The Slush Formula

Writers, can you estimate the chances that your story will make it through the slush pile?

I’ve come up with a formula.

Some background: A couple of years ago, I saw a post on a forum somewhere by a writer who said their story had “zero chance” of being passed on to the Publisher.

They may have been right, unfortunately. But why?

The chance that I will recommend a story to the Publisher is directly related to the quality of the story, the clarity of the storytelling, and the appropriateness of the subject matter. Each of those is a subjective measure, yes — what I think is a great story you might think is mediocre; what’s crystal clear to you might be indecipherable to me; etc. — but all three must be present in sufficient measure for a story to make it through.

Factoring & Expansion Formulas

It’s really not as complicated as all that. (Image: “Factoring & Expansion Formulas,” by CMLorenz16, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


Thus I express the probability of any given story being passed on to the Publisher as

P ≈ Q * C * A

So if a story really has a “zero chance” of being passed on, it is only because one or more of those factors approaches zero.

The good news is that’s rarely the case. (For us, “zero chance” is only when someone submits a memoir or children’s book or something else we don’t publish; then, appropriateness = 0.) So writers who have an accurate assessment of the strength of their story, how well it’s written, and if it’s appropriate should be able to estimate their chances pretty well.

But the thing to realize is that for the probability to be high (we’re talking percentages here, so it will almost never be 100%) each of those factors — story quality, writing clarity, and subject matter appropriateness — must rate very high indeed.

That’s the challenge.

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3 Responses to The Slush Formula

  1. Guy, there was no “c” in that equation. 😉 I think the confusion may be from the image in the post, which wasn’t meant to be part of the formula I proposed.

    Doug, everything I recommend is something I could see being published, else I wouldn’t recommend it. We see our fair share of cringe-worthy submissions, but the majority are somewhere in the middle — not inducing cringes but also not compelling narratives.

    Thanks for the comments, fellows!

  2. Doug Wardell says:

    Is most of what you see of a quality you’d feel comfortable publishing without embarrassment, or is it more like American Idol tryouts where a large amount is completely cringe-worthy strictly on the basis of quality and clarity?

  3. Guy Stewart says:

    So then:

    a = quality of story
    b = clarity of language
    c = appropriateness for the market

    Therefore (as an example):

    (a+b)2 = a2 + 2ab + b2

    would be: (quality + clarity)2 = quality2 + 2x(qualityxclarity) + appropriateness2

    In sentence for: a story that is the Probability of Publication (is the result of) a REALLY high quality idea, the idea clearly expressed plus well-researched market target.

    No problem for me. The math appears to be sound! (Don’t worry about me, I’m just a science teacher who had to take math through calculus…and haven’t used anything expect statistics since…)