belief) may never get published, and that’s the way the world works.
Even outside of being a writer, working in that industry is difficult. It’s all about the people you know. Bransford has written a blog entry on this, too, and he says that pretty much the only way to get in is to know someone already there, or if you’re lucky enough to get an unpaid internship… count your blessings. I just did a search of agencies and I personally would have to move to New York City to even have close enough access to one. Publishing companies? I’d have to go to Boston. Since I live in New Hampshire and currently work in corporate retail, there is no way I could afford to go to either of those cities and live on an unpaid internship. Yikes. So what then?
Then, we cut corners. Maybe we dream of editing fantasy YA, but the closest thing we’ve got is a travel magazine, and that’s still an hour’s drive for an unpaid internship. Still, it’s better than Boston or New York (with all the love in my heart), so that’s what next summer will look like for me, with a little bit of luck. I don’t want to be a person thrown into a slush pile… shiny, but not shiny enough.
Meanwhile, keep rubbing elbows with the people that you know. Because they may make all the difference.
P.S. If you don’t follow Nathan Bransford’s blog and you want to be a writer… do it.