The View from the Reject Pile

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 / Bloggified by Jake Bell /

Over at his blog, Jon S. Lewis has posted a little piece about rejection, which is, unfortunately, one of the most important things for a professional writer to learn. If you can't keep the difference between "it's" and "its" straight, there are editors and spellcheck to help you out, but when you pour months or years of yourself onto hundreds of pages of paper only to have a junior literary agent dismiss it with a form letter, there's nothing out there that will help you learn how to take it in stride.

I was fortunate in the fact that by the time I started submitting SECRET IDENTITY CRISIS to agents, I was well versed in rejection, and not only because I spent my lunch and afterschool hours in junior high playing Axis and Allies and roleplaying games. Sigh... why couldn't I find a girl who appreciated a nice suede pouch full of ten- and twenty-sided dice?

Prior to my writing career, I was a sports anchor and feature reporter on the local NBC affiliates in Panama City Beach, Florida and Yuma, Arizona. To get those two fairly unglamorous, poorly paying jobs, I sent out approximately 250 resumes. I also had to submit a resume tape with each, which is a six to ten minute long collection of clips showing what you look like on TV. Here's an example of the one that got me the job in Florida:

Bear in mind that this was in the early days of DVDs, so these were VHS tapes. That meant just to apply for a job, I had to spend about a dollar for the tape and $4.50 for postage, plus every tape took ten minutes or so to dub, which had to be done late at night after everyone else at the station had gone home. Also, because of the awkward size of the package, each resume had to be taken to the post office in person.

I itemize all this to illustrate just how much time and money I spent, especially when you consider that 99% of the time, news directors didn't even watch them.

When a TV station posts a job opening, a news director can count on getting as many as 300 resume tapes. That would mean a news director could get through all his applicants tapes in about four days as long as he didn't sleep, go to the bathroom, or oversee the news department during that time. Instead, most resume tapes get 5-8 seconds of play, just long enough to see the applicant's face. 99% of the decisions who not to hire are made at that point. Too perky, not perky enough, too tall, too short, too ugly, too pretty, too blond, not blond, too ethnic, not ethnic enough, news directors don't need to play fair.

Coming from that environment, I learned to expect rejection. News directors are not looking for a reason to hire you. They are looking for a reason to not hire you. In many ways, the publishing world works the same way. If you write the most brilliant book ever about dinosaurs, but a publisher is looking for a book about woolly mammoths, you're probably going to get a rejection. Or, on the other end of the excuse spectrum, you could get a rejection because a publisher already has a series about dinosaurs--even though it may not be as good as yours.

There is an old writers' adage that if you haven't gotten one hundred rejections--or maybe it's two hundred--you haven't tried hard enough. In college, I had a friend who preached a similar philosophy with women, but since kids are reading, let's apply it to the topic of publishing.

His point was that too often we fear failure more than we desire success. If you send out only one query letter to one agent, you only have to deal with the blow of getting one rejection letter. However, while the writer who sends out 237 queries to get one acceptance may have to endure 236 rejections, the final scoreboard between the two would read 1-0.

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