How I Read Slush: 3 Lessons for Writers

reading-piccsyAgents talk a lot about query letter writing and how we manage the slush pile. There’s the flip side of that too: once we request your material what happens? Well today, you get inside my brain. This is how I read requested material and how you make yours stand out:

1. I read on my iPad

I don’t print manuscripts out until I sign them and start to work on them. So I’m trying to see if I enjoy the writing and pair the writing with a name or book title to distinguish one manuscript from the other.

Lesson: Formatting! For the love of pete number your pages and title your file something like: Author Last Name BOOK TITLE. I don’t want to play a guessing game about which manuscript matches which query. The last thing I want is confusion when I’m trying to organize my slush. I also ask for a synopsis pasted into the first page of the manuscript document so that I can jog my memory and refer back to it.

2. I read 3-10 partials in a row

I’m not sitting down to indulge in one story, I’m sitting down to get through the virtual stack of manuscripts. Often it is between 3-10 when I start to read. That’s 3-10 different authors, voices, characters, plots and things to keep straight. When I read partials and other requested material I’m reading for plot, pace and potential. All I want is to be drawn in more than the story before that one.

Lesson: Voice! There is nothing more refreshing than something that stands out from the pack. That’s what keeps agents on their toes: waiting for that one manuscript that speaks louder than the rest.  I want to forget to check my email. I want the words to scream at me and leap off the page.

3. I read late in the day or on weekends

When I get to my virtual stack of reading it’s usually after a long day or on a weekend when I’m forgoing other activities to make time for unsolicited manuscripts.

Lesson: Get to the plot! I want to meet your characters at the most interesting point in their lives. I want nothing more than to jump into a story and not be able to leave. Nothing makes me happier than being kept up late by an exciting new manuscript.

That’s it for getting inside my head today. Hope that helps demystify the flip side.

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

27 thoughts on “How I Read Slush: 3 Lessons for Writers

  1. Carly,
    What a timely post—just last night I was wondering what agents do with our requested materials. I have a hard enough time organizing my queries, requests and revisions of the query—for my one novel—I can’t imagine how you mentally juggle so many manuscripts while working with your current authors. Do you ever sleep? You happen to have my full in your stack at the moment—so it’s really interesting to read how you go about the process. Thanks for the peek into your world!


  2. Thank you Carly for the insight – it really helps when you can picture an actual person reading your work rather than it just being sent out into the ether!


  3. Thanks for taking the time to write this post. I actually queried your agency! Sadly, I was rejected (no animosity here whatsoever). But I do have an agent reviewing the full manuscript. I did format it with a heading and page numbers. I am so nervous to hear back from them. It’s been four months exactly. I’ve read different forums online that give a variety of responses to typical wait time. I see that you read 3-10 at a time. What length of time would you say is normal for agents to review full manuscripts and get back to the author? Also, is there any guarantee that we will get a response even if they choose not to represent it?


  4. These are helpful reminders of the small administrative rules to follow that help keep your ms in the slush pile (vs the trash) so that the agent will read on and get captured by the quality of the author’s voice and writing.


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