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Rising above the Slush

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Pickles

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Yesterday, I spent seven hours going through manuscripts while training a new manuscript reader. Normally, BTP sends me novels to read, but this time we had mostly picture books.

I discovered that the general quality of unsolicited picture books is much lower than that of novels. I believe this is because everybody thinks they can write a children's story, but the majority of them don't know what a children's story is.

I know this writing biz gets discouraging, but if you are perfecting your craft, networking, learning, and reading, you are ahead of at least 75% of submissions.


I've listed some tips that will get you out of the groan...ACK!....quick glance....insta-rejection pile.


1. Avoid adult subjects including politics, drunkeness, and hades. Rhyming does not soften these tough subjects

2. Format properly and include a professional cover letter

3. Learn about meter and rhyme scheme

4. Don't include your own illustrations unless you are a professionally skilled artist.

5. Don't include illustrations by anybody else.

6. Don't tell the editor what the illustrations should look like and where they go. Brief illustration notes necessary to help the text make sense are okay. These should be rare.

7. If you've never written for children before, visit websites or read books specifically about this genre, regardless of how much writing experience you have in other areas. It's a different kingdom. There are different rules.

8. Avoid overtly moralistic stories unless writing for a market which specifically asks for that.



Oh, I do want to add that yes, I recognize blue boarders in the stack. And their manuscripts tend to rise above the pack.

Most of the manuscripts that fall in the above category obviously come from people who pluck our name out of the CWIM or begin submitting without learning the ropes and doing their homework.

#1 - July 04, 2007, 06:07 AM
« Last Edit: July 04, 2007, 06:16 AM by Pickles »

Thanks, Pickles.  I felt so validated reading your list.  Wow - 75%!  Really?


buglady
#2 - July 04, 2007, 06:18 AM

Donna

Guest
Thank you for the tips, Kay. I'm in the process of making sure my PB is ready to send off (still waiting on the WIN critique, though). I'll check your list twice! :)

Hugs,
Donna
#3 - July 04, 2007, 06:32 AM

Pickles

Guest
Yep. I'd say the above tip list takes care of about 75% of the pile.  And about 10% were single spaced. :)  Really.  The single spaced ones ended up in a pile of their own, and I'll look at them briefly before sending this stack back to Austin.

Last year was the first year we were in the CWIM. And I noticed a dive bomb in quality immediately. Before that manuscripts came mostly from SCBWI or blue board members, conference attendees, or personal contacts.

I fully, fully, see why bigger houses close their doors. And I also see the need for form rejections. We still try to put something personal in everyone of our rejections.

We are closed for unsolicited submissions until Nov. 1, and submission guidelines will change at that time. It's truly overwhelming.

My overall message is when you run across those star gazed newbies and wannabees, if you can, gear them toward websites like this or good books on craft. Don't tell them the CWIM exists, yet.  :)

#4 - July 04, 2007, 06:37 AM

Donna

Guest
My overall message is when you run across those star gazed newbies and wannabees, if you can, gear them toward websites like this or good books on craft. Don't tell them the CWIM exists, yet.  :)



 :dr  Speaking of the CWIM -- this is what mine looks like:

I have my CWIM all marked up. I mark through the folks who don't publish/represent my genre and then the ones who don't accept submissions from my area (ex: some canadian houses only accept canadian writers). I also mark through the entries that I KNOW are defunct (ex: GP4K -- it is in the 2007 edition - but they aren't around anymore.  :( )  Then I go through and find the ones that accept email subs (my favorite way to submit) and the ones who accept snail mail. I read and reread their submission guidelines. Then I do research on the publishers and agents I really want to pursue. Sadly, I have only subbed to a few of the ones I've "marked" as possibilities. I need to get off my duff and get some stuff in the mail. I just don't want to suffer from "P.S." sydrome. You know, "Premature Submission".

Hugs,
Donna

#5 - July 04, 2007, 06:51 AM

Pickles

Guest
Yay, Donna!!!!!!  That's the way to do it!!!

BTW, I'm adding two more tips to the list

9. Keep picture books under 1000 words.

10. Show don't tell. Be sure to balance narrative and dialogue.

We had several manuscripts that were over 1000 words of straight narrative..okay maybe a line or two of dialogue.

I'm not posting this stuff to make fun of people. I'm trying to pass on information that will help keep the slush pile down...or at least keep the slushiest slush out of it.
#6 - July 04, 2007, 07:10 AM

Pickles

Guest
You wouldn't walk into a dentist's office and apply for a dental hygienist's job if your only experience was brushing and flossing your own teeth...or maybe your kid's. A dentist isn't going to hire you, and then teach you everything you need to know to do the job. You are expected to have done that on your own if you want that line of work.

Submitting a manuscript is like applying for a job. You have to look professional and prove that you have the skills and knowledge to do the job if you want to get a second look.

Happy Fourth to those of you in the U.S.A.
#7 - July 04, 2007, 07:16 AM
« Last Edit: July 04, 2007, 07:18 AM by Pickles »

Your list is informative and helpful. Thanks so much for taking time to fill us in on what it's like to be on the other side of the desk.

Donna
#8 - July 04, 2007, 07:47 AM

Thank you Pickles!

I once had an acquaintance send me his 'picture book' and it was about 3,000 words of awkward rhyme. When I very kindly suggested that he study some picture books to learn the genre, he honestly responded by saying, "Yeah, I thought of that, but I don't want to be influenced by other's work."  :faint:
#9 - July 04, 2007, 07:57 AM
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barb

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Yes, thanks, Pickles.  It's always interesting to hear about the real slush pile.  I especially like that you're not being snarky about it!  Most blogs and articles about the slush pile are written by bitter interns and they're just not nice.

I'm always amazed to learn that so many manuscripts are that amateurish.  I can see how an editor would get cynical after a while.  Actually, your figure is low compared to other editors, for example in Robin Friedman's interviews, who have said 90% or 95% are bad.

I loved your comment in another thread about the joy of white space.  I certainly noticed at ALA that the books editors were most proudly touting had very few words per page.  Interesting!
#10 - July 04, 2007, 07:59 AM

Thank you for these tips, Pickles!

I have a question.  When you are training a new manuscript reader, what are you telling her to look for, in particular?  Of the manuscripts that are properly formatted and avoid the 8 deadly sins that you mention, what is it that makes one rise to the top 2% of submissions?

 :hug1: Big hugs to you for sharing your knowledge!!
#11 - July 04, 2007, 08:07 AM
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Pickles

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Yeah, 75% is low...that's why I said "at least." And I was basing that on the actual stack we had yesterday. Actually my reader says I have an ACK! scale. The 75% is the pile that I've said ACK! over two times...then it slides into two ACKS! then one ACK! So by the time you get to no ACKS!..then we're past that 90%.

You have the totally clueless pile with the really awkward formatting and the totally bizarre story lines...then you get into the new writer - "typical first mistakes--subbed too soon" pile...and then you get into the good but not great pile..and then by the time you get to 5% or under...you get extraordinary.

I think my scale roughly goes from falling over and flailing to multiple ACKS! to one ACK! to Ehhhh to Hmmm-maybe to WHOA - WOW!!!!

It's best to stay out of the ACK! range which is why I bring you tips today.
#12 - July 04, 2007, 08:14 AM
« Last Edit: July 04, 2007, 08:28 AM by Pickles »

Wow, I can't believe so much "ack" stuff gets subbed at all!!  Very eye opening Pickles!


Emily
#13 - July 04, 2007, 08:15 AM

bonitap

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Hi Pickles, I write MG and YA instead of PB. But much of what you've said applies to longer works as well. It's always good to hear from an "insider" about what makes a MS rise above the slush. It is so incredible to me that some writers never read in the genre they write. Even worse, is the obvious lack of professionalism apparent when someone doesn't bother to reseach correct MS formatting. Thanks for the tips.

Bonita
#14 - July 04, 2007, 08:25 AM

Donna

Guest
PB under 1000 words --

I'm trying! I have one PB that I've cut and cut and cut --- but it just won't reduce under 1100. It's also pretty well balanced (I think!) with dialogue and narrative. I've sent it to my crit groups and some lovely folks on this board. I'm waiting for the WIN critique to see how much more I can cut. Ack.

Anyway, thanks for the confirmation that under 1000 is what most editors are looking for. BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD!

Hugs,
Donna



#15 - July 04, 2007, 08:29 AM

Pickles

Guest
Mariwho....these are the things I tell the new reader to think about....

With all the things the other staff has to do, should they really take their time out to read this?

Will the story stand out, get good reviews and possibly awards?

Will the story  survive in today's market, especially when it comes  from a small, little known publisher?

Would you pay $15 for this book? Would you suggest other people pay $15 for this book?

Would you comfortably  go to the boss and say, "You really need to spend thousands of dollars publishing this book."

And then there's  the Knock Your Socks off factor...which usually leads directly to the last thing on this list. That happens rarely. And it didn't happen yesterday. However if the story fits the first couple of questions on the above list, it will go on to other readers.
#16 - July 04, 2007, 08:39 AM

Mariwho....these are the things I tell the new reader to think about....

With all the things the other staff has to do, should they really take their time out to read this?

Will the story stand out, get good reviews and possibly awards?

Will the story  survive in today's market, especially when it comes  from a small, little known publisher?

Would you pay $15 for this book? Would you suggest other people pay $15 for this book?

Would you comfortably  go to the boss and say, "You really need to spend thousands of dollars publishing this book."

And then there's  the Knock Your Socks off factor...which usually leads directly to the last thing on this list. That happens rarely. And it didn't happen yesterday. However if the story fits the first couple of questions on the above list, it will go on to other readers.

Thank you, Pickles!
#17 - July 04, 2007, 08:42 AM
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Pickles

Guest
Donna, it may be okay. These are general guidelines.

It's the 1800 word, non-indented, solid text with no dialogue (possibly single spaced) ones that are going to fall in the danger zone of being barely glanced at.

I'm really talking about the very, very, very bottom of the pile today. And I'm only doing it because I want blue boarders to stay out of it.

YAchicka, oh it's frustrating..but there's not much you can do about those people.
#18 - July 04, 2007, 08:44 AM

Barbara Eveleth

Guest
I could help you think of some ideas to alleviate your slush frustration, Kay. But I can't post them because that would make Verla mad. And then I'd have a permanent time-out.  :yup
#19 - July 04, 2007, 08:50 AM

Pickles

Guest
AE,  LOL!!!

And somebody else in another thread wondered why some of these were even "read." Well "read" is a relative term. I have to look at everything somewhat in order to fill out the inner office forms attached to each manuscript.
#20 - July 04, 2007, 08:56 AM

ahsitan

Guest
Thanks Pickles  :)

So, how can you tell who the Blue Boarders are? Do they mention their screen names in the queries? Any tips to get over that rejection hump is greatly appreciated.
#21 - July 04, 2007, 05:18 PM
« Last Edit: July 06, 2007, 07:50 AM by ahsitan »

laurenem6

Guest
Wow, this gives me so much hope that my PBs rise above 75%!  Woohoo!  There's a chance for me!  I can't wait until November when I can sub to you!
#22 - July 04, 2007, 07:25 PM

Hi Pickles,

Thanks for your tips. Judging by the rejections, I think most of my pbs are in that "hmmmm-maybe" range. I never knew BTP published picture books. Not knowing about a possible market for my books is about as dumb as letting someone hit me in the head with a hammer  :!. Now that I've found out you publish pbs, I read you're not accepting manuscripts until November. I'll just wait till then and in the meantime research BTP a bit better. 

Again, thanks for your tips.

Brian H.
#23 - July 04, 2007, 09:53 PM

I love you pic! Thanks for the tips. If I'm going to get rejected, at least I'm in the I-double-space-and-don't-preach minority.
Rock the 25%!
#24 - July 04, 2007, 10:21 PM
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This is very informative, Pickles. Thanks! Funny, more people are coming out of the woodwork to tell me about their book ideas, books in progress, and to take a peek at their mss ever since my book was published. I'll be glad to send them to the Blue Boards and this list next time someone inquires...
#25 - July 04, 2007, 11:33 PM
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TOO funny, Pickles!

Just an observation, though--there still must be a sizeable amount in that top 25%, since most of those still get forms. (25% of all pbs is probably a lot more mss than 25% of all submitted novels, I'm guessing?) I know a whole lot of pb writers who know how to be professional, and who have an actual story in well-written prose, and still get forms. (In fact, I don't know anyone who has gotten much more than that.) There must be another cutoff higher up that never makes it into the please-don't-do-this lists.

Olmue
(who doesn't write pbs, just for the record)
#26 - July 05, 2007, 03:30 AM

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Good tips Pickles!  75% seems low to me too, but after thinking about it some more, that's probably a good ballpark for the ACK! pile, give or take.

Olmue - some of the WOW! books can still get forms, even if the editor really wants to send a personal rejection. If there's a shortage of time or staff, a personal rejection just might not happen. There's only so much time you can sit on it until you can make time, because it's not fair to the author to not return it because you want to personalize it but don't have time. Sad, but true. So a form doesn't really mean anything except that it's not right for that publisher at that time.
#27 - July 05, 2007, 06:18 AM
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Pickles

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ahsiatan, I don't recgonize every Blue Boarder, but some. I've been on this board since shortl after it started so I know lots of people. Plus some people contact me about their manuscripts through this board. And you get past rejection by moving forward.

laurenem, check here or on the BTP website. The submission guidelines are changing, but I'm not sure exactly what they are yet.

Brian, so good to see you here! I've been wondering what you're up to.

ECM, send them away.

Olmue, the 75% is is the bottom of the heap, totally clueless pile ---- the ones where you know the author has done little or no studying about the field before submitting. And I second what Stephanie said about form rejections. At BTP, we try to personalize every rejection - For each manuscript I write down something I liked about the manuscript and something I think can be improved. The more I like something, the more I"ll write.

Stephanie, right on. Well, I said "at least" 75%.   And I agree with what you said about forms.

Again, this is just my opnion, based no my experiences..and I figure that our slush is probably a slice of slush big houses see. 

#28 - July 05, 2007, 08:32 AM

Frauheather

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Pickles, you always have such useful information for us struggling newbies and you're funny to boot. :)

This may not be the the place, but since the topic is similar... I was wondering if the location of the author makes any difference in the slush pile? I mean, if the author lives, say in Germany, will that be an automatic "no" or are they read the same as any other slush submission?

Thanks for all your tips,
Heather
#29 - July 05, 2007, 08:49 AM

Pickles

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Heather,  location doesn't matter a bit.
#30 - July 05, 2007, 08:55 AM

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