Thursday, April 19, 2012

The CIA's Thoughts on Reading the Slush

I thought it would be cool to invite my guest judges (The CIA) from YA Confidential to offer some of their thoughts on reading through the slush. With much gratitude and joy I welcome them here today: (Expect more awesomeness from them tomorrow, too!)

Over at YA Confidential, we have a tradition. Every Thursday, we post a question for our followers--and every Saturday, one of the commenters will be selected to choose a title from our Vault! ARCs, signed books, awesome books... Anything we have--you get to choose.

We are thrilled to bring our From-The-Vault question to Cupid's site today!

To enter add a comment and please make sure that your email address is linked to your comment in some way! (So we can get in touch with you :)

Today's question for our YA Confidential Judges:

What was it like to play agent-for-a-day and decide who made it past the first stage?

Cambria: Empowering. Kind of God-like. Or maybe Donald Trump-like. You're fired!!!! Or wait -- OPRAH. I felt like OPRAH! Agent Round for YOU, and YOU, and YOUUUUU! No, I'm totally kidding. I felt like an overheated chump who had to pick between mint chocolate chip and cookie dough ice cream when it's obvious they're both equally delicious and satisfying flavors but to have both would surely mean trouble. To simplify, I mean that I DO NOT envy agents in the least bit. We only read a fraction (a stellar fraction, I might add) of what an agent may see in one day, and I was thiiiiis close to having a nervous breakdown. You see, I'm an indecisive person by nature and I hate the prospect of potentially hurting someone's having to choose only a small amount to move on was sort of stressful. I feel a renewed sense of respect and awe for literary agents, that's for sure. And now I understand why so many of them are Vodka and/or Scotch connoisseurs. ;)

Copil: In a word, HARROWING! There were so many good queries and stories, it was hard to pick only a handful. I have new respect for agents who do it on a regular basis. Personally, I was amazed at the consistently high quality of the entries. Perhaps it's because I've seen so many posts about bad queries, I was expecting at least SOME of the entries to be barely readable. Nope. Obviously the people who entered the contest have been taking Cupid's advice to heart!

Cristin: The most challenging thing for me was trying to separate the quality of a query from my personal level of interest in the story. Some queries were great but the subject didn't capture me, and others weren't as strong but I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt because I really liked the idea of the story. It was hard, but for the purposes of this contest, I tried to be as objective as possible. Of course, this is a problem agents generally don't have, since they're free to only pick projects that appeal to them and pass on things that may be very well done but don't excite them. It reminded me again of how subjective this business is. Even with a great query and wonderful first pages, you still need to find an agent who really feels your material!

Karen: I have a new understanding and sympathy for agents. I read great queries with mediocre pages, or vice versa. Then I read some queries for a genre or story that I'd never imagine myself being interested in, but the author won me over with a great hook and strong writing. One thing that frustrated me was when I read a fabulous query and sample, but the word count was WAY off. If the word count is much too short or much too long then I worried the story must be underdeveloped or way too wordy. The YA entries definitely dominated the contest. That just shows how tough the competition is for YA writers. Your story really has to stand out in you're querying a YA project. As much as I love paranormal creatures and magic, it didn't take long for most of those queries to start blurring together.

Now it's your turn! One lucky commenter will win the ARC or title of their choice from the YA Confidential vault! To enter, simply answer Today's Question in the comments section. Make sure you leave us your email address (so we can get in touch with the winner!).

Today's question:

Could you read slush for a living?


  1. I could and I have--it's pretty fascinating how many prisoners take the time to hand-write manuscripts and send them to publishing houses ;)

  2. I would love to read it, but HATE to make decisions on who merits further reading and which queries to relegate to the circular file.

  3. I don't know that I could. I'm decisive, and I know what I like. Still, I don't know that I could be the person giving people that NO day in and day out.

  4. I think I could read slush for a living but I think it would be a hard job. It would be really exciting to find new exciting stories but sometimes there's a lot of bad stuff in there too which would be hard to read through. Its also hard to turn down someone who is hoping you will make their dream come true. However I think all the good stuff would more than make up for the bad.

  5. At first, I would want to help out as many writers as possible. I'd give personal feedback until I had no free time. Then the pressure would get to be too much and the lack of time too harrowing until I became a hardened mean old agent who does no response means no policies (but I'd still send you a confirmation that I got your query though and a time to wait before considering it a loss). I'd be all jaded and mean, and I don't want to become that. I like where I am.

    That being said, I could intern for a while. Finding stuff to suit someone else's taste would be fun and a bit of a treasure hunt game rather than a call for personal decisions. But even then it would have to be temporary because in the end I'd keep getting ideas and I'd want to go write something. And reading slush takes a lot of time and dedication. Thank you to everyone out there who does it!

    Long answer made short: No.

  6. I could, but I don't know if I'd ever make it out! Like Tracy, I could see myself struggling to write personal notes to each one until my fingers fell off. It would be hard, making those tough decisions. To have two perfectly good projects on my desk, and to know I could only choose one would really hurt. There would be many tissues...and a hat so I couldn't pull my hair out.

  7. I think I could, if only to try and help writers find the real story in a not so strong manuscript...but that would be in a perfect world where I had eons of time to contact each and every author who'd shown merit. This is most likely a fantasy of mine since I'm trying to be a YA author and have learned over the years that the first draft is only a fraction of the talent that can be uncovered later. :)
    Thanks for all the wonderful information and advice!

  8. I could for a time, because I love reading through the entries to the various contests here. I think having to make the hard decisions would get old quick, though. I'm not good at telling people "no" and after having my heart broken from a couple near misses with agents, I don't think I could be one doing the breaking. Seeing all those new stories though, that would be fun!

  9. Wow. My first thought is YES! To be the first pair of eyes on the literary front lines to read, experience, love, hate, swoon, snort, and escape into the next 'big thing' would a word -- awesome. BUT! My second thought is that it would be so unbearably hard to pick with the talent out there these days. Sure, there will be knuckleheads, but could I only pick one? Or even just two? I don't know. It would be a really, really hard job. Still... To be that first set of eyes for the next City of Bones, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or even Where the Wild Things Are. Wow.

  10. My first thought was yes too. I think I would love the chance to decide based on what I liked, not what was *good*. But I think I'd have to do maybe an hour a day or something. I could see that it would get majorly overwhelming at some point.

  11. Oops. LisaRosenman(at)hotmail(dot)com

  12. The more blogs I've read that have query critiques and contents etc, I can only imagine how overwhelming sifting through all that times 100 must be like. What seems most frustrating to me about the agent job is how much of the queries aren't in the genre the agent represents. Sometime as simple as that clogs up email and takes away valuable time.

    One of my friends worked customer service for a publishing house and she'd occasionally get calls with people pitching their books. Now, it's one thing to call a general number and ask that, another to NOT LET THE PERSON GO until they hear your pitch, even though your job is to handle shipping issues and misplaced orders. Some people simply do not listen, they don't take the time to do any homework, and I think that would be the hardest part; sifting through that to get to the quality work that actually fits the agent's request list.

  13. Absolutely. Getting to sort through queries and sample pages in search of intrigue? I would do it in a heartbeat.

    We all read to find that feeling a good book can give. Making a living out of searching for those kinds of stories would be a dream come true. Sure, there would be a whole lot of "no," but it would be those rare "yes's"that would make it all worth while. All writers strive to hear that one word. Who wouldn't want to give them their dreams, AND help bring their wonderful stories to the world?

  14. So fun to read these answers. I don't think I could read slush for a living only because I like reading too much. I'd want to read everything, which frankly wouldn't work. Alas. I really admire agents.

  15. Nope - I couldn't do it!

    My reading interests are so narrow (no sci fi, fantasy, distopia, or major romance). I would have such a hard time finding a gem in those genres.

    Agents (and their assistants) have a really tough job!


  16. Yes, yes, yes and just in case I'm not making it clear...yes!!
    Let me at 'em!

  17. I would love to read through slush piles for a living.

    Yes, it would be difficult and I would have to give bad news, but I’ve been in management for years so bad news is everywhere. At least in this job there would be wonderfully exciting news too. That’s what I would focus on.

  18. Christina KitroeffApril 20, 2012 at 4:50 AM

    Agents get the best and the worst in their job - they get all these blooming seedlings of beautiful stories they can nurture to immense success. But then again, seedlings are delicate things, and a rejection letter can cut down that beautiful potential. It's not a job I envy. It's difficult and I'd love to say a resounding yes to the job, but then I began thinking about potentially destroying someone's FUTURE potential with a rejection letter.

    I think it would be amazing to be the first to see the potential in all these great stories with unique characters and plotlines, knowing I recognized along with the author the potential these stories have to touch millions of people, to pick them up after a tough day or make them think. I truly believe each and every committed writer has the potential to succeed. But what if, like Cristin said, this awesome story wasn't something I personally fell in love with? What if it's something I can't see myself editing month after month and getting excited about when pitching to editors? Who am I to reject it based on my personal taste knowing my particular rejection letter might be the 10th or 20th rejection letter and might be the one rejection letter that pushes this hopeful writer over into desperation, or worse to scrap the manuscript altogether?

    It's a huge responsibility, because writing is so personal, it's all about feelings and hopes and wanting the world to find some joy or comfort or excitement in your story. And because it's so personal, a rejection is doubly personal. The only way I see going around this kind of heartache would be to send a personalized rejection letter, with reasons for the rejection, pointers, or just a note saying the story is great but not a good fit for this particular agent. The thing is, when you get hundreds of queries every day, how do you do this?

    ccfioriole at gmail dot com

  19. I don't think I'd be good at the job as, being an author, I'd have a hard time saying, "no."

  20. I don't think I could do it - after a while it would all blend together. Plus, I'm pretty indecisive so I would probably agonize over the ones that were "great" but not "super fantastic." My email is susanfieldswriter(at)gmail(dot)com.

  21. I honestly think I could read slush for a living. I've hosted several query contests over the last year or so, and I've noticed that as I'm formatting a batch of 20 or 30 queries, I only remember 4 or 5 of them once I'm done. Of those, probably only 2 or 3 are for projects that would interest me personally, so if I were an agent, those would be the ones I'd request.

    You'd think it would be tough to make a judgment call after reading three-paragraph summaries of a bunch of manuscripts, but I don't think it would take long at all for the good ones to start standing out.


  22. I could for a limited time, but not too long or I'd burn out. I was a recruiter for my company for a while, and I started to burn out on talking to people. Same about talking on the phone when I worked in customer service. So I don't want to take the chance on disliking reading! Although I know I'd enjoy the good ones, and I might enjoy the crazy ones, too...=)

  23. I could read slush for a living. I'd probably enjoy it for a while. But I've found when I have a pile of manuscripts to read/critique and a pile of books to read/review, I have a tendency to push my own writing to the back burner. And then I get all sad and grumpy because not writing is close to not breathing for me! So, although I *could* do it, I doubt I'd *choose* the job. I'll leave it to those with a better talent for balancing life and work than I've been blessed with :)