The Death of Slush

People like to talk about the end of things, the death of the newspaper, the death of the slush pile, but such talk is relevant only briefly. Everything changes and nothing is permanent, except sharpies, and transience makes for a good conversation topic. I remember when.

Nonetheless this is an interesting WSJ article about the futility of the slush pile. The slush pile refers to unsolicited manuscript submissions at publishers and journals; the long and short of it is that new writers submitting their work to the world in hopes of being published is rarely fruitful, and is becoming an extinct practice. Aspiring West Coast writers should know Zyzzyva, as Mr Junker only publishes unpublished writers. We’re Facebook friends.

Some years ago when I had a fair amount of free time, I read the slush pile at an agency in Palo Alto for about six months. It was good work for an aspiring writer because it builds your crap detector and you learn to read fast. I would usually go through about five inches of submissions per week, I think. A five inch tall stack, is what I mean to say. That’s probably about ten manuscripts, as most people would send the first fifty pages.

In six months I didn’t read anything that really impressed me. Occasionally there were some nice stories.  There’s a funny quote in the article that rings very true:

In 1957, Tom Wolfe interviewed James Michener, a former slush pile reader and the author of “Tales of the South Pacific.” Mr. Wolfe asked him if he had worried, upon submitting the Pulitzer Prize-winning tome to publishers, about competition lurking in the slush piles. “If you’ve ever read a slush pile,” said Mr. Michener, “you’d know I had nothing to worry about,” Mr. Wolfe says. “He knew how much garbage there was out there.”

Everything is difficult; it is quite difficult to find an outlet for your writing, but it is far more challenging to write something that is worth reading. Either work at it til your dead or find something better to do. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Pardon my sudden change of topic, but I enjoyed these pictures of a teenage polar bear playing by himself:


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