Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Pain of Slush

Wherever you look, there's a blog about the pain of slush. Every editor and agent who accepts unsolicited material seems to love nothing better than complaining about the amount of dross they have to wade through to find the occasional gem. Some even go so far as to claim none of the unsolicited manuscripts they receive are any good, but they have to read them just to be sure. Not surprisingly, this attitude can ruffle feathers on the other side of the desk. Surely they can't ALL be rubbish? And tarring them all with the same brush only demoralises those wannabes who have striven for years to learn and perfect their craft.

I think agents and editors are prone to exaggerating the onerous nature of their job. OK, I've seen enough dreadful work posted on peer review sites to concede there are a lot of seriously deluded wannabes out there, churning out manuscripts just as fast as their Hewlett-Packards can print them. Some of them have never taken a course or even read a How To book; some haven't even bothered to read what's selling in bookshops. Just because you read Dickens at school doesn't mean you have a book in you - Dickens himself has a hard time selling these days. But bad work has the advantage it is very easy to spot - usually within a few paragraphs. So in reality they're not going to read much of that shit, even if there are lots of envelopes to open.

I also suspect the industry is itself responsible for the deluge of bad material being submitted. I draw an analogy with the diet industry. Some years ago, in an attempt to lose pregnancy weight, I bought quite a few diet magazines. I was astonished to find them full of pictures of appetising food, from tasty snacks to full scale meals. Sitting down to read one had me salivating and raiding the fridge as effectively as Pavlov's dogs. Surely this can't be right, I thought. At just the time one wanted to forget about food, they are making me think about it. Then it dawned on me and made perfect sense. Of course they want you to think about food so you'll go out and buy all the diet meals in the shops, put on weight, need to diet and their magazine. If everyone lost weight they'd be out of business.

The same thing happens in publishing. There are more How To Write books, conferences and manuscript appraisal services than ever before. How do they make their money? By convincing wannabes that writing a book is not only possible but a cinch, so long as they fork out £X to find out how. If agents and editors then have to wade through the resulting drivel, it's hard to feel much sympathy.


Lexi said...

I do agree - I'd blog about it except I'd like an agent of my own :o)

If I were an agent, looking for authors who would pay my wages in years to come, I'd take email submissions (few agents do in the UK) and whisk through them daily. As you say, bad writing is unmistakable even in the first paragraph.

People running diamond mines aren't constantly moaning about the amount of earth they have to shift to get to the diamonds.

Kate said...

Oh, you cynic, you! I'm inclined to agree though. I've read some really good stories that have been rejected and I do wonder if they ever got past some young thing doing work experience in the front office.

Louise said...

I've reviewed a few books and there is a lot of crap out there along with deluded authors. Not saying they will never make it, but agents aren't there to teach the craft.
But I do think a lot of good subs get mixed up with the bad as Kate has already said, and that's a huge shame.