The Slush Pile -Behind the Scenes-- with Lindsay Ribar

October 24, 2013

First of all, hi. I haven't seen you in a few months, blog friends. It's not because I don't love you (I do!). It's because I'm a teacher and the first few months of school are always c.r.a.z.y. (plus throw in the fact that I have a toddler and an infant--I am basically a zombie. Who doesn't eat people). 

Anyway. It's nice to see you. 

So. Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes in a Literary Agent's slush pile? Me too!

Here's  Lindsay Ribar of Greenburger Associates to spill the beans. Welcome, Ms. Ribar, and thank you for taking the time to stop by. 

MR:  What is your query-reading process? Do you read them as they come in or do you designate certain times of the day? Do you sort them out (saving some for later, perhaps) or just plow through all at once?

LR: I definitely don’t read them as they come in; given the volume of queries I receive, if I did that, it would take up my entire day and then some! I usually read large batches of queries all at once and set aside the ones that I want to look at more closely.

MR: Roughly how many of your current clients came to you via query?

LR: All except one! The one in question was a referral from one of my boss’s clients – but all the rest came right out of the slush pile.

MR: If you do request a manuscript, do you always request a partial first or do you sometimes ask for a full right away (and why?).

LR: My submission guidelines indicate that authors should send a partial (first three chapters) attached to their query, so when I request something, I always request the full based on the partial I’ve already read. I ask for the partial with the query so that I can get a taste of the author’s writing style before I commit to reading a full manuscript – and after that, I go right for the full because it saves time! (Time never goes more slowly than when you’ve just finished an amazing partial, and you have to wait for the author to get back to you with the full.)
MR: Do you read manuscripts in the order they’re received or in order of what looks most appealing? Do you always read the whole thing or do you stop when you lose interest?

LR: I generally try to read them in the order I receive them, but that depends a lot on my mood. Like, I may be burnt out on fairy tale retellings for a week, or I may not be in the mood for SF one day. If that’s the case, and one of those things is next on my list, I’ll skip (for now) to something I have a better chance of connecting with. It’s better for my sanity that way, and it means I give every submission much more of a fair shot.

MR: After reading a MS do you know right away that you want to represent that author or is there a certain process you go through to reach that decision?

LR: It’s different for every book and every author. With certain books, I’ve known halfway through that I’m going to make an offer, no matter what. With others, I’ll ask for a revise-and-resubmit. But my usual M.O. is that I’ll finish a book, having taken notes while reading, and I’ll ask for a phone call with the author to talk revisions. The author and I will compare notes on our respective visions for the book. If my notes aren’t at all in line with what they wanted the book to be, it’s often a pretty good indication that I’m not connecting with their writing in the right way, and we probably won’t be a good author/agent match. But if my notes are in line, and the author’s willing to work with me on making the book into the best possible version of itself, then I’ll make an offer.

MR: How important is building a platform (or online presence) for a debut author?

LR: Middling. On the one hand, it’s great for an author to be on Twitter (or Tumblr, or whatever) in order to interact with book bloggers and other authors, which makes it easier to drum up buzz for their forthcoming books. On the other hand, everyone has an online presence right now, so unless an author is really going to make the effort to stand out from the (increasingly huge) crowd in some way, it doesn’t make nearly as much of a difference as it used to.

Please note, though, that I’m talking specifically about authors of fiction. Having a platform for nonfiction (which I don’t represent) is far more of a necessity.

MR: Do you ever “Google-stalk” authors the way we Google-stalk agents? :o) At what point—if ever—do you look at author blogs, websites, twitter profile, etc (‘Cause darn it—we writers put so much work into those!)?

LR: Absolutely. Usually if I reach the point of wanting to request a full manuscript, I’ll take a few minutes to see what kind of online presence an author has. Not because I’m checking out their “platform,” as you said above, but because I want to get a sense of the author’s personality, and what they might be like to work with.

MRWhat would be your ideal vacation and what books would you take with you?

LR: If you want to know exactly what my ideal vacation looks like, check out – it’s a music festival on a cruise ship! As far as books I’d bring, though… that depends entirely on what I’m in the mood for. Actually, yeah, that sounds like a very ideal vacation: being able to read whatever I want!

MR: What kind of story you’d love to see in your slush pile right now?

LR: What I’m looking for right now: character-driven YA and MG with deadly secrets, high stakes, realistic character relationships (this goes for friendship and romance), and killer dialogue. Bonus points for music- and theater-related stuff, and extra bonus points for LGBTQ characters.

You’re very unlikely to grab my attention with dragons, elves, vampires, angels, faeries, or systems of magic that rely on Capitalizing All The Things or spellyng thynges strangelie to make them look unyque…
…but I’m still looking for good stories about ghosts, werewolves, mermaids/sirens, small-town magic (think Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls, April Genevieve Tucholke’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, or even that movie Practical Magic), or cool systems of magic that you made up on your morning commute one day.

Thank you so much, Ms. Ribar, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions! Best of luck to you and your clients (current and future)!

If you are looking to query Ms. Ribar, you may do so via e-mail, using the criteria listed on the SJGA website:

Also, check out another great interview with Ms. Ribar here.

Thanks for stopping by, friends. See you soon!


  1. Oooh, very interesting! Thanks for sharing. I've always wanted to work for an agent and sort through the slush pile before. I have a friend who does it. I think it would be very eye opening!

  2. Very interesting post. It's great reading about how things are done on that side of things. Thanks for sharing. :)