I used to be the Aquatic Director at a health club and the part of the job I hated most was the hiring and the firing. (Okay, I sometimes slightly enjoyed the firing part, but only when they really had it coming). But the hiring was awful. You constantly had to remind yourself that they needed you more than you needed them and you had to look through their smiling, all-the-right answers façade to figure out their true character. And that was just hiring lifeguards and swim instructors.
Now, I’m hiring a publicity assistant. The resumes and cover letters have been pouring in all week. All polished, no typos, and a boat-load of experience. In fact, most of the applications are so strong, I’m having trouble remembering which is which. They all made Dean’s list, most are in a fraternity or sorority, and they all have had internships and do volunteer work. I’m making mental notes:
Jane is the one who’s the lead editor of the school paper, interned at Clear Channel, and currently volunteers at the literacy center.
John is a member of the Publicity Club of Chicago, interned at NBC, worked at B&N all through high school, and tutors foster kids in his spare time.
No one writes that they’re frequently late, bad on the phone, or recently broke up with their significant other and it’s taking all of their energy not to burst into tears in the middle of the interview. That would make the process SO much simpler.
So as I’m pooling over these resumes, I’m thinking, “This is how agents and editors must feel.” They get hundreds of queries, all perfectly polished without any typos. All of the writers are putting their best foot forward and unless your pitch is gripping and unique, it’s difficult to stand out in the sea of papers.
I’ve heard writers ask agents, “Are you just waiting for us to screw up? Do you want a reason to reject a query?” Based on my experience with these resumes, I’m thinking, maybe? If a pitch is unprofessional, has typos, or goes against submission guidelines, it’s easy to eliminate. One less piece of paper to consider. And if you can’t follow instructions and be detailed oriented on a single pitch, how are you going to work on a 350-page book?
For me, it’s only been a week of submissions and I’ve received about 20. Agents and Editors, I cannot imagine the constant sea of slush, hundreds a week, with no end in sight. Now I know why agents drink.
Writers, take this as a reminder. Your pitch should be pristine and tailored to every agent or editor you submit to. Don’t give them a reason to reject you and craft your two-line pitch well enough so that it stands out in the slush pile.
Now if you excuse me, I have to pour some Jameson in my coffee and get back to interviewing the future leaders of America.