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Why do publishers make such a fuss about finding new authors on the "slush pile"? Such-and-such a brilliant new novel, we're told, was languishing with all the other dusty, unsolicited manuscripts, only rescued by some quick-thinking editor. The ensuing thunder of slaps on backs is duly recorded in The Bookseller. Why the cascades of self-congratulation over the fact that some editor actually gets round to reading their post?

The latest industry marvel is Ross King, author of historical novel Domino, set in the 18th century and seemingly inspired by the costume design in Amadeus. Ross's publishers, Sinclair-Stevenson, like many publishers, say they never accept unsolicited manuscripts, but unknown Ross not only received an enthusiastic yes within two days, but also got hefty sums for translation rights. What's his secret? Well, he didn't bother writing the whole book before finding a publisher - he sent just a synopsis and sample chapters, accompanied with a letter asking if he was on the right track. Somebody at S-S must have a weakness for dialogue of the "Faugh, my dear, shall we go to a rout to recruit our spirits?" variety.

The slush pile as we know it may well be a dying tradition. "While most publishers regard unsolicited manuscripts as extended hate mail," say innovative publishers Ringpull, they see their "rush pile" as a potential treasure trove. And now authors can send their work (synopsis and 20 pages max) via e-mail for a speedy response. At last, editors whose idea of searching for new talent goes beyond having lunch with a literary agent.

8 Contact Ringpull on