Friday, July 8, 2011

Thoughts Behind Rejection

our son, Charles, will next Monday begin his professional career. Doctorate in hand, he begins his position as an associate administrator over admissions for the Pritzker Medical School of the University of Chicago. On a phone call this week we talked, not for the first time, about the job and what it entails. Some of it will involve recruiting trips, to various universities, to encourage potential medical students to apply to their school.

In the course of that conversation, he said that Pritzker accepts maybe 10 percent (I think that's about right; don't hold me to that number) of those who apply. For the U of C as a whole, there's also many more applicants than positions. That caused me to ask what to me seemed to be an obvious question: "If you have more than enough applicants, why are you going out and recruiting?"

He explained that recruiting was for the purpose of getting more and more qualified candidates to apply—so that they can reject them. Actually, he didn't say that. He said that universities, and professional schools such as the Pritzker, thrive in part on "exclusivity". The more candidates they reject relative to the number of positions available, the more exclusive the school will appear, and the more better candidates will apply. They will always had a difficult time competing against the good medical schools such as Harvard's, but exclusivity helps. If they can say, "Only 5 percent of those who apply to Pritzker are accepted," that will look better than saying, "Only 25 percent of those who apply...."

I suppose that's true. A med school candidate, planning on applying to Harvard and similar exclusive schools and thinking they can be one of the 1 or 2% who are accepted, might not apply to a Pritzker that accepts 25% of all applicants, but might apply to a Pritzker who accepts only 5%. So off the school goes to recruit. Get the better candidates to apply, accept the best among those, and hope that with each class you'll have a better and better student body. Then, maybe at a point in the future, some of those applicants who are accepted to both Harvard and Pritzker will go to Pritzker

I wonder if writing is a little bit like that, or at least traditional publishing is. The rejection rate is sky-high for most things that a person would want to publish. An agent that is actively recruiting new clients might see 100 query letters and want to see a partial manuscript for only 5 or 10 of those. Of those 5 or 10, the agent might want to see 1 or 2 full manuscripts. Of those 2, an offer of representation might come to only one. At most one. The agent will most likely need many more than 100 queries to find that one writer he/she would want to represent. Yet, the agents invite queries to be sent, and attend conferences and workshops with the intent of recruiting new writers, hoping to find that one writer who can produce a mega-best-seller.

This isn't really the same as the medical school analogy. In writing, it's a buyers market. Too many writers chasing after too few publishing positions. In medical school, it's a seller's market where the best candidates and the best schools are concerned. I'm not quite sure how the bottom 95% of the candidates fit in, and I think my analogy breaks down.

Today I submitted three poems for possible publication. I submitted them to a small-ish periodical, one that I've read from time to time but don't subscribe to. It's a publication for writers and speakers. The have mostly prose, but publish some writing-related poetry. I met the poetry editor of this mag at the Write-T0-Publish Conference, and she suggested I submit some. This might be a better than 1 or 2% chance for garnering a publishing credit. Maybe it's around 10 to 20%. A week or two ago I submitted a haiku to a group that's putting an anthology together to help school libraries that were destroyed in the Joplin tornado. I think that one may have as much as a 25% chance of acceptance.

Clearly I'm not exclusively applying to the Pritzkers and Harvards of the writing world. I've been doing that for about eight years, and getting no where. I may be close with my baseball novel, but I may also be farther away than I thought. We'll see.

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