I’m not sure that is true. Publishers (especially small presses) have slush piles. But I don’t think agents do. When the publishers pushed “the query” from them to agents the proces changed and for the most part the slush pile (as it used to exist) doesn’t occur these days. In other words, you don’t have a spot where entire manuscripts are sent and people read through the whole thing from start to end.

It’s my understanding that there is a multi-step process.

  1. The agent reads the query. Most are rejected right away because (a) they are in a genre the agent doesn’t represent (b) the query wasn’t personalized (agents hate form letters) © the writing of the query was poor (d) the idea wasn’t interesting, (e) it’s something the agent has seen too many times (f) it’s too like something else that was recently published.

  2. If the query is well-written and the idea is intriguing, they’ll ask for a partial or a full.

  3. Now some agents already have at least a few pages, so they’ll read them first…and a project may be rejected becasue the writing isn’t up to par.

  4. Once the full (or partial comes in) it’s not so much a “slush pile” as it is a “partially vetted” hopeful list. Now they may have interns who read these…but, considering how few make it to this stage, only the largest agencies are going to have enough work for needing an intern. I venture that for most individual agents, only a small number (maybe 1 or 2 a month) get to the full/partial stage, and that’s really not enough to employ interns.

  5. If they do have interns, I still contend that before offering representation I’m pretty sure they read the entire thing, themselves.


Some agents will work with the writer to make a great book even better before they start sending it to publishers. Others take the view that they’re agents, not editors, and their job is to sell an already great book.


I think by “slush” she meant the queries, not unrequested fulls. I doubt agents have anyone helping with partials and fulls.


Yes, because most submissions don’t clear the bar for “minimum standards” to make it worth the agent’s time.


Oh sure, there’s definitely plenty of examples like that out there; luck is a significant part of the equation, and everyone’s experience will be different. But I would bet that you yourself would find agents change their approach towards you and your submissions if you were already a big name in its own right over the interwebs (which you probably already could be; I just got here XD)


I keep telling people this.

A lot of this is luck, admit it you guys.


Well I hate form rejections.


I mean, everyone knows that… right?


Rejection is a BIG part of this business. The series that has made me more than $1M was rejected many times before it was picked up. But it WAS eventually picked up and its sales proved the publisher made a good decision.

But yes, even good books are overlooked, and many people decide to self-publish them. Some do well, others fail. It all comes down to (a) how good is the book (b) is there enough marketing to get a core people to know about it © do those people spread the word…and that formula is the same for both self and tradigion.

No, I said 498 were poorly written. There were many that intrigued me. And a bunch where I thought “great idea, terrible execution.” As I mentioned elsewhere it’s the “writing skill” that generally gets something kicked first, because you can tell that long before you get deep enough to see if the story is any good.


You read all 498? And just the first few pages right?


I don’t think everyone does. I’m hearing, good writing, good writing, good writing. And then when good writing is presented, lady luck comes in and whispers no in the agent’s ear and boom–no.


Yes, lots of confusion over terms in threads lately! lol I meant I understand that some agencies use interns as a first line to sort queries (which I always equate with the slush). I’m not up to date with how many they receive these days, but when I was querying agents would receive an average of 250 queries a week. They have to be brutal, otherwise they would drown in them. What is staggering is how many writers are auto-rejected for something as simple as not following guidelines. That query has to hook an agent to even look at your opening pages.

Again I’m not sure of recent stats, but it used to be that less than 1% of querying writers would receive an offer of rep and of those, less than half would sell their first novel.


I don’t think everyone does. I’m hearing, good writing, good writing, good writing. And then when good writing is presented, lady luck comes in and whispers no in the agent’s ear and boom–no.

Well, a variety of factors come into play, being that each agent is different and what they see as good writing is all subjective : /
The main thing is to never give up; keep trying, keep expanding and improving, and just do it all because you want to. Eventually, your luck just might strike and somebody will come along


Let the reading gods hear you, and the devil ones be sleep.


Yes, and no. Agents (or publishers) are more than able to look past a few minor mistakes (using your instead of you’re) but if the prose is poor…f the manuscript is overly wordy, or has awkward sentences, or is difficult to read. That’s what kills it.

It’s a matter of degrees. Publishers EXPECT to pay for copy editing, but if the errors are so pervasive that it makes it difficult to see the story through the trees…or makes it a chore to read, they don’t have the patience.

Also if the story is 95% there – then they have no problem working with you to get it to the last 5%. But if 1/2 the story is problematic. They’ll pass.

If your work is good enough to be picked up, then you are in the catbird seat as it is also likely to do well if self-published…PROVIDING you do the work necessary to make it as professional as the traditional publisher. That means investing in cover design and editing.

Whether you would be better off with self or traditional depends on MANY factors. The author’s goals, their abilities, their financial situation. Both have pros and cons so it’s not so cut and dried. But…IF you can produce a book that is as good as a traditional publisher…and you have the money to pay for the production costs. Then, yes, I’d say self-publishing probably edges out traditional because you (a) have all your rights and (b) can have more say over certain key factors.

Yes, many great books are passed over because the query was rejected.

Exactly! Agents sometimes pass on a book because they don’t have the bandwidth for a project that may be “borderline.” Generally it’s the books that “blow them away” that they pick up.




Yup! Basically the agent is the one who screens works and will help with story editing. Maybe some grammar if you put a period in a wrong place every now and then. But a publishing house has a team of editors that pick the books apart even further.

And editors also have some authority in saying whether or not they like a certain part of a story. So you have a “light” editor that is your agent and a “heavy” editor at the publishing house. That’s why they want work that is pretty decent in terms of structure, grammar and voice. They don’t want to be spending a ton of time going back and forth with the author if they don’t have to.


I don’t doubt that. I’m just saying that when it comes to publishing, that trait only matters if you are an agent (or a publisher – which includes self-publishing). My point is when talking about representation…the only person’s opinion that matters is the agents.

Yes, they may want the next big thing, but they also realize the chances of them finding the next J.K. Rowling is so unlikely that it’s not worth thinking about. Ultimately they are looking to build a good “stable” of authors who (a) write frequently and (b) sell reasonbly. In other words, agents are content with a lot of batters that hit singles, they don’t only care about the home-run hitters.

Many reasons.

  1. Because my self-published books earn more per copy, I end up making more overall income from my self-published books. For instance, I self-published book #3 and #4 of a series. Those books came out years after book #1 and #2, but they have already earned me twice as much money.

  2. I like being in 100% control. My publishers have been good, but I think the cover of my 4th book was pretty “phoned in” and I had no ability to change it. Also, if I were in charge I would be dropping the price on book #1 of my series to $4.99 or $5.99 but the publisher continues to sell it at $9.99 even though it’s been out since November 2011. Now, they say “It’s selling well.” And I agree, but I’d still like to experiment with a lower price to see if it lowers the barrier for some new readers. I can do that type of experimentation when I own the rights, but when traditional, the publisher has the say.

  3. I get to use the editors I want. Over the years there are two editors that really know my style and whom I work well with. When I got the edits back from one recent novel, I found myself rejecting most of the changes. Now to the publisher’s credit, they ended up hiring one of my suggested editors - but it was an unnecessary waste of time and money.

  4. The industry contract terms are just horrible and something I no longer have to put up with. Life of copyright lengths, low thresholds for determining when a book is still in print, an increase in sales sold at high-discount or premiums, limiting non-compete clauses, too low of royalties on ebooks, I could go on and on. Bottom line, there was a point in my career when those negatives were outweighed by the positives I got from traditional, but given where I am now, it’s just not worth it.

  5. Last but not least…in fact it’s probably #1. There is a recent change in the industry where the big-five is requiring audio rights (in addition to print and ebook). Now I make a lot of money from audio rights (my last contract was seven-figure for a trilogy), and if that is sold to a traditional publisher, and they sold it as a subsidiary right, I’ll lose 50% (all audio subsidiary income is split 50/50 between publisher and author). Yes, they will raise the advance a bit because now they want another right, but the amount they raise it is MUCH less than I can get when I sell directly to the audio producer. Now, in some cases, they may NOT sell it as a subsidiary right, and in that case, my royalty payment drops from 20% to 8.75%. Then there is control over the narrator. At my level, I could probably get them to add a provision that I have narrator approval, but if they aren’t involved, I know I’ll get who I want.


I haven’t seen evidence of that. Is this an opinion, or something you can back up with third-party validation?

No, I’ve had books rejected by a publisher who I was (and continue to) earn well for. They just didn’t think the book had potential. Terry Brooks (who has had multiple NYT best-sellers couldn’t get the publisher he’s been with for decades to pick up Street Freaks, so he took it to a friend’s publishing house).

Now if you are at a certain level…say Stephen King, Rowlings, or Patterson, they WILL take anything you write. But those are outliners. For MOST authors the publisher will judge the project on the merits of the books rather than the size of the author’s audience.

Easier, sure. So if you are really good seller they MAY take that into consideration, but as I’ve already noted, even best-selling authors get books turned down.


Depends on the agent. Some help with editing others don’t. But, yes, even if an agent DOES HELP with edits, the publisher will still have their own edits on top of that.