This last economic crisis has led to dramatic changes in both the workplace and in the publishing industry. However, after some personal experience, listening to the radio, and reading articles, I have seen some parallels between the traditional publishing side of the industry and today’s labor market and maybe that’s why there are 3-5 M people who have been out of work for 3+ years.
If anyone knows anything about getting published by a big commercial publisher like Random House, it is excruciatingly difficult if not nearly impossible. Trying to land a job in this tough economy has become about as easy as landing that contract with Random House–nearly impossible. After much reading and personal experience, I can draw these conclusions.
Some attitudes and biases now adopted by many HR departments everywhere match those similar to traditional publishers. Okay with no further adieu here we go.
Anyone who knows anything or has tried to submit to a traditional publisher is aware that there is this thing called a ‘slushpile’. In the publishing world it is a stack of query letters on an editor’s desk. In the workplace it is a stack of resumes on a HR or hiring manager’s desk. Desperate workers like many desperate authors are sending in their resumes into the HR department hoping to move up to the next phase. In the slushpile it will stay until the HR or hiring manager gets to it, and how long it will stay no one knows…
The Submission Guidelines
Ah, these are the technical things you must do so that your query letter–or in this case–resume doesn’t go from the slushpile to the round receptacle (aka the trashcan). It tells you what kind of paper, margins, fonts, colors, etc are required. Furthermore, you must also find ways to stand out by also abiding by these guidelines. It sounds easy, but it’s not so easy especially if every other submitter is doing the exact same thing. Some places allow more creative freedom than others.
The query letter and the resume have strikingly similar characteristics with a couple subtle differences. They both have a cover letter stating who you are and why you want to publish/work here. Both of them are demonstrations of what you can do and have done. Of course, here again in the job world it is job skills as opposed to writing. In today’s sense the resume now only means what you can ‘give’ rather than what you can do. It is somehow not the same thing.
Also these means of job searching are becoming obsolete. It is also true for the publishing industry. Social media, blogging, and networking are taking their place. If you don’t have a blog or a social media presence you aren’t getting hired. If you don’t, start one now.
Beyond the Query/Resume
In the publishing sense they may ask for more material from you. Some employers may as well. Then it may go to the interview sage. These are good signs, but ‘you’re not in the door’ yet. This exists in both publishing and in the workplace. In either case it doesn’t mean your getting a contract, or in the workplace sense, hired. Things can still go wrong. Negotiating takes place. You take or leave the offer or they decide to hire you or slam the door in your face.
The ‘Risk’ Factor
Oh, this one was a dead give away for me. Traditional publishers always mention they take a risk for everyone they publish. They do, but it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. They are big enough to absorb it, and it is probably rare they must do this. Although, print books sales are down while ebooks are going up, but that’s not really the point here. Employers have been hit pretty hard so they must be a little choosier than they used to, but there is a fine line on where it becomes ridiculous. Employers are now singing the same tune, but that’s why they have fewer available positions than they did before. You know, an employer could create a volunteer program to try out a potential candidate for a trial period (like 2-3 weeks) like an intern (without pay), but they won’t even do that. It has become just a stringent as Random House has on who they will take a chance on. Yes, they should make good decisions, that’s not the point I’m making. But, leaving the job position open for a year and not hiring anybody whatsoever is just ridiculous even after careful choosing. If you’re not planning on hiring to fill it, take the position down.
Don’t Let the Newbies In
At some point in time, someone yelled this in the traditional publishing world. Only but a few lucky ones may get in every now and then, but most often than not they don’t. Now this seems to exist in the workplace. In the workplace sense a ‘newbie’ can be one of two things: a college/high school graduate or a transient from one profession to another because their former profession hit rock bottom. This causes major problems ahead for the youngsters. I am still a youngster–the YA crowd. I’ve been out of college for five years. I was able to work through the worst of the recession, but after it ‘ended’ I lost it. I haven’t been able to get back in because of the next section. In publishing and in the workplace there is this “Newbie Hostility”, and I have yet to find out where it came from. Everyone everywhere at sometime has been a newbie, so why are we shutting out the newbies? Who is going to take the place of the veterans after they retire or die?
The Unattainable Experience Bar
This is the thing that ticks me off the most. It exists in both he workplace and in publishing. Sure, some positions, like in management, would require experience levels, but for every freakin’ position that exists out there including entry level? For teens and YAs it bars us out of the workforce altogether. Why? Well, in order to get experience in a field you have to work in the field. How can you get any experience in the field when you cannot enter? That is what angers me to no end since I have dealt with that a lot (I’ll tell you why). Entry level positions seem to be nonexistent. Also what experience you have in college in the field does not count. Your degree is not enough. Your experience (if you have any that counts) isn’t enough either. You must have both and even that is no guarantee. Who is to say volunteer work doesn’t count either. You’re not really working and you’re not earning any money either. This is the way it is with traditional publishing as well. If your writing does not get published in a magazine or a newspaper then it doesn’t exist. Any awards you have snagged in school for great writing or what you have written your whole life do not count. It may look good on your blog, but other than that they don’t exist or count for nothing.
On the flip side, you have 50+ year olds who have both a degree and the experience who are also shut out, so there is also bias at work here. I guess seniors are too old and stubborn and young people are too stupid and immature to work so they are too risky to hire. That’s what the actions and bias tell me…no one has said that.
This is why I get so angry at this. This problem has been before the recession in the ’90’s and since the recession it has only gotten worse. In the year 1999 I was looking for my first job as a HS grad. I was going for something as simple as cashiering or something to get my feet wet. I didn’t think I was too good for anything. But guess what? I get this experience thing thrown at me just about everywhere I applied. It took me forever to get my first job because of this experience thing. I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to work…ever. After college I want to explore greener pastures. I run into this again and FINALLY I was able to work at my last job until it was claimed by the downturn. And, guess what? I am still hit with this same thing even after 13 years. Are you kidding me?! None of my experience counts. My education doesn’t count. I am being pitched a shut out. I don’t sit and cry and give up. Instead, I create my own job. If no one will create me a job, then I’ll create me one. I don’t have to listen to the bias and experience BS any more. I’ve had it.
What Mom and Dad Taught Me No Longer Matters
My parents taught me to work hard, be dependable, be reliable, be honest, be on time, etc. These days however these no longer matter. From my own and my dad’s own grumblings and misfortunes the past few years have taught me that. The only way to get ahead is to brown nose, lie, and cheat, and that’s what counts. I don’t work that way. When my parents were growing up getting you experience came from on the job. College was not necessary unless you were going to be a doctor or a lawyer. Only the rich kids went to school. Nowadays you can’t get any on the job experience in anything except maybe a cashier, grocery store, or a burger joint. That’s usually where young people start but now you can’t even do that. Getting in somewhere and moving up has gone the way of the dodo.
Talent, brilliance, and being gifted also don’t count. Many of these people who have these are turned away by the droves in this tough economy. I know because I fit this bill. That’s the way things go in traditional publishing too. Many brilliant authors get turned away while celebrities who can’t write worth the darn can get published. It’s all about platform and not talent, but it should be both.
‘Knowing’ You Will Sell
This exists in both worlds as well. I never get this idea. How can you just ‘know’? You don’t. Some of the bias clouds the reasoning here. That is also determining who is a ‘good fit’. Some experience is at work here, and these couple things can be done to a point, but if you can weed out to two or three then it doesn’t get so easy. This is where a volunteer trial thing could work out. Without it, it’s just blind guessing. It’s like never going to space and ‘knowing’ the apple is going to fall.
You’re Expendable/We Don’t Need You
This attitude existed in publishing since the beginning of time. Now it has become the sentiment of the workplace. There are a few other variations of these statements. One should be weighed carefully though: We don’t owe you anything or owe you any favors. Sure, I agree with that. My dad taught me that’s how the world works, but when does it become abusive? There’s a fine line here. These attitudes is how people are in and out of unemployment or remain in unemployment. And, with these sorts of attitudes is a big giveaway why morale is low and people who are employed worry about their job security daily. Then it affects the employees’ health that effects output. A domino effect.
You Can’t Give Up!
A writer’s conferences everywhere they preach this about traditional publishing. Even after 150 rejections I’m still submitting. They cling to the hope that they will get that contract. This has bled over into the workplace as well. Where do you draw the line and be realistic? That depends on the person. If you have submitted to thousands of jobs and are still unemployed after three years, when do you call it quits? There are people who fit this bill. Another way of saying it is ‘you aren’t trying hard enough’. There is a such thing as trying too hard, and that’s when you start sounding desperate or needy. That doesn’t work either.
You Can’t get Hired because You Stink
This is another sentiment that the workplace has learned from publishing. Before the rise of self publishing people really thought this about themselves and that’s what the publishers and fellow authors thought too. Which, in reality, was not the case. This can bleed over into why the ax came your way, why you can’t land a job after a long time, etc. You begin to think you did this to yourself when you didn’t.
3rd Parties Can’t Help Me Either
These days agents are even having difficult times helping people publish. They really are trying but not getting anywhere. It’s also happening in the workplace. The Labor Department is trying it’s best with minimal results. The GA DOL has some of the best programs, but we were one of the worst states for job creation. Those great programs aren’t helping people find jobs where there are none.
Everyone fighting for available jobs has become as hard as fighting for limited spots on a publisher’s roster. The same ratio of people to available spot are so much alike. It’s like 10:1 or so. Give or take. They are fighting like buzzards over a dead rat. These kinds of odds don’t benefit anybody.
ZERO Tolerance for Mistakes
Last I checked humans were applying for jobs, not cyborgs. Sure everyone is supposed to make a reasonable effort to make their resume as error free as possible, but just ONE typo, misplaced comma, or whatever will land you back in the street. If this is the way things are at the hiring process who is to say it’s not going to carry over to the work environment? As soon as you become a human and make an error, you’re fired. Back to the unemployment office. Yes this exists in the publishing world too.
What are You Willing To Give Up?
Going the traditional publishing route you must ask yourself this question. You have to negotiate. You can’t get everything you want and you can’t let them have everything they want. A newbie, if they get in, has little or no negotiating power. This workplace has become the same way. Used to, a newbie author had to give up A LOT to just get into print, if not nearly everything. Getting a job is the same, but you must be honest with yourself. If you take a cut in pay but are able to get insurance, I would do that. You must decide how much of a pay cut you are willing to take. Realistically you can pretty much bank on a pay cut of some sort. Well, if it get’s food on the table but you have to cut the cable and you live with that by all means go for it!
Do It Yourself
I am the kind of person when no one will work with me or after I have had enough I’ll do it myself. Many talented authors who got tired of being turned away when they publish their books did it themselves and revolutionized the publishing industry. Could people do this to the workplace? Our great grandparents were self sufficient, so maybe we need to go back to that. If no one needs me then I’ll become an entrepreneur. That is the workplace equivalent to the indie author. You can do small things, no one says you have to have a big business or own a building–work from home. You can use your personal lawn mower to cut your neighbors’ grass while they’re at work for some money. Sell baked goods and use your kitchen…use your imagination. There is a skill to put to good use. Do it! That’s what I have done and it’s more rewarding than being at the mercy of this crappy labor market.
Not all employers are bad, and that’s not what this is about, but there are some that are just like everything. I know of some good employers, but most of them are other entrepreneurs and small businesses