Erotica author, aka Elspeth Potter, on Writing from the Inside

Monday, September 21, 2009

Laura Barth on Category Slush Piles - Exploring Category Romance

Please welcome my guest, Laura Barth! Laura works with the Harlequin Blaze and Harlequin American Romance lines.


Many hopeful writers probably wonder about the process that results in either a rejection letter, a revision request, or--for the lucky few--a contract. So I thought I'd try to dispel some of the mystery by explaining the typical path of a category-romance slush manuscript from the time you submit it to the time you hear back.

As an editorial assistant, I'm the front line for all slush manuscripts and queries that come to Harlequin Blaze and Harlequin American Romance. I have to make the initial decision about whether to pass something on to the editors for their consideration or send a rejection letter. We receive many submissions, so we must be very selective.

However, before the submission reaches the point where it's being rejected or passed on to an editor, it almost always has to do time in the slush pile. The reason for this is simply that we have so few opportunities to deal with slush. New submissions usually get put at the bottom of the pile, so that we're responding to the oldest submissions first. By the time we're able to really look at it, a manuscript may have been in the slush pile for several months. Slush doesn't have deadlines, unlike everything else in an editor's life, and when you're waiting until you have some free time to look at the slush… Well, you can see where that leads.

Despite our busy schedules, we're always on the lookout for promising writers who have either come to us with an excellent manuscript or a manuscript that isn't quite there, but has a lot of potential. We often encourage such authors to revise their work or send us other projects. While we may already have a solid stable of authors, as editors, we can't resist mentoring new and promising writers.

When an editor has a manuscript she thinks should be considered for publication, the usual process is to write a memo to the senior editor, outlining why the manuscript should be selected and suggesting any changes that might strengthen the work. The senior editor then reads the manuscript and makes the final decision.

Probably the most memorable day for a new editor is the first time she gets to phone a slush author and offer to buy her book. This is what makes the time we spend reading less-than-stellar submissions worthwhile. When I contracted my first new author, I had the pleasure of giving the good news to someone I'd been working with closely for over a year. We were both so excited we could barely have a normal conversation. In my four years working at Harlequin, that was the best day by far.

So, to all those whose work is languishing in the slush pile, I say keep your chin up. Just because you haven't heard anything yet doesn't mean your manuscript isn't sitting at the top of an editor's To Read pile, waiting to wow her.


Thanks, Laura!

Tune in tomorrow for a post from author Elle Kennedy.


  1. Great insight to how the slush pile works. Thanks for giving us hope!

  2. Hi Minx,

    My pleasure, and best of luck with your writing!


  3. Laura, great insight into the whole selection process. It can be a very lengthy process, but getting "the call" is the absolute best. I speak from experience when I say that getting that phone call made every minute and all the hard work so very worth it.
    Leigh Duncan

  4. Thanks for posting that Victoria. It was really interesting.
    Cathleen Ross