Monday, July 26, 2010

Learning from Slush

Nathan Bransford had an interesting post last week on how we should all read slush. He said, “If you're a writer, in my opinion there's no better education than reading slush.” I agree, since if you’ve ever sifted through resumes or anything where anyone applies for anything, you quickly see what stands out.

So how do we get our hot little paws on slush, then?

Note that reading blogs like Query Shark gives you a tastes for different queries, but what we really want here is un-critiqued, unadulterated, hordes of queries as they would be submitted to an agent or editor. That is slush.

Nathan, in the comments to his post, suggested finding it these ways:
  • Interning or reading for an agency or publisher
  • Volunteering for or running a literary journal or online magazine.
  • Participating in and offering feedback for an online critique site like Authonomy.
  • Offering feedback for other writers in discussion forums

I found the query forums in Nathan’s forum to be quite helpful in this regard. I had a look-- you don't need to sign in to do so, and the only thing is you have to ignore the comments below the queries submitted for help because the idea here is to get a ton of queries quickly, without stopping to think about how to make them better. That isn't the point. The point is to notice the following:
  • How are people presenting their stories?
  • What format are they using to write their queries?
  • What do you like and not like? What grabs you about the story?
  • What makes you click on to the next query?
If you can figure those things out, you'll be a step ahead in your own process. What works for one person doesn't work for another, but there should be enough there to find what works for you. I did. I found one that went on far past the point that I wanted to know about--the interesting point, the point that made me want to read more. I knew that for my own query (or pitch), I would need to stop there at that point, and even play it up a little.

Can you recommend other slush foundries? Would something like this work for you? If you run away from this post and go look at the query forums on Nathan's blog, come back and tell me if they worked for you.

P.S. Tomorrow I have a SPECTACULAR contest for you-- yes! The first ever contest EVER HELD ON THIS BLOG! YES! You will really love this. Love, love, love. I love it. Let's all love it tomorrow, shall we?


Tabitha Bird said...

Ooh those are really good suggestions I never thought of doing that. But this is a great idea.

Can't wait for your contest.

Tiffany Neal said...

That's a great place to look at queries. Kind of like that is the absolute write site. Same idea behind Nathan's forum.

I heart contests!

KLM said...

Online pitch sessions are another good place to lurk. I participated in one this past February, and it was enlightening to say the least. You got to see what other writers were working on and how they packaged their ideas (there was a 100-word limit for each pitch), and then you also got an insight into how agents think and why they pass. I tried to look at all the pitches and decide, what would I request if I were an agent?

A contest? I'll be back tomorrow with a big bucket to catch all the love.

KarenG said...

Or just reading some awful books that are out there. I'm not mentioning any names, but believe me, they're out there. It's scary.

Anne R. Allen said...

The first time Miss Snark had a first page contest was an eye opener for me. Over 500 first pages were entered and I read every one. I saw the point of a lot of rules I used to think were stupid--like don't start with dialog, don't start with a lone character waking up or in a car, etc. When you see that amateurs almost always do X,Y, or Z, you learn to stop doing X,Y and Z, so you'll look less amateurish. You can read them in the Snarkives, and Nathan may have some of his own contests in his archives. Rich veins of slush.

Alicia J. Frey said...

I've read, and posted, queries on The Public Query Slushpile. It is neat to read other people's letters to see their take on this daunting task.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

One of the most eye-opening experience I've done is volunteered to be a judge for some of the RWA contests. It gave me serious sympathy for anyone who has to read slush all day.

I also got a sense of how quickly you can tell if something is going to be good or not. I had to read each entry all the way through regardless, but I pretty much knew by the end of the first page (sometimes the first paragraph) how good or bad the entry was going to be.

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