Submission 101 for Writers: Dodging the Slush Pile


After pouring hours, months, and even years of hard work into a manuscript, few things are as crushing as the rejection a writer receives when they are striving to become published. Yet, the truth is, some manuscripts don’t even get read before they’re tossed into the slush pile. Sometimes the reasons are obvious, and other times, not so much. But writers may be surprised how often the reasons could have been prevented.

Here are some simple steps every writer can take to decrease the slush-pile odds.

1. Read the Rules. Then Follow Them.

Most writers have heard of the notorious slush pile where submissions go to die. Every publication has one. Every contest has one. Writing Bad has one (shhh…don’t say it was me who told you). The truth is, the writing doesn’t matter if the writer fails to follow submission guidelines. This might seem petty to some, but consider the reason the publisher is providing guidelines.

Do you think it’s because they just want to throw their weight around and show you who’s boss? Doubtful. More likely it’s because they are receiving, or they are expecting to receive, a high number of submissions. The rules and guidelines have been put in place to create order, so that the publisher can more easily sort, read, judge, and respond to submissions.

The fact is, the writers who take the time to read and follow these guidelines are the writers that will be considered. So if the publisher is requesting that you email your submission in a .doc attachment, please don’t copy and paste your submission in the body of the email. It seems simple. It should be simple. Yet, every day countless submissions are thrown to their slushy demise just because the writer didn’t follow directions. Don’t let this happen to you. Read the guidelines and follow them.

2. Edit Your Work.

It’s true that publishers and literary journals have editors on staff that will review your writing and clean up grammatical errors before publication. However, they are there to clean up minor infractions that the writer missed during their own revision and editing sessions. If you are submitting to a contest, literary magazine, or publisher, it is essential that you submit a polished, final draft of your work. It is dumbfounding how many writers will submit a manuscript riddled with spelling errors, bad punctuation, or other easy-to-spot mistakes they should have caught themselves. Do not toss your manuscript in the lap of a busy publisher, ask them to read your writing (which you haven’t bothered to proof-read yourself), and then expect them to do all the editing. Writers who do not take pride in their work do not get published or win writing contests. Your work is your art, and it is a reflection of you. Clean it up before you send it into the world.

3. Match Your Manuscript’s Genre to the Publisher’s or Contest’s Genre.

No matter how good that horror manuscript is, chances are St Martin’s Press, a romance publisher, isn’t going to accept it. You can write a top-notch poem, but if the theme of your poem is “death and decay” and you submit it to a contest themed “spring days,” then it is likely on the fast-track to the slush pile. It’s as important to do your research and submit to the right publications as it is to edit your manuscript, because if you don’t, you aren’t going to be receiving an acceptance letter anytime soon. Granted, you will have the option to self-publish, and if you choose this path, you can basically disregard this entire article. But for writers seeking traditional publication, the suggestion is to learn your industry and seek publishers, literary magazines, and contests that publish the genre you write.

4. Be Responsive.

If you have followed all of the steps above and your manuscript has successfully dodged immediate slush-pile sentencing, you’ve done well. Stop and pat yourself on the back. Buy yourself a drink. But don’t stop now because you aren’t done. Chances are your manuscript has been peer-reviewed, and they’ve responded with comments asking for revisions. This doesn’t mean your manuscript has been rejected. In fact, this is a positive sign because it means not only have they actually read your manuscript, but they’re considering it for publication. Don’t make them wait. Respond in a timely and respectful manner.

In general, the response required will be one of three: “accept,” “accept with modifications,” or “reject.” Regardless of your choice, always thank the reviewers for their time and the constructive comments. Then, if you agree and accept the revisions, revise your manuscript and return it to the reviewers. If you agree with the revisions with modifications (in other words, you agree partially to their suggestions but think it should be changed differently than they are requesting), then do the revision with your modifications, and then add comments explaining your stance. If you do not agree or accept the modifications, and you are no longer interested in being published with this publication, simply respond with a thank you note for both their time and comments, and then be done with it. No matter what, always respond. It shows good character, and it builds your reputation in the industry as a professional.

5. Don’t Give Up.

No matter how well you write or how closely you follow the above guidelines, you will undoubtedly receive rejection notices. This is part of being a writer. You can reduce your chances of rejection, but you can’t eliminate them (if you find this to be false, please share your secret). The key is not to become discouraged. Use these rejection notices as proof that you are a writer striving towards success in a competitive industry. The only way guarantee failure is to stop trying.

So keep writing. Keep submitting your manuscripts. Keep competing in writing contests. Do your thing, and don’t let anybody tell you it’s not good enough. You can always get better, but you can never get worse (this isn’t a challenge). The key here is: Don’t ever give up.

Until next time!

❤ Jade

About the Author: Jade is the founder of Writing Bad. She has lived in many places, and so she struggles with the seemingly innocent question, “where are you from?” Being lost herself, Jade connects well with other lost souls and finds herself most comfortable in strange places with strange people. Due to this continued disconnection with reality, Jade has a fondness for all things fictional. She has lined her walls with bookshelves full of books of all sorts, to which she enjoys spending her time with more than anything or anybody else in the world, with just three exceptions: her man, her two feline companions, and her son. As a writer, Jade has dabbled in many writing genres, but she carries a particular fondness for speculative fiction.

For more about Jade, visit her official website.