Six impossible things

Alexandria and the Terrible Horrible Parody Piece

I’m going to be taking Wednesday off, as I have things to do on Christmas other than compose a blog post; therefore here is a slightly-early Christmas present for everybody.

Alexandria and the Terrible, Horrible, No-good Very Bad Slush Pile

(With apologies to Judith Viorst)

I wake up with a hangover and miss the train and get to the office late even though I don’t take time to stop at Starbucks for coffee, and when I arrive the coffeemaker is already empty and the last little bit has dried out on the bottom of the pot and the editor-in-chief shows up while I am clearing it up and says she put the slush pile on my desk because it’s my turn to read it even though I have eighteen messages on my voice mail and a sales conference tomorrow.

The stack of manuscripts is two feet tall and even from here I can see that there’s a pile of pink pages in the middle and a smear down the side where somebody spilled coffee down it and I just know it is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad slush pile.

George, the other assistant editor, says he doesn’t know why I’m making faces, it’s just slush. I hate George

The top manuscript has a three-page cover letter. The first page is a diatribe about the Evil Publishing Conspiracy that won’t look at the author’s brilliant work, which we are all too stupid to appreciate anyway. I just love being insulted before I’ve had my coffee. The second page is a list of the author’s requirements for the book’s layout and cover, along with all the subrights that he is explicitly not offering us. The third page has his lawyer’s address and says that he’ll call on Thursday to negotiate the terms of the contract. Today is Thursday.

Maybe I can get a job selling life insurance.

The second manuscript is addressed very clearly to the editor-in-chief of the hard science fiction line, which is where I work. It is not hard science fiction; it is not soft science fiction; it is not any kind of science fiction at all. It is a Western. Why does the author think a hard science fiction line will buy a Western?

It is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad slush pile.

I get some coffee from the office coffee pot because at the rate I’m going, I won’t finish the slush pile until midnight and I can’t take the time to run down to Starbuck’s. The coffee tastes like soap. Burned soap. George has a Starbuck’s Grande Mocha sitting on his desk. I hate George.

I bet people in insurance offices get to have Starbucks coffee whenever they want.

The next manuscript is three inches thick, and printed on pink paper. I hate pink. I glance at it anyway. It’s in a script font, too. And it looks like the author has replaced all the o’s with a graphic of a little heart. And here I thought the assistant editor over in Romance was exaggerating. I’m not even going to try to read it. I value my eyes.

What’s next? Looks like someone has typed up the pilot episode of the original Star Trek series, with the names changed. I even recognize most of the dialog. Did he think we wouldn’t notice?

The slush pile doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter. I’m going to have to have lunch at my desk.  I bet life insurance salespeople don’t have to eat at their desks. George is having lunch with a Big Name Author at the trendy café down the block. On the expense account. I hate George.

At least the next author actually read our submission guidelines and sent three chapters and an outline, instead of the whole book. Unfortunately, the outline is incomprehensible. What are kneebles? Why is the hero looking for them on Jupiter when the villain appears to be mining them on Rigel VI? Or is it the villain who’s looking and the hero who’s mining? The cover letter assures me that everything is much clearer in the novel, but I don’t think I believe it.

Here’s a submission…no, two submissions…no, four submissions from the same author. At least he’s prolific. Wait, they’re all versions of the same book. Apparently he’s rewritten his novel three times in the two months since he first sent it in; the cover letter says the current version is much better than any of the earlier ones. On a hunch, I check the incoming mail. Yup, here’s version number five.  I wonder if I can start a betting pool on when version six will arrive?

I’m putting my resume together tonight, I swear I am.

The next manuscript looks like science fiction, all right, but that may be just because the author didn’t bother to run the spelling checker. Or possibly he really is still in third grade and hasn’t learned about grammar or spelling yet; it’s hard to say. Also, the villain is Thrad Redav, and the hero is Kuel Cloudrunner, and the plot is…more than familiar. No.

This is really a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad slush pile.

This one looks like the author typed it with his fingers off by one key. There’s a legible note at the top – oh, it’s in a language that the author invented. Have to give him points for obsessiveness, writing a whole novel in an imaginary language. I wonder who he expects to read it? At least the cover letter is in English… I see, we’re supposed to write him for a translation if we’re interested. I don’t think so.

Ah, a pizza box. Somebody’s read all the stupid suggestions for how to get your manuscript read faster. I don’t suppose it occurred to her that opening a pizza box expecting nice, hot pizza and finding only another slush pile manuscript is likely to get the manuscript off to a really bad start – assuming, of course, that the editor (me) has never run across the pizza box trick before. I had three of them my first week on the job.

Nobody sends fake pizza boxes to insurance salespeople.

Here’s the last one. It is a history of the Roman Empire, with zombies. What is it with zombies? And why does the author think a hard science fiction line is the place for historical zombies? Or should that be hysterical zombies? I check the cover letter. The author appears to think her book is nonfiction. Hysterical zombies it is. I write her a note pointing out that we do not publish nonfiction.

That was definitely a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad slush pile.
At least now I can go home and work on my resume.
And tomorrow, it’s George’s turn to read the slush.

  1. *grin*

    I hope George gets the one hand-written in purple glitter ink.

  2. Some days are like that. Even in Australia.

  3. This is clearly fiction; perhaps fantasy. I mean, suggesting slushpile manuscripts get looked at the same month they arrive? Or that somebody is assigned to read slush *every day*? 🙂

  4. Here I thought it was going to have a twist at the end where the protagonist found something good in the slush and had to concede that it wasn’t so horrible after all.

  5. LOL. Here’s to hoping that if we read the submission requirements and actually have a good query, we can make the slush that much easier to endure 🙂 Have a great Christmas!

  6. OMG, the pink manuscript! And is it in gold ink? I remember that one … and it was thirty years ago!

    At least you don’t have the one in the carved wooden box with the velvet(een) lining…

    I am not making these up.

  7. Awesome story. I have no doubt that all of these are based on real slush pile submissions.

    Merry Christmas.

  8. What happened to the one about the cute little trains/ships/aeroplanes/helicopters/cars/bicycles/dice/kitchen appliancess with faces who act like naughty little boys …

    Merry Christmas, Patricia.

    And Merry Christmas to all the rest.

  9. Oh, dear, you went home before you read MY submission. and it was neatly handwritten in red nail polish! Because the bee-yoo-tee-ful story idea was too original for ordinary ink, don’t you see…

    (Really? A pizza box? Wouldn’t residual oils damage the paper?)

  10. I enjoyed the parody, and I enjoyed the story as its own thing. Thanks for this. I’m linking this to all my wordly friends.

  11. An interesting insight into the publishing world. I wonder if any submissions would be looked at if they were in dot matrix?

Questions regarding foreign rights, film/tv subrights, and other business matters should be directed to Pat’s agent Ginger Clark, Curtis-Brown, Ltd., 10 Astor Place, 3rd Floor New York, NY 10003,