Back in pre-history, when men lived in caves and Aliens built the pyramids, if you didn’t have an agent who could get your manuscript in front of an actual editor, you used to have to just mail it in and . . . wait. They called it the slush pile, and dreaded it . . .
It wasn’t so bad, when every publisher had a slush pile. But the ratio of bad to good manuscripts was so high that . . . well, the slush piled higher and deeper (this was before the internet.) Every once in awhile there’d be a concerted rush to do something about it. A party with every low level secretary, clerk, and part-time student (this was before the slave labor known as unpaid internships) was rounded up and the pile of boxes was attacked.
At least that’s what I’ve heard. By the time I got into it, the other publishers were, one-by-one ceasing to accept unsolicited manuscripts. Baen was still accepting them, so they started _all_ coming to Baen. And then Master Innovator Jim Baen decided to do away with the paper slush and go to all electronic submissions.
Writers took to it with elan. But _someone_ still had to tell the writers that Baen wasn’t interested in purchasing their manuscript. There was a backlog almost immediately.
Time for the next innovation: Volunteer slush readers to high-grade the manuscripts for the paid reader, who decided what to send on to Jim.
The qualifications for the volunteers were simple. Jim Baen had to recognize your name from Baen’s Bar and be reasonably sure of your tastes in books and general acquaintance with the rules of grammar.
I gleefully leaped in. Didn’t even stop to put on the high waders. First book? Bad. Second manuscript—Resonance, by Chris Dolley. Loved it. Just. Flat. Loved. It. Finding a good one on the second trip to the pile gave me a totally unrealistic optimism for the rest, that lasted for years. I can imagine Jim Baen sighing “She thinks she found one that easily? Highly unlikely.” But then he bought it.
It was about this time of year in . . . 2004? That Jim offered me a part time job as a paid slush reader.
The electronic pile was 3000+ deep. Two or three years backlog. A slow month had 50 manuscripts submitted. To make progress, a hundred manuscripts a month had to be evaluated.
Now, some of them were easy to reject. There was a pastiche on Johnathan Livingston Seagull that I can’t seem to forget. All about a penguin agonizing over his inability to fly. The manuscripts with the bad grammar and spelling. All the incredibly bad starts. Really? A happy breeze wafting about introducing the reader to the main characters? That was even more painful than the hero standing on the cliff, cape whipping in the wind as the storm darkens the sky and the lightening flashes. Staring out over the lands that . . . something. I ought to have kept count of those noble fellows. Really. At least there was only one Happy Breeze.
Hmm, I have a file, kept for my amusement. For better or worse, I did not keep the writers’ names. So, sadly lacking in attribution, here are a few samples of the starts of submissions:
A cold winter evening in October 28 2057 in Washington DC , the world has changed dramatically since World War Four erupted over night causing the beginning of many disasters which has changed the World in many ways and bringing the humankind to a devastated economy loop of global ruin and no world peace since the commencement of the first nuclear bomb inflicted by the Middle East which started a chain of events and an all-out nuclear war between all the countries throughout the world, causing a domino effect which become the worst catastrophe in history, a tragedy so huge it is difficult to comprehend and yet high political figure knowing that not dealing with the world powerhouses of Nuclear Dictators who are trigger happy and the other countries with no other solution but to react and also push the button created a ticking bomb ready to explode to the next phase of adversity, No one, not even the leaders of the world countries did anything to pacify and calm the outbreak of nuclear violence that has destroyed the world as we known it and causing unexplained earthquakes, large tidal waves and frozen rain storms in some areas with boulder the size of hailstones coming from above to the earths soil.
The air was warm and sticky while the sky was a vivid blue. Blazing white clouds puttered across it like a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle cruising on some lonesome desert highway with the tumbleweed and cow skulls scattered about like they undoubtedly must be.
A red clouded dark sky hangs above the city bestowing a fiery, desolate, crimson hell.
The first sentence was innocuous. This is 2nd and third:
The apparently endless passage led to the surface from the cavernous dungeon, its walls built of tarnished metal that was neglected for thousands of years. Halogen lights, miraculously intact by ancient technology, were suspended from the ceiling . . .
The alcohol is starting to kick in, I think. But for some damned reason I feel myself spiraling down into a foul mood. Strange, I’ve always been a happy drinker. If I got like this every time I drank, I just wouldn’t drink. I’d find some other way of taking the edge off. Pills probably—there’s a thousand different ways to get high with pills.
… they came, like the angry heralds of a hell in which nobody believed anymore, at least nobody Everett cared to remember six months into her assignment to the least envied position in a fleet that had a long list of bad slots.
Maureen scrambled down the eroded slope toward the beach and he thought she looked like one of the denizens of the place: a small rodent, a scurrying crab, or a lame bird.
The really bad ones were easy enough to reject. It was the almost ready to go ones that took up the time. There were several writers who submitted multiple almost ready manuscripts. In an ideal world, Jim would have had the staff and the time to groom a few of them into publishable, prolific writers. Chris Nuttall was one of them, he’s publishing Indie now, and doing very well. Check him out, if you haven’t already.
Anyhow, I survived five years of reading slush, and I’m no weirder than I ever was. But I don’t worry nearly as much as I used to, about my own stories. I _know_ there’s a whole heap of worse out there.
So, here’s a few, quickly assembled from Amazon if you are interested:
Chris Dolley—Resonance http://www.amazon.com/Resonance-Chris-Dolley-ebook/dp/B004W0IESY/
Grant Hallman—Iron Star http://www.amazon.com/IronStar-Grant-Hallman-ebook/dp/B00GJMA7MY/
Dennis E. Smirl—Not Without Honor http://www.amazon.com/Not-Without-Honor-MacCollie-Book-ebook/dp/B00KY35X9G/
There are a bunch more, including I think _The Blood of Ambrose_ by James Enge, that I believe was submitted under a different pen name. At least the sample rings a whole lot of bells. And there are even more that haven’t been published. Unfortunately. C’mon, you guys! David S. Watson? I need to reread the first two, and where are the rest, eh? Pamela Moore? Nanamarvian needs her story finished. Indie publishing is much better than letting it languish in a drawer somewhere. It might only sell enough for the occasional night out, but what’s it doing just sitting in a computer file somewhere, eh?
Prowling through my old reports is making me wish I’d kept copies. Where’s Argentum, Tagger, Whispers on the Wind? Oh wait, there’s Ninja B Goes to College . . . this is dangerous, I could drop some serious money if I keep looking . . .
*And strictly for the lovers of Grade B SF movies, grab a beer and try this one:*
Bill Wyza—Montana Jack and the Vampires of Mars. http://www.amazon.com/Montana-Jack-Vampires-Mars-Bill-ebook/dp/B00VQLI5WC/