Monday, 11 October 2010

Welcome to Daniel Clay’s Blog on how to Submit to Slush-piles

I'm the author of Broken, a novel published in 2008. This blog isn’t to tell you about my writing, though. It’s to share everything I learned in the years I spent submitting to slush-piles before getting representation through a slush-pile submission. Whether you’re new to writing novels or have been trying to get published for years, I hope you find the information here helpful, and make use of my offer to look at your work and give constructive feedback.

Although this blog isn’t meant to be about me or my writing, I am going to use this top post

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

How to E-Mail Your Work to Me And What The Rest of This Blog Contains

If getting some feedback on your slush-pile submissions is of interest to you, please e-mail me the following in any Word format:
  • Your covering letter
  • Your synopsis
  • The opening ten (double-spaced) pages of your novel (if you send more, I'll only read the first ten (double-spaced) pages; sorry)
  • If you could put your name and the title of your novel in the file-names - so, for example, name them along the following lines: Daniel Clay Broken Covering Letter, Daniel Clay Broken Synopsis, Daniel Clay Broken Opening Pages - that would be helpful, but I won't ignore files that aren't named in this way  
My e-mail address is I will read your work as soon as I can and get back to you with my thoughts on what you've done. It may take a while as I'm doing this around my own writing commitments, but you will definitely get an answer from me (if you don't, it's because I've messed up my admin, so don't be afraid to send chasing e-mails after one week).

I don't care what genre your novel is in, and I don't care where you're based – England, Canada, the US, anywhere at all in the world, so long as you're writing in English. I just want to help unpublished writers by giving a bit of feedback on their slush-pile submissions.

I'm not an agent or editor, but I am a writer who has had to deal with well over a hundred slush-pile rejections in my time – some friendly, some rude, many who just didn't bother to reply – so I know how depressing the process can be, and how easy it is to give in.

On a more positive note, I've also managed to gain representation from Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown through a slush-pile submission. He's one of the most influential literary agents in the world.  After he took me on my debut novel, Broken, was published in the UK, US, and Canada, translated into Dutch and Italian, optioned by BBC Films and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book Award 2009 and Authors' Club Best First Novel Award 2009.   

Before that, again through slush-pile submissions, I managed to catch the attention of Luigi Bonomi (then at Sheil Land), an editor at Hodder & Stoughton, and requests for full submissions from the following agents: Judith Chilcotte, Jane Conway-Gordon, Dinah Wiener, Christine Green, and Peter Buckman (of The Ampersand Agency).

I managed to do this even though I had no connections to anyone in the publishing industry or any interesting angle to plug: all I had was what I had written.

Below you will find posts on the following:
  • A high-level summary of what I believe a slush-pile submission should consist of;
  • My thoughts on how to write a good covering letter (including the letter I used when submitting my debut novel, Broken, to slush-piles);
  • My thoughts on what constitutes a good opening page;
  • My thoughts on how to approach writing a synopsis (including the synopsis I used when submitting Broken to slush-piles);
  • My thoughts on the best places to find the names and addresses of agents and editors who might be willing to consider your writing;
  • My thoughts on the best strategy to take when submitting to slush-piles.
I stress these are simply my thoughts because many agents and editors have different opinions – some like a synopsis to be five pages long and consist of a detailed list of what happens in a novel, the majority probably believe it should be one or two pages long and detail the beginning, middle and end of your novel, whereas I believe it's acceptable to have a synopsis that's no longer than a single page and written in the style of a blurb. Some like to see the first fifty pages of your novel, whereas I believe the risk of losing someone's attention (plus the cost of posting) is too much, so would never send out more than twenty: For Broken, I sent seventeen.

The truth is you'll never please everyone with the format of your slush-pile submission, but by taking a simple and professional approach, I believe you'll upset the least number of people, meaning every single person you submit to is likely to read through the whole of your submission and consider whether they want to see more, which, surely, is the whole point of a slush-pile submission in the first place.

My Thoughts on What a Slush-pile Submission Should Consist Of

This is what I believe a slush-pile submission should contain (for anyone who doesn't know what a slush-pile is, it's the place in a publishing house or literary agency where all the unsolicited submissions from unpublished writers sit until someone finds the time to read through them – if you're an unpublished writer, it's one of the main ways you have of getting your novel in front of someone who might be willing to publish it for you):
  • A covering letter explaining what you have written and a little bit about you.
  • The opening three chapters of your novel (no more than fifty pages; I think it's best if it's no more than twenty).
  • A synopsis explaining what your novel is about (a synopsis is exactly that – a short description of what your novel is about).
  • A stamped addressed envelope (your slush-pile submission won't be returned if you don't include this).
And that's pretty much all it needs to contain.

My Thoughts on The Best Way to Approach Writing a Covering Letter For a Slush-pile Submission

Each slush-pile submission you make must have a covering letter.

This covering letter should state what your novel is about, what market it is aimed at, and, I think, give a little bit of information about you. If possible, it should also be tailored towards the agent or agency you are sending a particular submission to. 

The covering letter I used for Broken is posted beneath this one as an example of how I went about submitting it to slush-piles, but here are some further thoughts:

Because all editors and agents have different ideas on what constitutes a great covering letter, there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to putting them together: all I would say is choose the format that plays to you and your novel's strengths, and the one least likely to put someone off reading page one of your novel.

For me, my novel's strengths were always going to be in the actual novel, not in how I explained it or tried to sell myself as a writer, so I tried to keep things as brief as possible - I simply wanted to make sure there was nothing in my covering letter that would stop an agent turning to page one of my novel.

Having said that, I've heard of people who've had success with off-the-cuff covering letters (you know, as if from the perspective of a main character in the novel they're submitting and other odd formats like that), but I always worried this approach would irritate as much as impress, so I never tried it myself.

Below is the covering letter I used when submitting Broken to slush-piles. I think I had four requests to see the whole novel and made something like forty or fifty unsolicited slush-pile submissions before getting representation from Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown.

This may sound like a poor hit-rate, but I know of people who've never been asked for a full submission off the back of slush-pile submissions, and I've submitted novels that hold this unhappy distinction themselves.

I've also submitted other novels with similar covering letters to the one I used for Broken that, although never published, did attract requests for full submissions.

If I was submitting this covering letter to slush-piles now there are a couple of changes I would make: I wouldn't mention the synopsis was brief - every synopsis should be brief, so I'm not sure why I felt the need to point it out - and I probably wouldn't put Encl. at the bottom, as no-one seems to do that these days.

Other than that I feel it pretty much does what I believe a covering letter should do:
  • It has the relevant agent's name (unless they request you send to a central submissions department; if an agency does request you send to a central submissions department I'd suggest always following their guidelines to show you've researched who you're sending to, although, having said that, I know of writers who've recently had requests for full submissions after bypassing central submissions departments by going direct to individual agents - they call it 'bypassing the intern lottery');
  • an opening paragraph that explains what's enclosed in the overall submission and also sets out what the novel is about;
  • another paragraph that explains what market the novel might sit in when published;
  • a very brief paragraph about you;
  • although this covering letter doesn't show I've put a lot of thought into who I'm writing to, I had, and, where possible, you should look into who you're sending your slush-pile submission to as well.  When I wrote this letter I had read Curtis Brown's submission guidelines, looked through their list of agents to check who was most likely to be interested in my work (they didn't have a central submissions department at that time), then looked through Jonny Geller's list of clients and bio to see if there was anything worth mentioning that might make my letter stand out personally to him.  As it turned out, I didn't feel there was; I'd read, or heard of, many of the writers on his list and enjoyed what I'd read, but didn't feel mentioning them alongside Broken would add anything to the letter; I felt the two novels I was already mentioning did a better job of pin-pointing the type of readers Broken would appeal to.  I could, of course, have mentioned the fact I knew all about Curtis Brown's and Jonny Geller's reputation for getting breakthrough deals for previously unknown writers such as Jake Arnott and Tracy Chevalier, etc., but decided to keep the letter as simple as possible.  I think it's important you make informed decisions like this rather than just pluck a name out of a book and put your covering letter in the post - for more thoughts on how to go about finding this sort of information out, see the last two posts on the blog.  
I'm sure there are editors and agents – and writers – out there who'll disagree with some or all of these points, but I firmly believe a letter that covers these bases will do the job better than letters that don't.

Covering Letter I Was Using When Submitting Broken to Slush-piles

FAO: Agent's full name                                            Your name
Agency Name                                                          Your address
Agency address                                                        Your address
Agency address                                                        Your address
Agency address                                                        Your address
Agency address                                                        Your address
                                                                                Your phone number
                                                                                Your e-mail
Dear Mr/Mrs (Agent's surname),

Please find enclosed the first seventeen pages, plus a very brief synopsis, of Broken, a novel I have recently completed. It tells the story of an eight year old girl who is in a coma. As her family sit waiting for her to either regain consciousness or die, she debates her options and reflects upon the chain of events that have led her to death's door.

Written in a similar style to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, I think anyone who enjoyed Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones would get a lot out of this book: although it's an entirely different read, the mood and emotions provoked are similar.

On a personal note, I am thirty-six years old and have had short stories and poetry published in various collections. Broken is my fourth novel.

If you want to see the whole novel, I'd be delighted to send it to you.

With best wishes

Daniel Clay

Some Thoughts on Things to Consider When Trying to Make The Opening Pages of Your Novel Stand Out From The Crowd on a Slush-pile

This isn't really meant to be a 'how to write' blog, much more a 'how to go about submitting what you've written to slush-piles in the best way' blog, but, as the opening pages are the essential part of a slush-pile submission, I thought it would be worth giving them a little thought here.

It should go without saying that the best opening pages are the ones that immediately engage you in a novel – they either introduce you to a central character in a way that instantly makes you care for them and their fate, or they set a chain of events in motion that unfold without giving you any space to decide you can't be bothered to read on.

If they don't do any of the above, the chances are they're not the opening pages of a debut-novel.

How do you go about achieving these things with your own writing? I don't think there's a sure-fire way, and although I've heard a lot of successful writers talk about how much time and effort they put into their opening paragraphs/pages, I don't think I've ever heard a single one explain the nuts and bolts of the thought process they go through as they sit there for hour after hour desperately trying to get it just right; they usually just say something glib like, oh, yeah, my opening paragraph, I spent seven months writing that...

And, as with all forms of writing, every novel's different, every writer's different, so there's never going to be a 'one size fits all' approach.

From personal experience, the only thing I think most writers would benefit from keeping in mind is that the time to seriously worry about getting your opening pages right is usually only when you've got a reasonably complete draft together.

Why? Because, chances are, until you've written through to the end, you won't really understand the plot you're working on well enough to have started your novel in the right place – all the time I was working on the first draft of Broken, for instance, the start I had in place ended up five or six pages further in soon after the end was in place: It wasn't until I knew how the novel finished that I realised there was a much better way to get readers into the story.

Although the time I spent polishing that old 'opening page' wasn't wasted because it simply got shunted a few pages in, I've spent hours fretting over other opening pages that have ended up being deleted from a novel completely, and, I believe, that time would have been better spent getting to the end of the first draft rather than constantly making minor adjustments to the start and not pushing myself to keep moving things forwards.

Once you've reached the end of a relatively polished first draft, though, these are the questions I think you should be asking yourself:

  • What would be the most exciting way to start the novel? Does it presently start there? If not, why not?
  • What's the best way to introduce the main character in the most interesting way? Does this happen right now? If not, why not?
  • What's the earliest action needed to drive the plot forward? Where does this presently take place? What are the reasons if this isn't presently on the first page?
  • What's the theme of the novel/the thing that drives the narrative forward, and is there a way to hint at it on the first page?
  • What's on the first page at the moment that might make someone stop reading? How can you get rid of that? If you can't get rid of it with the novel in its present format, what new opening can you come up with that will?
  • What's on the first page at the moment that might make someone keep reading? How do you get that in earlier or make it more prominent?
  • Are the opening pages of your novel interesting? Not to you and your family and friends, but to someone who doesn't know you or care about you in the least?  If they're not, and you really want to be published, you need to rework them.     

For me, the best opening pages of novels I've read and loved have all contained some sense of immediate reality that makes the opening scenes seem true to life - no matter what genre I'm reading, I love it when I feel I'm reading about people and realities that feel as if they actually exist.  Because I know this approach works for me, it's the one I strive for with my own writing.  I think the best way for any writer to up their game is to look at what excites them about other writers and try to get their own work as close to that level as possible.  What are the novels you love/admire?  Look at the opening pages of these novels, then go back to your own work and think about what you can do to push for the same standard.  This, I think, is the best way to try and challenge yourself to really improve.

With that in mind, if you're an unpublished writer, I think you need to be reading the opening pages of as many debut novels as possible.  They're often fresher and more vibrant than those written by people further along in their careers, and this, if you're submitting to slush-piles, is what you need to be aiming for - unlike someone with five or six novels behind them, you don't have the luxury of allowing people's attention to drift.    

My Thoughts on The Best Approach to Writing a Synopsis For a Slush-pile Submission

Let's get the easy bit out of the way first – for those of you who don't know what a synopsis is, it's a summary of your novel.

Now on to the not so easy bit: There are many different approaches a writer can take to writing a synopsis, all sorts of theories on how long it should be and what style it should be written in, and, in the past, I've attended back-to-back talks by prominent literary agents on what makes a great synopsis and ended up listening to vastly different views held by obviously intelligent and successful people who, nevertheless, seem to believe their way is the only way to go about doing it right.

Even without worrying about formats, it's probably fair to say the majority of writers find writing a synopsis difficult. For me, I always found trying to explain an eighty thousand word novel in just a few pages as hard as trying to explain a joke: This was why I came to the conclusion it was best to keep them as short as possible and hide them away at the back of my slush-pile submissions.

This approach won't please everyone though – Lucie Whitehouse, for instance, who wrote the excellent The House At Midnight, and who has also worked as a literary agent (so, unlike me, has actually looked through slush-pile submissions in a professional capacity), believes, according to what one person told me at a writing conference recently, a synopsis should be at least four or five pages long, which is exactly three or four pages longer than I liked to make mine.

It's probably fair - and necessary - to say, though, that the most common expectation between editors and agents is for a synopsis to be one or two pages long and to explain the beginning, middle and end of the novel it relates to:  If you want to risk upsetting the least amount of people, this is the type of synopsis to aim for.  If you're struggling to explain your novel adequately in that format,  however, don't panic:  I've had several requests for full submissions when using a blurb approach with two different novels - just be aware the single page synopsis that covers the beginning/middle/end of your novel is the mainstream approach.   

One area where everyone does seem to agree is layout – unlike your sample chapters, your synopsis should be single-spaced and only ever printed simplex (on one side of the page).

Forgetting length for the moment, the most important thing to bear in mind, I think, is that the synopsis should give the impression you actually have a story to tell, that things are going to happen, and that there's going to be some sort of resolution to your story.

If you don't know how to get this across in your synopsis, perhaps do what I did with Broken (synopsis below) and write it as a blurb that sets the scene. I chose this approach because I wanted a very short synopsis, and also because there was no way I could plausibly explain certain plot-twists; not in such limited space, anyway.

I think the second most important thing is to limit the synopsis to your central story.

Who is your main character, what are the key things that happen to this person, why are these things important, what is the conclusion?

I would still suggest this approach even if you've written a novel that deals with several major characters. In the context of a complete novel, there's room to have interweaving stories, but in a one or two page synopsis, how are you meant to explain in-depth character journeys without it simply becoming a huge list of names that come across as totally baffling? I've seen a few synopses where writers have tried this, and none of them have struck me as good. Hone in and keep it simple is the approach I believe works best.

If your novel is more action driven, then keep it fixed to the occurrences that drive the plot forward, not every single thing that takes place.

Having said all of the above, never limit yourself; if you can see an unconventional or complex way of explaining your novel that you believe will really get it across in the best and most attention grabbing way, don't be afraid to at least try to write your synopsis that way just to see how it works – if it seems to work better than all the conventional approaches, go for it. If you get a load of rejections, just re-send a few months later with a more conservative synopsis – the only thing you'll have lost is some time and the cost of the postage.

Going back to the point about making sure you give the impression your novel has a proper conclusion, a lot of writers tend to worry about whether they should give away the end of their novel in the synopsis.

I think this depends on the approach you take.

If you go for the blurb/scene-setting approach, I don't think you have to detail the ending.

If you go for a more conventional plot-summary/sequence of events, I think it comes across as odd if you're vague about the ending.

Always remember that the whole point of every single aspect of your slush-pile submission is to get an agent/editor to ask for the rest of your novel; if you set out the events in your novel but don't round it off with a satisfactory conclusion, the chances are it's going to look as if you haven't got a satisfactory conclusion, so I would suggest you make sure the ending is adequately described.

If you've written a novel that's dependent on a brilliant plot-twist at the end that's meant to leave the reader thinking, "wow, I didn't see that coming" I think I would include it in the synopsis; if it's fresh and original and exciting, isn't an agent or editor more likely to want to see how you've pulled it off, and, therefore, more likely to ask for a full-submission? Chances are, by the time they've written to you and you've sent them the whole manuscript and they've found time to sit down and read it, they'll have forgotten the twist described in your synopsis anyway.

As for the old chestnut about agents and editors sitting around waiting to steal your ideas – I'm sorry, I don't believe that happens, so don't let the fear of that stop you from revealing the full extent of your plot and its proper conclusion in your synopsis.

When you've written your synopsis, take a step back from it and ask yourself if it will make sense to someone who doesn't know your novel as intimately as you do.

Also ask yourself if the writing flows and if it's easy to read.

Obviously check it for typos.

Finally, think about how it looks on the printed page: I've seen quite a few that just come across as one big lump of text with a heading across the top. When I sent my slush-pile submissions out I always gave the synopsis a separate header page with my name and address in the top right hand corner, the title of my novel and the word 'synopsis' somewhere near the centre of the page, then, on each page of the actual synopsis itself, something like 'Title of Novel – Synopsis' in the left hand footer, along with my name in the right hand footer.

In short, I tried to make it as neat and appealing to read as possible.

And, obviously, I made every effort to make it appear as professional as I could. If you're serious about catching the right person's attention, I think you need to do this too.

Synopsis I Was Using When Submitting Broken to Slush-piles

Broken tells the story of Skunk Cunningham, an eight year old girl who is in a coma, trying to make sense of it all - from the very first time she saw Bob Oswald being violent to the very moment she decides whether to live or whether to die.

In-between, she tells the story of her life; beating Jed on X-Box, trying to work out what Broken Buckley's been doing in his box-room, and falling in love with Dillon, the orphaned gypsy boy who lives in Halford's car-park with his Romany Aunt and Uncle.

Skunk doesn't just tell her own story. She tells the story of Juanita, the au-pair her father loves more than his children, and Mr Jeffries, the man Juanita loves almost enough to overlook the fact he's an impoverished school-teacher who can't give her all the things Skunk's father can.

She tells the story of Mr and Mrs Buckley, and their schizophrenic son, Arthur, who Skunk and Jed and Dillon soon start referring to as Broken. As Mr Buckley tends corpses in the mortuary he manages, and as Broken slips further and further into madness, can this family survive?

She tells the story of Bob Oswald and his five delinquent daughters. In their Housing Association property, without the stress of a mortgage or the day to day restrictions of social responsibility, the Oswald's lot is a happy one.

Until Susan, Bob's fifteen year old nymphomaniac daughter, accuses Broken Buckley of rape.

And everything starts to go wrong.

Best Places to Find Out Who to Send Your Slush-pile Submissions To

When I was last submitting to slush-piles, which was about three and half years ago, I always used The Writers' & Artists Yearbook and The Writers' Handbook to decide who I was going to make slush-pile submissions to.

Each book contains names, addresses and submission-guidelines for the majority of publishing houses and literary agencies in the world. The lay-out and approach for each is pretty similar so you probably don't need both. You don't even need a current edition either: they're great as a place to start, but individual literary agency websites will give you all the up-to-date information you need (as an example, Curtis Brown isn't presently accepting slush-pile submissions due to a backlog/full-list, but this situation is likely to change at some stage over the next few months – as both publications come out annually, there's no way they can be bang up to date with details like this).

Both reference books are laid out in pretty much the same way (well, they were when I was using them), so I never had a preference over which I used. As well as contact information for agents and publishers, they each carry articles on different aspects of writing and publishing, commentaries on the state of publishing, standard commission rates, details of writing bursaries and conferences, and, among other things, contract advice.

They both have pretty impressive looking websites now, as well, and I think you can subscribe to these rather than buy the books, but I've never used either website, so can't comment: If I was submitting today, though, I would definitely check the websites before buying the books.

In terms of the information they hold on where to send your slush-pile submissions to, both have sections that list the details for virtually every publisher and literary agency in the UK.  These details tend to include ownership, postal address, website address, e-mail address, telephone number, present publishing or client list, a very brief summary of what sort of fiction/non-fiction they're willing to consider, and submission guidelines such as how many chapters to send in, plus, in most cases, names and job-titles of the person you should be addressing your slush-pile submissions to.

In case you're in any doubt over whether or not a publisher or agent accepts slush-pile submissions, if they say they don't accept unsolicited submissions, they don't. I guess it's up to you whether you still approach them, but I never did.

I'm not familiar with the US and Canadian versions of these books, but I believe they pretty much do the same things.

I'm afraid I don't know anything about other world markets, but, from memory, I'm pretty sure the English editions have sub-sections dealing with the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, etc.

If you're in Europe and don't know how to go about finding out which literary agencies and publishers you can submit to, librarians are often the best people to start with: they'll be able to tell you which books do what.

If you don't want to spend money on a book, there are plenty of sites on the internet that give this sort of information for free – some of them have star-ratings as well, saying how fast or how slow certain agents were when responding, if there was any feedback, etc. I've never used any of these, so can't comment on how reliable they are, but, again, if I was submitting to slush-piles today, I would use everything available out there to get my submissions as perfect as they could be: A little bit of extra effort at this stage could make all the difference when it comes to seeing your novel in print.

If you're struggling to find a site that gives the above information, this one seems as up to date and together as any I've seen in the past:

Strategies for Submitting to Slush-piles

Considering this should just be a case of sticking your slush-pile submission in the post, it's surprising how many people have different approaches to making slush-pile submissions – some phone or e-mail an agent to ask if they can make a slush-pile submission, others actually send a letter asking if an agent or editor would be interested in reading a standard slush-pile submission.

For me, once I was ready to start submitting a particular novel to slush-piles, I never e-mailed or phoned or sent covering letters in advance – I always believed doing so was simply giving someone a further chance to reject me; or, even worse, giving Royal Mail a further chance to mess things up.

To find out who to make slush-pile submissions to, I would go through the UK list of literary agents in either The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook or The Writers' Handbook and highlight every single one who didn't specifically say they wouldn't consider publishing the type of novel I'd written – so, for instance, when I was getting ready to submit Broken to slush-piles, anyone who didn't actually say in very clear terms they wouldn't publish contemporary fiction was going to get a slush-pile submission from me.

Once I'd highlighted this list of agents I intended to submit to I'd then print out enough copies of my opening pages and synopsis to cover every entry on the list. This may sound a bit over-organised, but, often, the last thing you want to do after getting a load of rejections is keep sending your novel out. If you've already got everything set up ready to go, it's easier to keep yourself motivated no matter how low you're feeling about the rejections you're getting – feeling low is okay; giving up because your ego's taken a bit of a kicking isn't.

After that I'd go on-line and look at the web-site for the literary agency I was about to submit to, first off to check their submission guidelines hadn't changed, secondly to either find a named contact or find out more about the named contact given in The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook or Writers' Handbook; if I could reference my novel to a novel the named agent had previously brought to market, I'd do so. I wouldn't be insincere, though – if I hadn't read a particular novel, I wouldn't make reference to it. Also, I wouldn't mention a novel just for the sake of it: with Jonny Geller, for instance, I considered mentioning the fact I'd loved Jake Arnott's debut novel, The Long Firm, (which I genuinely had) but decided not to because I didn't think it fitted Broken's market, so stuck with mentioning two other novels he hadn't handled but would definitely have heard of: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and The Lovely Bones.

Once I'd checked the agency was definitely still accepting slush-pile submissions and I'd found out a little information about the person to send them to – or the submissions department, as seems to be the popular way at the moment – I'd adapt my covering letter so it didn't seem like a form letter I was mass-mailing to every single agent out there, then get my submission in the post.

Although I was probably a bit anally retentive in this respect, all my slush-pile submissions were put together in the following order:

Covering letter
Header page for novel, including my name and address, title of novel, word-count of novel, my name
Opening chapters of novel, each page with my name in the bottom left hand footer column, page number in the central footer column, and title of novel in the right hand footer column
Header page of novel's synopsis, including my name and address, 'title of novel – synopsis', my name
Synopsis, with each page showing my name in the bottom left hand footer column, page number in the central footer column, and 'title of novel – synopsis' in the right hand footer column
Presentation wise, all of the above was printed on 100gsm white paper in Times New Roman 12 point font, and I always folded my stamped addressed envelope around everything to keep it all neatly together (never use paper-clips or, even worse, a staple or some sort of binding, to keep your pages together – I've no idea why it's a big no-no, it just is).

When I first started submitting to slush-piles, I would post out one submission, wait for a reply, then post another. Because this approach seemed to take forever, by the time I was submitting Broken, I would initially send submissions to three agents. Then, as soon as the first rejection came back, I would send a fresh submission out. This way, I always had at least three submissions in the post at any one time.

If I didn't hear from an agency within six weeks I would send off to another one, and I never chased slush-pile submissions I didn't get a reply to: The way I looked at it, if an agency couldn't be organised enough to put a standard rejection slip in the self addressed envelope I'd sent them, I didn't really want to be represented by them anyway, so what was the point in chasing them up?

I would keep doing the above until I'd run out of agents to submit to. Or, in the case of Broken, until I finally had representation. 

In terms of what to expect in response to a slush-pile submission, in most cases, you won't get any more than a pre-typed compliment slip saying something like 'this isn't for me' or 'I didn't love this enough'. Don't take these personally. I've had well over a hundred, and the exact same submission that caught Jonny Geller's attention with Broken had already collected more than thirty compliment slip rejections; if I'd thrown in the towel after twenty, I very much doubt I'd be a published writer now. No form of rejection is ever pleasant, but, if you really are serious about becoming a published writer, you just have to find a way to cope with it – it never ends, being honest, and if you end up in shreds over someone sending you a politely worded rejection in the post, how are you going to cope when the one-star reviews start appearing on Amazon? Because, even if you're sitting on next year's Booker winner, you're still going to get a smattering of those.

My advice is always think about why you're being rejected, always challenge yourself to make your writing better, always get on with writing something new while you're sending a novel out, and always make sure your slush-pile submissions are as well written and professionally put together as possible.
And, if you would like me to give you my opinion on what you're sending out, don't forget to e-mail your covering letter, first ten (double spaced) pages of your novel, plus your synopsis, to Alternatively, if you've got any questions on submitting to slush-piles or writing that aren't covered here, feel free to drop me a line. If I can help you out at all, then I will.

Best wishes,
Daniel Clay