My father made a living as a freelance writer for more than 40 years and he taught me that you need to have a thick skin so the inevitable rejections don’t cripple you. He used to say that he could paper his walls with rejection slips and still he managed to support a family of four on what he earned.
One of my favorite writing stories of his was how, years ago, he wrote an essay about what it was like to be a pin boy who set up bowling pins back before bowling alleys had automatic machines. He submitted it to Sports Illustrated and the magazine rejected it. He filed the story away.
One day years later, when he had a lull in work, he decided to submit it again – to the same magazine. This time Sports Illustrated accepted it and it ran in March of 1988.
Different editor? Probably. But it shows the precariousness of publishing and the subjectivity of editors.
Which is partly why self-publishing – once referred to as “Vanity Press” – has a certain appeal. The field has plenty of success stories of writers who were turned down dozens of times only to self-publish and hit it big, proving that editors of publishing houses don’t always know what will captivate readers.
And yet, there is something to be said for having to prove your story’s worth to a knowledgeable stranger who reads a lot of manuscripts. My rule of thumb on publishing is that at least some people who don’t love you or don’t know you personally have to want to read your work.
Of course, in the Internet Age publishing houses aren’t the only gatekeepers whose role is being questioned.
Politicians complain all the time about the mainstream media’s filter, which presumably minimizes their accomplishments and focuses on their failures. The implication is that getting rid of the filter or media gatekeepers would allow the real important information to get through.
If only we all had enough time and No-Doz to read through the Congressional Record each day and watch C-Span around the clock. For most of us, this is a nonstarter. It’s fine by me that some Washington editors wade through the press releases about National Canned Yams Week so I don’t have to.
Face it, we all rely on filters and editors because they save us massive amounts of time. The trick is to pick filters you trust.
Take film critics. Skinflint that I am, I can’t stand paying $10 (or even $4 at the Emmaus Theater) to sit through a bad movie. So I read movie reviews - or at least check out the quotes on those huge movie ads – before I see a film.
Even that takes discernment. An ad quotes some critic as saying, “One of the best movies of the year!” or “Spectacular!” and immediately I’m wondering who the reviewer is. Is he one of the persnickety critics from The New Yorker magazine or is he the film critic/bridge columnist of the East Jabip Gazette who hasn’t given a movie a bad review since 1972?
Time is the most finite resource for each of us; we need these filters, editors, critics and gatekeepers to help us avoid wasting ours.