Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Does the Slush Pile Look Like? (And a VERY special offer from Miranda)

Art by Julie Rowan-Zoch
It's Wednesday!

This Wednesday, I wanted to harken back to why I (Miranda) originally founded this site and the service it provides. As a writer myself, trying to break into what has been considered the toughest picture book market in decades, I felt lost when I began the process.

I sought out the answers—but, alas, much of what I found either conflicted or it was somehow "insider" information that published authors couldn't divulge. What I most wanted a peek at was the curious thing known as a slush pile, and how my manuscripts stood up against the rest of the slush.

I wondered what you all may be wondering—is my manuscript good enough to get noticed out of the hundreds and thousands of unsolicited manuscripts sent to a particular editor? How good does it have to be to get an offer? A revision request? Can my story grab attention even in such a subjective business? Am I really as "tough" as I thought or am I a total baby when it comes to rejection and criticism?

All of these reasons, plus the fact that my critique group at the time was made up of all unpublished authors, made me crave the advice of a professional. But since I attended conferences only once or twice a year, my access to professional manuscripts was pretty limited. I knew, however, that the feedback I'd gotten from editors and published authors was really sound advice. (I also knew that at the time I couldn't pay $350 per story draft for an industry giant to look at the 28 picture books I wrote during Picture Book Month.)

So, Rate Your Story was born, mostly within the span of a few weeks. My husband thought I was crazy and another editor warned me that "I have opened the floodgates."

Last year, I shared a bit of what I learned about the slush pile. (Read that post here.)

Last month, a RYS reader emailed to ask what percentage of MSS get a 1, 2, 3...etc. rating? I told her I had no idea.

Last night, however, I tallied the statistics for he last 750 manuscripts submitted to RYS.

I realize you're probably all dying to know. How many people get 1s? How many get 10s? Where does my MSS fall?

Rest assured, I'll be working on some data analysis for you and will share in the upcoming months.  You will want to stay tuned.

However, what I learned last night about the slush pile was very eye-opening.

There are more "good" manuscripts than "bad" ones.
The competition is high.
The standard is very high.
A 3 or a 4 is an awesome rating, but because there are so many "good, but not awesome" MSS on the pile, that type of MS probably won't be loved enough to get an offer or contract.

I also learned that there are several manuscripts that really excel in one area (e.g. plot, character, setting) but really lack in other areas (format, spelling/grammar, unsatisfying ending). More than 54 manuscripts of the 750 didn't get a solid rating because of this inconsistency, and judges were on the fence, unable to pin down an actual number rating.

If there is one nugget you can take from this early data, it's that there are a LOT of "almost" or "good, but not good enough" manuscripts on the slush.

I think when I started out submitting, many of my manuscripts would have been 3s or 4s. (At least I hope.) I've learned over the years how to turn a 3 or 4 manuscript into a 1. The self-editing skills I've learned through professional critiques and a mentorship have been invaluable.

I'd like to share those tips with you through one-on-one critiques.

So—RYS submitters: If you've received a 3 or a 4 on a manuscript, and want a full, professional critique, I'm offering my professional services throughout March and April for $30 (score 3) and $40 (score 4) to the first fifteen writers to request a critique. (Typically, I charge $85, so that's a big bonus savings!)

This offer is only for RYS submitters, and only for MSS previously submitted to RYS that received a rating of 3 or 4, and only through April 30 or for the first 15 manuscripts. Please contact me (mirandapaulbooks at gmail dot com) for more info.

UPDATE!!! All 15 critique spots have now been filled. If you missed out, there may be opportunities again in the near future, so keep checking back!

Have a great day!


  1. What a generous offer! And I love your idea to compile the data - I'd be very interested in the breakdown, just out of curiosity!

    1. Susanna - check this week's post! One breakdown is posted!

  2. Yes, it took me quite awhile to sift through it. I'm going to be presenting at some writing conferences in the fall and I think I'll try and get ready my different analysis and breakdowns well before then. We'll see. I'm pooped after going through 750 rating sheets (actually, more like 770) last night, and now it's time to grade papers and get to critiquing manuscripts from RYS readers who have contacted me regarding the offer already! :) The work never ends :) Thanks for stopping by, Susanna.

  3. Thanks for the generous offer, Miranda! I've emailed you regarding this. :)

  4. Thank you for your generous offer! The data in your post is also very interesting. Thanks, Miranda. :)

  5. I'm looking forward to reading about the breakdown, too. What a greatly helpful project you have here, Miranda.

    1. Hi Claudine! The breakdown is published this week.

  6. Hi, my name is Cathy, and I'm a data geek....

    Can't wait to learn more about what you uncover when you plunge into the numbers Miranda!

    1. Oooh, want to volunteer for RYS? :) We love data geeks.

  7. An update: All 15 critique spots have now been filled. If you missed out, there may be opportunities again in the near future, so keep checking back!


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