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The Column icon The Column: Issue 1

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The Column is a monthly feature that follows the lives of creative people and explores the world of creativity. We kick off The Column with a tale of hope and uncertainty.

How Good Am I?
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

The envelope

Picture this: the publisher sits at a desk that's surrounded by four walls. Well not actually walls, they're room dividers but still, the 'walls' are a nice cherry oak veneer and afford the publisher a little more privacy than the jobbing editors and writers as they survive their daily existence in an open plan office. It's a large publishing house that takes up the entire second floor of a city tower. Imagine I'm one of those chosen few with the cherry wood veneered partitions...

A large grey envelope with heavily creased corners is passed to me. I look quizzically at the messenger who shrugs their shoulders. I place the envelope on my crowded desk then return to the proposal I'm writing. The envelope rests after, what must have been by the tired state of it, a journey of several thousand miles.

For an hour I keep myself busy with other matters at hand. A glass of water arrives on the desk and after I take a few swigs, my hand blindly places the glass down upon the envelope. The round ring at the base of the glass darkens and spreads a pencil width before my eyes drift across the neatly capitalised letters of the address line. I lift the glass and put it to one side before finally succumbing to my curiosity.

The slush pile

In common with most publishers, AbleStable® receives a regular stream of unsolicited CVs and original materials through its' door. In the publishing industry this kind of marketing is refereed to as the 'slush pile'. This disparaging name tells you a lot about the attitude publishers and editors have of this ragbag collection of works and proposals.

The vast majority of unsolicited self-promotional materials carry easily correctable errors. These only confirm to the publisher that little care has been taken in presenting the material, and often, how next to no effort has been made in seeking out the best person to view it. Any shortfalls and out they go.

It maybe that once in a while when an assistant editor has a spare minute or, more likely, needs a little distraction from the daily grind, their attention momentarily fixes upon an envelope at the top of the pile. Perhaps they need to fill a certain spot and fast, and by chance that mountain of unexposed work has an example of exactly what they need. Unlikely, but it occasionally happens.

For most publishers, including the Internet publisher, the odds however of a successful pitch in this way are slim. I'd estimate around one in two hundred approaches ends up being considered at all. Despite the occasional nugget of gold in that slush pile, the mound of unseen envelopes grows ever higher until one day someone ruthless throws out the lot and the whole sad process starts over. The truth is that almost all material that's sent to companies in this way, good and bad, will never see the light of day.

Closing the circle

I recently received a crumpled envelope like that I spoke of earlier. Inside the envelope were around eight original illustrations. A small yellow Post-It sticker had been placed over the top of a self portrait in pastels. Pencilled on the Post-It in hesitant writing were the words 'Am I any good?'.

Who am I to judge whether someone should be encouraged or disheartened? A few unwise comments in that circumstance might have changed the course of a life. I felt humbled and touched by his words that seemed at that moment to represented the need for recognition we all feel. Creativity is our life blood, it is our future hope. How good a creative work is viewed as is largely a result of the context that work is experienced in.

I wrote back. Now I come to think of it I wrote much the same as someone wrote to me ten years ago. Do what you have to do as often as you can... I don't know if my letter was well received or even read for that matter. Perhaps in tens years from now he'll be closing the circle once again and writing that same letter from an office warm with cherry wood veneer. I wish him well...


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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