What’s a Slush Pile Anyway?

My paper slush pile in January, 2009.

If you’ve been around publishing for long, you’ve probably heard of the infamous slush pile. Where did that term come from? It generally means the stacks and stacks of manuscripts that come in over the transom. The stacks that editors and agents do their best to read, skim, glance at, or at the very least, avoid tripping over when they walk into their offices.

It’s been speculated that the slush pile could get so high in an editor’s office that it resembled the piles of dirty snow those editors had to wade through (in February in New York) just to get to their offices in the first place. What a bummer—they finally get in out of the weather only to be compelled to wade through knee-deep piles of unsolicited manuscripts. Hence, one “slush pile” seems just about as welcome as the other, and both sometimes require a good snowplow.

Of course, these days, the stacks are largely “virtual” or electronic, existing as files in a computer. And thank heavens! My email slush pile currently has 303 submissions. I’d hate to have paper versions of those stacked around my desk right now. Even though I take mostly email submissions, I still get mail. The photo above was taken after one visit to my mailbox a few months back.

Since agents are the “gatekeepers” for publishers, our slush piles are typically much larger than those of editors. Publishers rarely accept unsolicited submissions, but of course, agents do.

If you are a new writer, you’re destined to have manuscripts languishing in slush piles. The good news is, we’ve all heard success stories of authors “found in the slush pile” by agents and editors. So don’t fear the slush pile!


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] on self-published authors, but in my opinion, the ranks of the self-published are NOT the new slush pile. Here are my […]

  2. Avily Jerome on January 6, 2009 at 12:29 AM

    >Ah, the slush pile! I’ve languished in many a slush pile in my day.

    Actually, I’m still trying to crawl out of them. We’ll see what happens with that…

  3. Jennifer AlLee on January 6, 2009 at 12:12 AM

    >Thanks for the slush pile primer. And your blog’s new look is great!

  4. Wendy Lawton on January 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    >Love the new look of the blog, Rachelle. (The content has always been first rate.)

  5. Eric Dabbs on January 5, 2009 at 6:21 PM

    >I’m taking it that there are far more unpublished authors than published. Hence the slush pile.

  6. Andrea Emerson on January 5, 2009 at 3:29 PM

    >Ooooh, I haven’t even read the post yet but wanted to let you know I looove the new blog design. Have a blessed, fruitful 2009!


  7. Jessica on January 5, 2009 at 1:12 PM

    >OH man! Yikes.
    Have fun with those e-mails. *shuddering and backing away*

  8. Rachel on January 5, 2009 at 11:15 AM

    >The slush pile is terrifying. The stuff of nightmares.

  9. Pam Halter on January 5, 2009 at 9:23 AM

    >I agree with Chatty Kelly ~ better the slush pile than the trash pile!

  10. Karen on January 5, 2009 at 8:44 AM

    >I thought about you this holiday season as I held my new Sony reader and found that it was full of excerpts of books–kind of like a slush pile. At least I don’t have to write a rejection note for the ones I don’t want to keep.

    Your “over the transom” explanation on the earlier post was great! Thanks!

  11. Chatty Kelly on January 5, 2009 at 8:34 AM

    >It’s not the slush pile I fear, it’s the snow plow shoving the slush into the gutter…REJECTION!

    Ah, part of the writing life.

    HAPPY NEW YEAR, Rachelle! Hope you had a great Christmas holiday with the kids.

  12. CAUGHTNOTTAUGHT on January 5, 2009 at 8:16 AM

    >Wow – that’s quite a pile. What sort of stuff do you find makes it most quickly out the slush pile?

  13. Richard Mabry on January 5, 2009 at 8:01 AM

    >Thanks for continuing to translate the language, customs, vagaries, and pseudo-rules of the publishing industry into common-sense, understandable terms.
    Interesting. The word verification for my comment today is “readu.” That’s appropriate, because I do…read you. Thanks for returning the favor.

  14. Inspire on January 5, 2009 at 7:47 AM

    >It’s off topic, Rachelle, but I like the new site design. Very pretty and soothing to the eye.