I recently saw an advertisement for a college. It showed a man in a cap and gown smiling. Obviously, he graduated and is ready to strike out and find his place in the world. To find his fortune. To blaze new trails…etc…
The caption read “In searching for the perfect résumé, you overlooked the perfect candidate”, though I may be paraphrasing. But, I found it rather profound.
I remember years ago, I was working at a small startup software company. I had zero managerial training, and was right out of college myself. I was working in the shipping and receiving department…actually, I was the shipping and receiving department.
One day one of the owners came to me with a stack of papers asking if I was busy. Sadly, being a startup company we were doing mostly receiving with very little shipping, so I had to honestly tell them ‘no’.
The owner handed me the stake of papers, which were résumés, and told me to sort through them. I was to make one pile. Résumés that contained certain buzz words, and the rest toss in the circular file.
Wow. Just wow. I couldn’t believe what job hunting came down to. If you had three words on your résumé, you pass. I think the ad nailed it. It doesn’t matter what’s inside, it’s all about the packaging.
Finding an agent or publisher isn’t much different. I saw a recent video where an agent spent about ten minutes going through his slush pile telling viewers why he was rejecting their query. He mentioned several times he wasn’t sure if this would be well received, but hoped that it would be taken for what its intention was – an insight on how capricious the process can be. He admittedly says he can’t give ‘the attention and consideration that probably every submission deserves’ because of the sheer amount he receives. To be honest, I found it enlightening and sincere though I could see how another wanna be author could take offense to it. The agent went through a small sample rejecting them solely based on certain details of their letters (not sample writing).
Two were rejected based on the titles, one was due to him being underwhelmed by the plot, and another because the writer plugged themselves in a bad way. In one case the writer misspelled the agent’s last name, but he said that’s fine, although on a bad day, it could lead to rejection without a further glance.
He said these were not arbitrary decisions, but rather a system he put in place in order to get through the massive amounts of queries he receives on a daily basis.
I believe we have to acknowledge that fact. Decades ago people would type out a query or résumé, stuff it in an envelope and drop it in the mailbox. Somewhere between two weeks to a couple of months later you’d receive an answer with an explanation of the decision. But those days are as ancient as leaving the restaurant’s phone number with the babysitter and walking to school in a blizzard, uphill, both ways.
Today applying for a job or querying can be done en mass with mail merge and online forms. Decades ago agents may have only received maybe hundreds of queries a week rather than a day. Job positions solicited a handful of candidates rather than hundreds. Sure maybe there are more agents and jobs available, but that simply means more to apply to for those of us looking for that elusive ‘yes’.
So I do understand why that agent posted that video, and I do sincerely appreciate it. He even admitted that he knows his system isn’t foolproof and he undoubtedly let some good stories slip through his fingers. But that’s just something he has to live with, right? Unfortunately, that’s something the writer of that would have been successful manuscript will have to live with as well.
Hey, I understand the reason for the process, but I don’t have to like it.