Hi Miss Snark,
What does a slush pile actually look like? I can't imagine that's it's really just a tall, single stack of paper. That would make it a herculean task to add something to the end of the line. Maybe it's more of a vertical thing. I'm guessing that it's more in one's mind than on one's desk. Just trying to get a visual...
The slush pile is a misnomer. There are no piles of paper in my office, nor in most offices I visit. Stacks yes, but pile connotes disorganized heap, and that's more what I look like in the morning, rather than what the submissions look like.
The mail arrives mid day and the first thing that happens is I sort it into #10 envelopes and flats. The ms returns or other big packages go in another stack. I open the #10 envelopes first. Everything without an SASE gets thrown away. I quickly scan the letters. The ones that I think I'll want pages to read, I send BACK the SASE with a note saying "I told you to send pages the first time ya nitwit". The others go in the start of that days's 'slushpile'.
Then I open the flats. Everything without an SASE gets junked UNLESS it's someone sending me something I asked for. Then I just get annoyed, but I will read it. I also get annoyed when the SASE is tucked carefully under page 15 and I have to search the entire bloody pile of paper to find it. I tuck the SASE envelope around the letter and pages and add it to the stack, face up.
When all the mail is opened I have a stack that is about 6-10 inches high. That's each and every day, rain or shine, six days a week.
The trick is to get the paper OFF my desk as soon as I can. Thus I have a reading system, and most agents I know do too. Here's mine:
First I scan the cover letter. If it's clearly something that's a non starter, I say no and send it back.
Everything that gets past that first cursory look gets read. 90% of that gets rejected on the next pass. That can take a week or more to work through.
The remaining pieces go in a stack that never disappears. I will sometimes read stuff three or four times at this stage. (almost no one else I know does this). I do this cause I want to make sure I only ask for more pages on things I really want to read, and a lot of stuff is ok on the first read but loses its charm later on.
That pile right now is five inches high. The earliest letters are on the bottom face down. I turn the stack over and read from the top when I work on this pile. This is the pile I work on at night, on weekends, and when I get frenzied about being disorganized. THIS is where your letter is if I email you and say "are you really the horse's ass you sound like or was the cover letter just an anomaly, cause I like your writing, but you sound like a pill to work with".
So, no piles but yes, plenty of paper.