I'm off to the south of France for Easter (I know – please don't hate me), but I'm leaving Smiley to guard my blog while I'm away. Make no sudden movements. I'm also going to leave you an interesting site that is rumoured by some to give a close approximation of what it's like to wade through the fabled, dreaded, soul-devouring slush pile.
For those who don't know, the slush pile is the heap of unpublished material that sloshes around publisher's back rooms and threatens to swamp them completely. It is so named (so the story goes) because the piles of paper that were once pushed through editor's doors while they were away, closely resembled heaps of banked up snow once the door had been opened and closed again. These piles of slush, whether virtual or physical, are still where your manuscript goes if you send it in unsolicited. This is also where the most junior staff members are exiled, just in case the next Dan Brown is in there. Somewhere. The internet is full of horror stories about slush, from supplicant writers who never hear back to editorial staff pulling their hair out and shredding armfuls of material unread.
These days, with the numbers of people writing a novel going ever upwards, the slush pile has become so scary to many publishers that they have stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts, adopting an 'agented only' policy instead (according to Random House, the last time they found something publishable in the slush pile was 1991!). This means that literary agents are now the gate-keepers to publishing, and it's their offices that are being swamped, since the acquisition of an agent is the first sensible goal of most writers today (agented stuff still goes into a slush pile though, just a much smaller one).
But what must it be like to sort through a slush pile? Well, try this site to find out. In a nutshell, writers are invited (for a small initial fee) to submit the first page of their novel for rating by members. And by members, I mean just about anyone since joining at a basic level is very simple. If enough people rate your writing highly, it's 'elevated' to level two: the chance to submit a whole chapter. Get through that, and you can submit 50 pages in level three. Score highly there too and your manuscript will be reviewed by a real live literary agent, a prize that will ensure a healthy submission rate, I'm sure.
What do you think of this? I must admit to being put off by the fee, though at least it ensures that only people with a certain level of commitment to their writing will submit. Or is this just too much of an obvious money spinner for your taste? I don't plan to submit anything myself, but I have found the rating process (completely free) strangely addictive, and interestingly my ratings have largely followed those of others (revealed afterwards), which suggests a useful level of objectivity. And it's fascinating to see what others are writing, and yes, some of it is pretty good. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who uses this site. I can't help feeling that approval from an anonymous cross-section of readers would be a huge spur for anyone caught in the grip of writerly self-doubt.