Slush and Scholars

Now that I am a month or so removed from scoring applications for the Kentucky Governor’s Scholar Program, I can look back with a certain level of objectivity I could not find while wading through a waist-deep pile of papers. I’ve already begun to forget the tortuous two weeks I spent reading the nearly 2000 applications, the horrible spelling and grammar, the sameness of it all. This is important–forgetting all of that will make me want to do it again next year.

Still, I thought of an interesting analogy that has given me a little better understanding of the publication process. Reading my yearly batch of high school drivel reminds me of all the rants I have seen from literary agents and editors regarding their slush piles. I imagine there are several similarities between my reading a poorly written explanation of what makes a student unique and an agent reading a poorly written query letter and sample pages. I may read a hundred applications before I find one that is remotely interesting. Sometimes, I even get excited when I find one of these rare gems, often stopping so my wife can read it. For an agent or editor, it must be a similar process. The slush pile builds and builds, calling you to pay attention to it while, at the same time, making you loathe its very existence. The worst part of both processes, I believe, is the knowledge that to find that one golden example of how it should be done, you must first read all the examples of how it shouldn’t be done. You read and read and read until your eyes cross and then you read more. For me, I know I only have two weeks to complete the assignment. For an agent or editor, that drive comes from the never-ending pile of submissions. Anything other than constant vigilance and the pile grows too large to manage. You have to monitor your mood, knowing that exhaustion or being ill-tempered will affect how you evaluate what you are reading. The only thing that makes the process worthwhile is that rare surprise, the one that stands out as genuinely creative and original. For an agent, this means a possible source of income. For me, such an application means that I will have a say in choosing this one particular student for a program that will change his or her life. One does not perform such a momumental task without loving those moments of discovery.

Now, as I await the result of my novel manuscript and a few short stories currently out on submission, I remind myself to be patient by remembering all the applications that I had to read, my own slush pile. It is easy for a writer to send off a story and then sit by their email inbox awaiting some sort of resolution, but, as for me, I have better things to do because I understand the process in a way that probably most people do not. My two weeks of slush compares to the thousands of queries most agents receive every year, but it’s enough to keep me focused on what’s important–writing well enough to get myself out of the slush, to be that rare find instead of one more reason to pop a few Excedrin.

Project Superhero is now moving ahead again. Last night, I did over 2000 words, double my daily goal, and I’m starting to feel the flow of the story again. That’s a good thing. In the meantime, I am waiting patiently for a response on Dead and Dying from Nelson Literary Agency and on two short stories on submission to different venues.

Status of Project Superhero:

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