Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Conference Report: Rebecca Crowley's talk on Standing out from the Slush Pile

Today's report backs on #ROSACon2014 come courtesy of Erich Viedge and author Rae Rivers. Rebecca's talk on How to stand out from the slush pile followed the lunch break on the Saturday of the conference.

Report by Rae Rivers

Every writer serious about publishing wants to stand out from the slush pile. Thankfully, in our world of technology, the internet is full of information, advice and tips on this topic. Usually, the advice comes from editors or agents so it was so interesting to hear that Rebecca was offering advice from a reader’s perspective.

Several years ago, before becoming a published author herself, Rebecca worked as a freelance reader for a publishing house. A professional reader – of which she was paid to read manuscripts.

So what does a professional reader working for a publishing house do? As we all know, editors are super busy and not always able to sift through their never-ending slush piles so they employ readers familiar with the genre with a love of reading to do this job for them. Although being a professional reader may sound like fun, I imagine it must be a challenge too as the reader has to sift through a lot of mediocre books in search of a few gems. (I was amazed to learn that in the two hundred plus manuscripts Rebecca had read, only a few were contracted!) Each reader receives a few books to read and has to offer a report on each one, along with a personal recommendation. (Either Reject, Reject with Encouragement, Accept with Revisions etc.)

In essence, a professional reader is often what stands between a newbie manuscript and an editor. If she doesn’t approve for whatever reason, chances are the manuscript won’t make its way further.

So it was from this perspective that Rebecca offered advice and tips on how to stand out from the slush pile ... how to get past the gatekeeper between a book and an editor. It was so interesting to hear what worked for her as a reader – what captivated her, maintained her interest and kept her turning the pages. This was usually a combination of several things: author’s voice, consistency, creativity, character development, conflict etc.

This was a great behind-the-scenes glimpse of what happens in the acquisition process. A big thank you to Rebecca for sharing her experience.

Report by Erich Viedge

Rebecca’ Crowley’s session Standing out from the Slush Pile was a real highlight of ROSACon 2014.

The conference organisers made sure the speakers had real experience that could help real authors by giving them the inside scoop. And that’s what made Crowley’s talk so compelling.

In her 20s, Crowley worked in publishing in New York. To supplement her tiny income she found a gig as a “freelance reader” for a publishing house. This is the person who is going to read your manuscript. It’s not an editor, it’s a cynical 23-year old in a one-bedroom flat on the seventh floor of a New York apartment block in a building without a lift.

She’s doing it for $30 a manuscript — the longer books paid as much as $50 — and she’s certainly not doing it for fun. In fact, she was reading books outside of the genres that she liked! On the contrary — she’s doing it, said Crowley, for the money. And the $30 per manuscript meant so much to her at the time that she would drop the completed manuscripts and reports off in person so she didn’t have to waste two days in the New York postal system.

The result of all this industry?

Crowley says she must have read north of 200 manuscripts, and she approved only 10 of them for publication. And even that wasn’t enough. Some of the books she approved weren’t published by the publishing house she was working for.

The biggest AHA for the audience was that Crowley wasn’t looking to Accept a manuscript — she was looking for reasons to Reject.

If she could see in the first few pages that this book wasn’t going to pass muster, then she would skim the rest of it to get enough plot points to fill in her report, stamp it with a big red R and exchange it for the next one.

She took the audience through four reports that she had written for her publishing house. A “Reject,” a “Reject with Encouragement,” an “Accept with Revision” and finally, “Accept.”

She spoke through the reasons for her choices and she went a bit further. She looked for the book online. The rejected manuscripts seemed to have disappeared without a trace. And one manuscript she said had lots of problems in it had been picked up by another publisher; but the reviews on were scathing of the book, which made Crowley feel vindicated.

She gave us concrete tips on standing out and being one of the 10 in 200 that get some form of “Accept” stamp — and she cautioned that the reader has no influence over the rejection slip that lands on the author’s desk. She may have loved the book, but felt it was wrong for the imprint, and the author may still have received a form Rejection slip. She had no way of knowing.

We in the audience, felt encouraged and emboldened. If we could impress today's 20-something-year-old Crowley equivalent, we had a fighting chance of being in the five percent. And if we got a form rejection, maybe, just maybe, there was a freelance reader out there who loved the book — and whose recommendation was spiked by the editor.

A very worthwhile session for any author.

Next up: Tomorrow we'll bring you the report backs on Suzanne Jefferies' talk on Writing Dialogue.

Rebecca's rapt audience

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