Gems from the Slush Pile & a World Record Established

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Gems from the Slush Pile & a World Record Established

mixedSo I am at last turning to queries. (Sorry to those who have been waiting; I haven’t been idle, honest!) And, perhaps because I am reading tons of queries, my thoughts turned back to when I started in children’s books, as an assistant at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

The slush at Harcourt was read by a sweet, gracious writer named Joan Bowden, who came in once a week, plowed through the hundreds of submissions, and returned them to the authors, 99% of the time with a form reject. When she found a particularly funny sentence in a query, she’d cut it out and tape it to a scroll at the entrance to her cubicle. I photocopied that scroll but have somehow lost the other pages in my many moves; I have only one sheet. I offer them here as … I don’t know, a cautionary tale? A bit of sweet comedy? Part of the historical record? These are all at least fifteen years old, and I can’t imagine anyone will recognize their own work, but if that does happen, you have my sincere apologies. And my assurance that you have, inadvertently, given me much joy over the past decade and a half.

These are all genuine. I have created the order, but all errors and formatting are the authors’ own.

  • Dear Editor, How many mushy, melodramatic, multicultural children’s books can you muddle through in one morning?
  • Are you currently excepting submissions for review?
  • Please send me your latest information on marbles.
  • I HAVE PASSED MUCH WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE SINCE WE WERE LAST IN TOUCH. I’M SURE THE SAME THING HAS HAPPENED TO YOU, BUT ANYWAY,
  • I hope you enjoy my story and my new baby enclosed.
  • I have written an educational instructional program for children who have diabetes in a storybook form.
  • The following is the first forty or so pages from a mystery/romance/thriller (color me non-committal)
  • Wow! Finally an amazingly wonderful truly terrific story! And, it’s not like hasn’t taken me two decades, bagged-eye mornings, and the anguish of the dead and beaten to get here…it has, it has! But it’s here at last! The gods have been good. And you lucky editors get to read it!
  • Care to sniff the cork to see if the wine of my labors would appeal to your markets’ palates? Attached, a few pages.
  • [Title Redacted] is a non-spooky, funny Halloween fantasy, in which Dracula, Frankenstein, et al, are all good guys. So vut you tink?
  • I am a vegetation which is why I like writing about animals who are vegetations too.
  • Thank you for reading this through completely, at least in part.
  • I was born in Portsmith Virginia in a navel hospital.
  • Because this is not a simultaneous submission, I will respectively wait your six to eight week reply period for a response.
  • IN CLOSING I MUST ADD THAT I HAVE NO MONEY SO IF YOU DON’T PUBLISH THIS IT’S POSSIBLE I’LL HAVE TO LIVE AN IMMORTAL LIFE SO PLEASE LET ME KNOW.
  • Respectively yours,

And, because this just made me laugh this morning: The Harper Collins UK Children’s Books team has created a new world record. Yes!

Have a happy Labor Day, everyone!

  1. Great TGIF fodder. Going to RT in Twitterville now.

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  2. That was fantastic (the slush & the video). And I’m really intrigued by the person who “might have to live an immortal life.”

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  3. so good. so so good. i may have to make one of these lovely collages myself.

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  4. Mistakes such as the ones made in the slush pile are what my nightmares are made of. Having grown up in a bilingual household, I’m always mixing metaphors as a result of some things getting translated in my head wrong.

    The video made me smile. And you have to love the vest.

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  5. I love the Dracula and Frankenstein one. You have to admit that “So vut you tink?” is some funny stuff.

    You have to give the author of that query cudos for having a sense of humor and being original. I know some strange queries have passed your desks, but that one really is funny.

    I wonder if you, as agents, ever requested material just because the query is funny. Just for the sake of seeing if the book is funny like that too.

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing! That was just slap-your-knee hilarious! ROFL

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  7. I never even knew the key to immortality was poverty! Cruel irony.

    Great stuff. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Absolutely fabulous! Thanks for sharing. Laughing is always a great way to start the weekend:-)

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  9. So funny! What a great pick-me-up!

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  10. My hats off to agents and editors alike. 🙂

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  11. This post really made me smile. Also, I think I’ve found my new personal catch-phrase, “So vut you tink?” It may break the tension the next time I try to return something after losing the receipt.

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  12. Funny stuff.

    This is one reason I hate to read over my query letters after I send them. They make me cringe. It’s amazing that a line will seem so candid or comical or just plain cool in the middle of the night when you’re sending out your stuff, and it just looks stupid in the harsh light of morning.

    I personally liked the guy who was in the habit of whizzing under the bridge and was sure the editor preferred bridges to indoor plumbing, too. heh heh

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  13. All I can say is some people have way more fun than I do…and way more books too…and yes, of course, I’m referring to the World Record, not to passing water under a bridge.

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  15. The first is my favorite. The third I don’t quite get. Probably bc I’ve lost mine.

    And many of the others I probably would have done, and if an editor, may have requested them. You never know. You never know what intrigues people.

    LOL.

    🙂

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  16. I know we use LOL a lot…but these really did make me LOL. Awesome.

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  17. Those are great.

    I used to give my eighth grade English students extra credit for bringing in examples of written bloopers they found outside of school. Some memorable ones were the menu that boasted the best chocolate mouse in town, the restaurant specials board that advertised yummy ho-made soup and my personal favorite, the church billboard, which read, “Come join us at St. Mary’s First Anal Pancake Breakfast!”

    Thank you for the laugh, Michael!

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  18. Damn it! Authors are not supposed to feel sympathy for agents. After all, “I was just not that enthusiastic” begins to sound formulaic after a while. Still … I am glad to see we can all still laugh at the human comedy. And you know, passing water under a bridge is really an all-too-possible scenario for many of us. That, and cardboard boxes.
    Thank you for the chuckles!

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  20. I prefer passing Pooh-sticks under a bridge myself…

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  21. Ah yes, I remember those days at Harcourt with you fondly, Michael. But I also got some gems as a teacher.
    “It’s a historical fact that Communism arose when conditions in Europe became ruthless and then Communism gained a rapid foothold into future power.” (From an essay on comparing Winnie-the-Pooh and Animal Farm. Really. I tried to discourage her, but she insisted.)

    Jane

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  22. I’d actually like to know the answer to that first one.

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  23. Hi Jane! Thanks for commenting. And yeah, I’m sure these don’t compare with what one sees in a classroom. Always brings to mind Leonard Michaels’ example of a paper that began, “Karl Marx, for that was his name…”

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  24. Can’t beat this gem from a high school paper: “Luther tacked 97 feces to the church door and so started the Reformation.”

    Jane

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  25. I’m planning on living an immortal life… regardless of ever being published. That’s just the way I am, though.

    I loved the video… and then unfortunately found myself muttering uh-lack-uh-lack-uh-lack under my breath for the rest of my Labor Day. Plus, then my kids asked to see every lego video available on You-tube. So, I liked it better in the morning than at night… curse you.

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  26. oh, that Luther!

    🙂

    Too funny.

    But I guess if St. Paul can call himself dung, Luther can tack feces to the Wittenberg Door.

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