The #Scrapslush campaign

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I already knew this, I can’t say I didn’t, so why then do I feel  disquiet at the notion of the ‘slush pile’? It’s not the fact of being in a queue or of waiting for an evaluation of suitability, those are regular experiences in my world. It isn’t even the element of subjectivity, the lack of control, or the length of time invested in the wait because these too are familiar in matters such as applications for research funding.

In both circumstances, there are rules to be followed; this many words or characters, this kind of remit, and that configuration of topicality and market. Most publishers give a time scale beyond which you are free to enquire if you have had no feedback. All funding streams do the same although feedback now is largely automatic. Many of these also have a filtering system which determines whether or not the study is ‘in scope’ so you know quite soon if your proposal will be going to the full selection panel.

So it isn’t uncertainty, the waiting, or the fact that you can’t submit the same thing anywhere else at the same time. It’s the terminology – ‘slush‘. Slush is the semi fluid detritus that encumbers progress, messes up your boots, and trails muck into your house. How on earth has it come to represent the hours of painstaking work put in by people who are rarely paid, and may not be paid even if hauled out of this freezing mash, and who send in their product in good faith?

In a world where language and meaning are critical and communication is the primary aim, what, exactly, is ‘slush’ meant to tell us? It doesn’t sound respectful, it does sound casual, contemptuous, dismissive and derogatory and I am at a loss to see how that can be right.

I have been organising a professional conference and invited submissions for oral presentations. When they came in, they went to a scrutiny panel where we decided which would be accepted and which not. They did not go into a slush pile. For me, it doesn’t matter how many submissions, entries, or pieces of flash fiction someone receives and has to review or how scrupulous that process is, the language of contempt should have no place. Change, when it is just one word, is cheap. I vote for a language of respect, I vote for change.

Twitter #scrapslush

10 thoughts on “The #Scrapslush campaign

  1. Your post shows how numbed we become to common use of words. In all the years I’ve been submitting short stories, I never thought of this word in the terms you describe.

    I’ll join you in voting for change!

    As I read your description of casual, contemptuous, dismissive, it occurred to me that the problem is work that is submitted inappropriately (however that might be described, whether entirely the wrong market, lack of editing etc.) is put in the same category as work that exhibits attention to craft, thoughtful market selection but might not fit this place at a particular time.

    Great post.

    1. Thank you Catherine. I suppose coming from a different world, and one in which respectful behaviour is demanded, if not always achieved, at all times, I am more sensitised to the underlying meaning of casually applied terms. I’m not sure it matters whether a submission is inappropriate or not, it will be accepted or rejected according to the prevailing rules. What would it cost to call this unsolicited group something that implies professionalism? That might even cause people to raise their game, pay attention, get their act in order. It’s taken me a while to spot this one due to being an aspirant and working on finding my way around this new environment but now that I have, I’m pretty fired up about a dignified re-classification. Any thoughts about an alternative?

      1. They used to call unsolicited manuscripts “over the transom”, although I think that only applied to novels and it’s a bit awkward.

        It could be called what it is: submissions, and instead of pile, submissions stack. Although I’m not sure I liked “stack”…

        1. ‘Over the transom’ sounds a bit like ‘over the broomstick’ – not quite legitimate! My only real comparator is academics where journals are constantly open to submissions within a very clear remit, and research bids divide into ‘reactive’ calls where projects of a particular type are requested (dementia care at home, for instance), and ‘responsive’ calls where a wide range of studies is invited – albeit within a clear remit (technology, clinical trials, patient experience etc). None of these refers to submissions as ‘slush’. In fact they don’t refer to them as anything but submissions. No stacks or piles or lists, at least not publically. What would it take, I wonder, for publishers to take a step towards respectful professionalism and do the same? Maybe we should quietly reward those who do by promoting them on our blogs.

          1. Quiet rewards are probably most effective. My contribution will be with an eZine that I submit to. You can track your submission via their submission tool and my story is currently in “slush”, defined as waiting for the first read.

            If they select it, I’ll send a respectful suggestion that it could be called pre-read or something similar (before it goes to an editor for final suggestion).

            1. Gentle, valuing, but persistent persuasion. I agree. Can’t hurt to raise awareness though so Ill keep plugging the tags #scrapslush and #scrappedslush where the terminology has patently changed. Words are our business, we should pay a little more attention to what they mean. I will follow your plan too, next chance I get.

  2. Greetings…it is I who used to be that Here Be Dragons bird…

    Just wanted to say this was a really great post and so very true…what a demeaning name: slush pile


    1. Welcome, new incarnation, and thank you 🙂 I have something in a slush pile right now and, despite disclaimers about this not meaning anything derogatory, it’s still a word that implies under-the-feet worthlessness so why use it? It’s not like writers are short on vocabulary, is it!

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