The Truth About the Slush Pile

By Naseem Hrab


Sit down and write a manuscript. Craft it for many months—maybe, even years. Print off manuscript at your mom’s house. Carefully wrap it with your hopes and dreams. Place it in an envelope purchased especially for this single purpose: submitting it to your dream publisher. Somehow save money by purchasing 100 envelopes instead of only one. Address envelope. Waste 5 envelopes ensuring that handwriting is good enough. Neat handwriting is to envelope as power suit is to job interview. Realize that 94 envelopes will sit on your shelf taunting you indefinitely about the 94 manuscripts you will most definitely never write. Should have just stolen envelope from mom.

Pay for package to be pointlessly and urgently overnighted to your dream publisher. Postal workers 100% understand how important your story about a top-hat wearing fart named after your brother is to all children and/or achieving world peace. Daydream 1000 scenarios of package’s journey to publisher. Scenario #1: Postal worker realizes what’s in envelope, tears it open, reads manuscript and immediately bursts into flames of ecstasy. (Manuscript is spared.) Scenario #2: Bird snatches envelope from postal worker and tears it open, realizes what’s inside, learns how to read and immediately bursts into flames of ecstasy. And so on. Each scenario includes a finale where most senior publishing executive ever finds package and shouts, “It’s here! I’ve waited my whole life for this moment! My manuscript I’ve always wanted to publish is here!”

Confirm delivery of package by constantly refreshing Canada Post tracking website. Surely most senior publisher executive has opened package by now? Gleefully start refreshing inbox constantly for email with subject line, “Book Contract with an Advance So High It Will Enable You to Quit Your Day Job.”

Inbox zero. Inbox zero. Inbox zero.

not good enough

Double check that internet connection is working. Double check that gmail is working. Open window blinds to confirm that universe still exists. Recoil in horror at natural light. Immediately close blinds. Receive email notifying you of Canada Post’s updated privacy policy. Receive email from mom asking you to fix her iPhone.

Sink into depression.

Learn that publishers receive hundreds to thousands of unsolicited submissions a year. Reality that manuscript was likely plopped into a box where it will inevitability sit for months and months before an intern or editorial assistant finally has the time to look at it dawns on brain. Wonder if you should have also wrapped the manuscript up with patience.

Realize that you will likely never hear from publisher again. Recognize that you will likely be ghosted. Gasp audibly. Wonder if it’s possible to will amnesia about the whole thing using the power of shame. Attempt to summon amnesia by slamming forehead against wall over and over.

Black out.

Fast forward: Regret that you spent the last three months constantly refreshing email. You did nothing else. Literally. Could have been working on new manuscripts. Gasp audibly.

Pick up notebook. Pick up pen. Start all over again.

Recognize that the courage to keep writing might be more important than the hope of getting published. Could your writing efforts be just as fulfilling as imagined results? Seems like bad math, and yet … Discover that two rejections are better than one and three rejections are better than two. And 92 envelopes are better than 93 envelopes are better than 94 envelopes.

And so on.

The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Naseem Hrab is the author of the picture books Ira Crumb Makes a Pretty Good Friend and Ira Crumb Feels the Feelings, illustrated by Josh Holinaty. Her comedy writing has appeared on McSweeney's Internet Tendency and The Rumpus. Sometimes Naseem likes to get up on a stage and tell true stories. She loves improv and coffee ice cream.

She worked as a librarian for a time and currently works in children's publishing.