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