Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Courtesy of a Rejection

Back in the old days when I first started freelancing, things were different. After you chipped the letters into the stone tablet, you hitched the oxen to the cart so you could drag your tablets into town… just kidding. I never kept an oxen in my apartment. But I’m not kidding when I tell you that because we didn’t have computers (I can see the twenty-somethings gasping now), we treasured our manuscripts. Before ink jet printers and the internet, we treasured those painstakingly typed pages. If you wanted copies, you used carbon paper. That’s why an SASE was so important – if you didn’t get your manuscript back, you had to re-type the whole blasted thing.

Nowadays, we writers are able to e-mail editors with queries and manuscripts and hear back right away. Well, if we hear back. That’s another thing that has changed – now editors don’t feel the need to say anything at all to you if they’re not interested in your work. When I started freelancing, accepted wisdom was that you knew you were making progress when instead of receiving form rejections, you got handwritten comments on your rejections. Now, progress is getting anything back. Take my recent experience with a local paper. I’ll call them Paper A. They posted a call for work. I answered. The editor e-mailed back, “Hey, we’ll be in touch with you next week!” I never heard another word. Two months later, I checked back with Paper A to see if they were still looking for people. “Yes, we’re still looking. Send us something,” the same editor replied. That was a month ago. I guess I’ve been rejected.

I know editors are overwhelmed with work. I read a great piece a few months back by a writer who resolved to personally respond to every piece of junk mail he received. As you can imagine, he soon developed a new appreciation for editors who must wade through the slush piles of unsolicited manuscripts and query letters. Can you imagine if you responded to each and every piece of e-mail you received? We'd all have to quit our day jobs just to keep up. I understand, really. I just never thought I’d be wishing for the good old days of rejection letters.

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