Trashing the Slush Fest

Anytime I’ve been to a slush fest I’ve walked away pissed.

Slush fest has rules: Print the first page of your novel and bring it in to be read aloud. The panelists will raise their hand where they would have stopped reading had this been a queried submission.

This is not the place for the thin skinned.

I’ve done three of them. All brutal. Two for one novel and one for a different book.

The first one was with agents. They ragged all over the work about why it wasn’t sellable, how they didn’t care about the main character, what was wrong with the diction and the pacing.

I went home and revised the hell out of it.

Then I took it to another one. This was agents and a publisher. They ragged all over it about how much they hated it. Barely got past three sentences. Brutal.

I went home and revised the hell out of it.

Then I took a different first page. This one was all writers. They hated it. One of them challenged me aggressively over the point of the story, the character’s desires, the purpose of the scene. Another told me Byron and vampires had been done and implied I shouldn’t bother.

Then they said the dialogue was good but the description was too heavy. And that the true first line was much further down the page. Useful. Thanks.

I went home and revised the hell out of it.

It’s worth noting at that last slush, I was the only writer who submitted following the guidelines. By that point in the conference I’d sat politely through five sessions most of which I was the only attendee and asked studious questions and taken copious notes. I’d shown, I thought, respect and courtesy to all of the writers who ended up on the slush panel. With the exception of one whom I hadn’t met.

But some of their comments were condescending, generic, and borderline rude. The one who pursued my objective so aggressively actually said, “I’m going to nail you to the wall on this.”

The whole design of the exercise is flawed, frankly. Without a summary or a query, the readers have no frame of reference. Even book buyers would read the jacket copy before opening to the first page.

I recognize writers don’t have to participate in slush. Not on either side of the table. Maybe I don’t have a thick enough skin. I left when they’d finished with my work.┬áThe Tigers were playing football and I was more interested in that than in listening to them critique the work that had been submitted via cell phone.

Guess that makes me unprofessional.