I feel as if I’ve had a glimpse into what it would be like to rummage through the slush pile at a publishing house. For years now, seeing the quality of books that are being published, I’ve thought that the best books were being rejected. If what I’m seeing is any indication of the contents of a slush pile, I have to admit that the published books, no matter how mediocre, really are superior.
I entered the Court TV Search For the Next Great Crime Writer Contest, and have spent the past several days trying to read the other entries, but they are hard to get through. The best ones read like rough drafts, the worst like sludge. Interestingly enough, ranking is no indication of quality. The ones at the top for the most part are no better than the ones at the bottom; the top-ranked writers simply have more friends or a greater ability to network.
I can see why editors and agents send out form rejection letters; it’s hard to find something good to say without sounding patronizing or without discouraging what might be a budding talent. And new writers, flush with the thrill of having finished their first book, do not want to hear the truth even if they say they do.
Is it better to leave an enthusiastic remark on an unremarkable piece, thereby undermining my own critical ability and giving a false impression of the work? Or is it better to tell a bit of the truth and risk making an enemy?
I’ve spent the day wrestling with this dilemma, and not having come up with an answer, and certainly not getting any thanks for the comments I have been writing, I’ve decided to opt out of rating any more entries.
But I will give you the benefit of my wisdom:
When you are finished, set the work aside for a month or two or three, then rewrite it again.
That’s the only way to lift yourself out of the slush and sludge.