I read the Wall Street Journal article on 'The Death of the Slush Pile' with interest – a great piece with great stories in it. Read it and don't despair, aspiring authors!
We are one of the few literary publishers in UK who still accept unsolicited manuscript. Even Faber and Faber gave up a couple of years ago. If I remember correctly, they said only one in 6,000 submissions made it into their list, so it wasn't really worth it.
Statistically speaking, it's not much better for us, but we still believe in the "democratic ideal" of the slush pile, and we also think it's a good to keep your ear on the ground and have a direct link with writers. Most submissions are dire, it's true – but aren't most agents' submissions bad anyway?
We receive around 100 submissions a week – I'd say half by post and half electronically (many people call or follow up by phone, which is a bit annoying). I think we receive so many because we are near the top of publishing lists – that's a trouble when your name starts with A.
Email submissions are usually deleted, but we do have a look at all mail proposals, and try to reply within two to six weeks. Sometimes we reply within a week. Last time we publish a book from the slush pile was in 2007, and it wasn't a commercial success, but we've become great friends with the author, who is very talented and may soon write a bestseller for us.
So I think that, even if time-consuming, going through the slush pile is a laudable and potentially rewarding effort. And, by the way, we are changing our name from Alma Books to Zzzzz Press.