The “slush pile” has nothing to do with Wisconsin winters or brown semi-frozen water. It’s what happens when a whole lot of people write books and then send them off to literary professionals (editors, agents, publishers) who can’t possibly keep up with the insurmountable pile of work that crosses their desks. The slush pile is the place where they find a few gems, sure. But mostly, it’s just a big pile of shit (I’m guessing).
For writers (like me) the slush pile is the cold, lonely place where our manuscripts go to die. Trying to break into the publishing industry is tough, even if you’re good. The competition is fierce and ridiculously talented, so trying to stand out in that crowd is kinda like telling a worker ant to go his own way. The worker ant looks like all the other worker ants and he has a job to do (whether he’s good at it or not), so he just keeps marching in and out of the ant hill day after day, doing his due diligence for the good of The Queen and The Colony by taking out the trash, or bringing in food. It’s a pretty daunting task for a little guy, but again, he’s an ant and no one had to tell him to take out the trash or bring in the food, he just knows that’s what ants do. But, when he’s finally completed his job, after around sixty days or so, do you know what happens to him? Yeah, he dies.
But, what if one day prior to his death someone told that ant, “Hey, Phil, you’re pretty good at taking out the trash, maybe you should write a book about it.”
And then, while tossing a load of rubbish off his back, Phil replies, “You know what, Sasha, you’re right. I’m gonna write a kick-ass novel about life on the garbage-removing ant trail. It’s gonna be awesome and I’m gonna be the most famous ant that ever lived and The Queen and all her brats can go suck it.”
But, Phil does write that novel. He feels pretty good about it, too. He spends the next week revising and meticulously editing his manuscript (this is two years in a human life, but I’m making this comparison to an ant, so stick with me on this one) until he’s positive he’s done the best job he can before creating the perfect eye-catching query letter along with a thoroughly researched list of the top fifteen literary agents that he knows will be dying to read the “next big thing” and pitch it to the big six publishing houses who will be falling all over themselves to give Phil the largest publishing contract in Ant Kingdom history.
And guess what Phil does next? … Yep, he walks straight into the cold, brown semi-frozen liquid—and he dies.
So, yeah, that’s what it’s like to be a writer stuck in the infamous slush pile. We live to write and then slowly die. As depressing as that might sound, it doesn’t stop us (well, it doesn’t stop some of us).
Sure, there’s nights when I count my long list of rejections and feel like slitting my wrists, but every once in a while I look at my “yes” list, too. Even though they ultimately ended up being big fat “no’s”, there’s some pretty noteworthy names on that “yes” list. To get plucked from the slush pile by those literary agents (let alone having them read and consider your material more than once) is a big fucking deal for a little worker ant like me. (Plus, those are some of the nicest rejection letters I’ve ever received.) Sure, they crushed my soul and made me cry when they said no, but they also told me not to give up—which, oddly enough, also made me cry. After all, publishing is subjective and if they really thought my work stunk like donkey shit on a hot day they’d tell me to go back to The Colony and keep carrying out the garbage, right?
For writers the ultimate goal is to get out of the slush pile, but if I never do, that’s okay. It doesn’t take a contract to call yourself a writer—it takes dedication, hard work, a little creativity and people willing to read your shit (without paying them or forcing them to do it).
At the end of the day, I know these three things for sure—I’m an imperfect writer, I’ll probably never be on the best sellers list, and I am extremely grateful for those who give me the encouragement to keep going —that means A LOT. Sometimes it’s not easy having a seemingly impossible dream, but as Winston Churchill once said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” On most days, I’ve got that covered. Besides, I’m cool with being one of those writers who becomes ridiculously famous after she dies.
If you made it all the way to the end of this post … THANK YOU for reading (even if you were more entertained by the gifs).