Though I sympathise with the common lament that agents reject work without reading it, I must admit that even if I started out giving careful consideration to everything, this wouldn't last beyond the first covering email that said: “This is teh next harry potter. Tell me how much u r going 2 pay me lol.”
I can see myself whizzing through the submissions going:
Hmm, pretty good, but... nah.
Aww, this one has a picture of the author's puppy... but the book still sucks.
Hmm, nice writing, but it's the end of the first page and no one's died yet, so nope.
Huh, this author has the same name as a loser boyfriend I had 15 years ago, so... nope.
We writers know we must make sure our work is better than the rest of the pile, that our plot isn't the same old chestnut as everyone else's, that we spot the typo we've supposedly proofread a million times, and that we time the submission so that its position in the Leaning Tower of Envelopes corresponds to the ten-second window when the agent is in a good mood. The only trouble is that, as industry outsiders, we've got no way of knowing what the rest of the pile is like. What exactly are those clichéd plots and first-page no-nos? We don't get to see them because... well, they don't get as far as a bookshop. Without access to much unpublished fiction, it's difficult for a writer to appreciate the all-important (and perhaps subtle) differences between a standard rejection and a request for a full.
I think a bit of mutual understanding between agents and not-yet-published writers would be a good thing. Therefore, I have a bright idea. (Yes, just the one.) Agents and publishers could offer exciting Red Letter Days-style activities, like so -
The Slush-Pile Experience!
The perfect gift for the writer in your life.
Whether you've always fancied yourself as a top London agent, or whether you want to know once and for all how much worse a writer you are than the rest of the world, here's the chance to fulfil your dreams!
Your special day will start with five cups of strong black coffee and a couple of paracetamol (included) before your instructor shows you to your desk for the experience of a lifetime! Are you up for the challenge of trying to break into gaffer-taped Jiffy-bags? Can you last more than two paragraphs of a 500-page political rant in free verse? It's a race against time to read and reject 200 manuscripts by the end of the day! You'll learn all the terminology (including “What a load of crap,” “Oh God, please not the first chapter of Pride & Prejudice under a different title again,” and “This is brilliant, but I just don't love it enough.”) After your exhilarating fourteen-hour shift, you'll be treated to a witty email from a bitter author telling you why he is rejecting you.
A fun and original way to re-discover your sense of adventure!
Agents would get their slush-piles dealt with and writers would get first-hand knowledge of what really makes a submission stand out from the rest. The submitting writers would have their work read within a year by someone who didn't have thousands of phonecalls to answer and bestselling authors to look after. Everyone wins!