Episode 149: Slush Losers

On June 26th, Kasie and Rex welcomed fellow SCWA Board of Directors member Cayce LaCorte into the studio to talk all about that slushfest itch. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day(s)

Special Guest Cayce LaCorte and Slush Losers


  • This summer’s work
  • Meet Cayce LaCorte
  • Put Yourself Out There, they said, It’s Good For You.
  • Sore losers and Slushfest
  • How to stay out of slush
Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

So in June we’re going to be giving you some Independent Bookstore names, locations, and other fun details. This week we’d like to introduce you to M. Judson Booksellers at 130 S Main St, Greenville, SC 29601. Learn more at their website here. They’ve got staff reviews, local events, and services like large orders placed for companies and groups. Ashley Warlick was very responsive and we’re glad to promote this community-centric retailer. 

This summer we’re working on serialization projects. You can review the show where we covered the benefits and opportunities of serialization here. My work is on Wattpad and it’s called The Full Moon in Neverland. It’s seven full chapters, 30 parts, and clocks in at 3 hour and 33 minute read (phew!) already and still a few chapters from the climax. I think it’ll end up being between 12 and 14 chapters. So a lot of work and I’m giving it away.  

Rex is working with Vella and has this epic cover for his vampire novel. I know, copycat (ha). So he’s going to go live after he gets six chapters loaded. Vella is a service of Amazon.

Welcome to the studio, Cayce LaCorte, publishing professional with Write|Publish|Sell and slushpile veteran. I was so excited to have her as part of our slushfest at the SCWA’s Beaufort retreat back in 2018 because she’s been reading the unsolicited manuscripts sent to Falstaff Books for some time.

What other writing-related activities have you been engaged in, Cayce? Tell us about conferences and “CONs” and building your author/publisher/buddy network.

Being “ready” with something to publish has been a topic of a lot of conversations between us. It became especially relevant for you recently when something you said on TikTok went viral. Tell that story.

Segments 2 & 3

Early in your writing career when you think everything you’re writing is so totally amazing and people will be in awe of it, the reality of slushfest can be soul crushing.

What is a slush? It’s the pile of unsolicited manuscripts agents and publishers accrue and treat with skepticism. How frequently does work come out of slush and into the track to publishing? How does a piece end up in slush? 

We’ve done querying episodes before so we’re not going to bore you with how to avoid the slushpile because, really, no one knows how it’s done. There are literally thousands of blogs written on the topic with conflicting advice. Suffice it to say this session with Barbara Evers during the SCWA’s Writing Conversations will guide you toward a perfect pitch and it’s the pitch, more than anything, that wins the favor. So long as it’s sent to the right person.

Here are some common elements of slush-able work (from this link):

  • The query letter miscategorized the work — it’s not really YA, is it? Knowing your work’s category helps you find the right agent (and publisher) and helps you sell the idea of the book to that person. So know your category.
  • The characters aren’t believable — this is your query (again) but also the book itself; is your MC a Mary Sue? The Olympic gold-medal-winning-Dad-of-the-year? Give the character depth in a couple of specific details (not the driver’s license kind)
  • The world you’ve built doesn’t make sense or is hard to envision — if it’s a dystopian fiction, that’s even harder, but sometimes queries rely on the cliches of space, time, and location to explain a work’s setting. That just won’t be compelling enough.
  • Too much or too little backstory — what details do we need in the query? What details do we need in the first few pages? If you have a character that knows something you don’t know, you better learn it. And then you don’t have to teach the reader, you just have to include the details that demonstrate knowledge without boring us with training. I watched a TON of Thrasher videos to write Before Pittsburgh. They’re at the skatepark for a total of six pages. Brian’s submissions to literary journals? Yep. Did those myself.
  • The reader is pulled out with extraneous commentary — “back then, telephones were on the wall, not in your pocket.”
  • Showing too much of everything — summarize the mundane things like morning ablutions and wardrobe and leave out the brand names.
  • Misused words — “bolder” for rock, “vile” for small cylindrical tube, “sew” instead of “sow” with regards to wild oats — and, yeah, no cliches like “sow wild oats” either
    • Favorite? Or pet peeve miswords — “loose” instead of “lose”; 
  • The conceit is trite — trailer park abuse story, holocaust survivor tale, — other “has been done” ideas? I was told Byron and vampires had been done, so meh. If it’s a different take? A different conceit all together?
  • The work wasn’t professionally edited and formatted — they can tell. I promise you. They can tell. And you can tell, too, if you read a lot.

What are some other slushable offenses?

What do you look for in a potential “keep reading” manuscript?

What is some of the feedback your own work has gotten (slushfest, queries, etc)?

Is there something to thinking of slushfest as a critique session instead of thinking of it as “that time the agent read my first page and signed me right away”? (cue the Ralphie A+++++++ fantasy)

Segment 4

Okay, here’s the How To segment so let’s stop complaining about the work that sucks and gets rejected and start talking about the work that makes it past the gatekeepers.

Make connections — if the publishers or agents aren’t going to read unsolicited work, you have to make yourself solicitable. This article from way back in 2010 suggests that there’s a fear in major publishing outlets (and film studios) that the unsolicited in the slush pile opens them up for liability of they develop a similar idea. How do you avoid the risk that anonymity poses? Get to know these people.

  • Is social media a good way to do this? Why or why not?
  • What about conferences and events?
  • How about referrals from authors you know?

Agent slushpiles are less risky — this article suggests agents are okay with unsolicited manuscripts and do not worry about developing a similar project. BUT agents also say you should know what they are looking for, follow their query guidelines, and present a professional inquiry and a professional manuscript.

Invest in editing — the presentation of the book is as important as the book itself. Especially if it’s a blind submission. In the networking relationships, you might get a little leeway, but if you’re sending something to someone who has never heard of you, that something better sparkle like the diamond you believe it to be.

Build a platform — we’re working this radio show for free not because we love Keven Cohen (except we do) but because we’re building our audience. Gaining recognition. Being good literary citizens. Contribute to the community in any way you can. This will help in the networking and bring those solicitations to you, instead of you having to chase them down. Some ways to do that:

  • Be a reviewer — read and review other authors (Jodie’s agent found her because she wrote a review for another author’s work)
  • Be in a club — SCWA is a good one, but there are others. Learn the ropes, build the resume, don’t tell people what you can do, show them.
  • Carve out your niche — through blogging, vlogging, or otherwise sharing yourself with the world. You have a writer persona? Awesome! Share it! Your voice is unique and it’s needed. Define it, refine it, and get it out there.
  • Teach — teach everything you’ve learned, teach about your failures, teach people in your audience, teach other writers, teach the library, teach children. But get in front of audiences and share what you know. 

Don’t forget the SCWA’s Writing Conversations continues this upcoming Tuesday. Click here to register. Amber Wheeler Bacon leads on the topic of Story Structure. Should be awesome. Thanks to the SC Humanities for support of this series.

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