Six impossible things

The Hat Lecture

Back in the day, on Usenet, I had a little lecture that I posted periodically, whenever too many folks seemed to be bemoaning the horribleness of the submission process so much that they were losing sight of the actual job of submitting. (Make no mistake; the submission process is horrible and lengthy and depressing, but there really isn’t much that can be done about it – certainly not by writers.)

Recently, I went looking for it in order to link it to a post I was writing, and found, to my surprise, that either I’ve never posted it on the blog, or else I hid it well enough that I couldn’t find it in ten minutes of searching. So for those who haven’t seen it, here is


Because writers are self-employed, they must wear many hats. There’s the Creative Artiste’s black beret, the Accountant’s green eyeshade, the Editor’s fedora, the Publicist’s whatever’s-current-in-headgear, and so on. This can create dangerous fashion difficulties for the novice writer, as many problems can be caused by wearing the wrong hat at the wrong time.

Putting on the Publicist Hat during revisions, for instance (“Baby! Every comma is golden! Let’s do lunch…”), leads to lousy revising (or none at all) and an expanding waistline. Wearing the Accountant Hat when deciding where to send things out is often a bad idea as well (“Let’s see, this will cost $3.27 to mail, plus return postage; if I send it to 100 places, that’ll be over $600! Hey, if I don’t sent it out at all, I can save $600!”) And of course the perils of wearing the Editor Hat during the first draft are well-known.

But possibly the most common fashion error made by beginning writers is to choose the wrong Hat for dealing with submissions and rejections. Many try to wear the Publicist Hat, trying to come up with brilliant new ways of getting their manuscript noticed, like mailing it in a pizza box. How original! (Seriously, don’t bother. I’ve been hearing this one from editors for at least twenty years.) In addition to making editors and mail room guys grumpy (how would you like to be all ready for nice, hot pizza, and then open the box to find nothing but another unsolicited manuscript?), they waste valuable time and money that would be far better spent elsewhere.

Worse yet is putting on the Creative Artiste Hat. The Creative Artiste Hat is for coming up with ideas and doing first drafts, not for mailing stuff off (too boring) or dealing with rejection letters. Faced with a rejection letter (or sometimes even just with the possibility of getting a rejection), the Creative Artiste strikes poses and wails – “It’s over, over, I tell you! I’m through with this writing stuff! I’m going to retire to a monastery in Tibet…Can you get a visa to Tibet for that? Maybe India would be better; I really like Indian food…” Meanwhile, the manuscript sits on the author’s desk, where nothing can happen to it, instead of in an editor’s slush pile, where it will eventually get read and maybe bought.

What the writer needs to wear in order to deal with a rejected manuscript or a stack of query letters is the humble but vital Secretary Hat. Where the Publicist gets sidetracked trying to decide whether neon pink envelopes would be eye-catching enough for the query letters – perhaps they should be edged in bright purple? or green? – the Secretary grabs a stack of plain Number 10 envelopes and starts stuffing and stamping. Where the Creative Artiste moans an wails over the latest rejection, the Secretary merely gives the classic overworked-secretary snarl because the rejection means packaging the thing up again, and in time to make the mail pickup.

The Secretary does not care what is in the manuscript, nor what the rejection letter said. She does not go into a funk because the ms. might not be perfect yet, or into deep depression because it has been rejected for the 500th time. Her job is to type the cover letter, assemble the mailing, and make sure it gets in the mailbox in time for the five o’clock pickup, and she performs this job with efficiency (and only a little eye-rolling over the antics she anticipates from the Creative Artiste later on).

In other words, if it was good enough to send out to your first-choice Publisher A three or six or eight months ago, then it’s good enough to send out to your second-choice Publisher B now that A has rejected it. So send it out again right away, BEFORE you start angsting over the rejection.

  1. Very sensible…

  2. That is all very sensible, but far easier to read about than to do. I am trying to just ignore the entire submission side of the writing business while I work on creating something that I would love to read. I’m hoping that once I manage that, then figuring out how to get and wear a secretary hat will also be something in the realm of the possible.

  3. This is very sensible, and more to the point, a delightful way of thinking about it — and very much what I need to do next. My novel is sitting at a publishers, but I expect to hear back about it eventually, and I need to get going on querying agents again. Secretary hat it is for the next little while.

  4. I love the hat metaphor. I’m pretty good at having different hats for different tasks. Changing hats, however, and changing tasks/focus along with, is trickier. Which is why, while the writing’s been going fairly well lately, the submitting has been… um. Time to shove my head into the Secretary hat for a bit, whether it wants to go or not.

  5. Even freelance artists/self-publishing authors need to remember their hats! (An analogous take to this is at .)

  6. Oh, thank you. I really needed to hear this. After two years and five drafts, I’m finally finished with my mss and now I just can’t work up the nerve to send it to anyone. This was a great pep talk. Bless you.

    (I think Cecy and Kate are wonderful, btw — I wanted you to know. Thank you so much for those lovely books.)

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