is more smoke and a longer hose.

It’s aggravating when you receive a letter that pretends to be personal, but you know is just a form letter, with all the appropriate boxes ticked. A form letter has “Dear sir/ ma’am” – despite having your name written just above the salutation. The company has gone to no effort to personalise the letter; you aren’t impressed but you know where you stand. They waste paper to try to get money from you.

But when a letter has your name and other references within the text, you know that it’s most likely to be a mail-merge document, but at least they’re making an effort. Until you get a letter such as the one I just received. I have two bachelor’s degrees, qualifications in writing and editing, wide work experience… About a year ago the results from a survey of employers, asking questions about the kind of employee in greatest demand, indicated that corporate head-hunters would consider me among the most succulent. But if so, why has it been so difficult for me to find permanent work? (I have my own theories.) But I digress.

The letter I received said this (names changed to protect various of the players):

Dear Troy,

Just a short note to thank you for successfully completing your assignment at Shire of Iron Knob.

Michaela Chasuble has expressed appreciation for the results you achieved. This is a very positive reflection of your ability and dedication to your work.

Well done. We will continue our search for further assignments on your behalf. Please ensure you keep us regularly informed of your availability.

Yours sincerely,
Ilanka Voreshkin
Recruitment Consultant

An encouraging, positive testimonial; one to put in your resume. And I would do so except for this issue: I had been hired while Michaela Chasuble was on holiday, and my contract was extended because she quit, also while on holiday. I have never met her and I doubt she knows anything about my work (or “results”) at Iron Knob: once she quit there was no reason for her to return to the Shire offices and thus to learn about my work. Finally, any authority to provide a testimonial she may have had while working there was removed when she quit.

I received another letter today: a rejection letter from William B. Eerdmans Publishing but it gave me more cheer than the one just mentioned.

About six to eight weeks ago I sent a couple of manuscript proposals to them; one on epistemology and Christianity, the other on common mistaken beliefs people have about what the Bible teaches – like the serpent in the Garden of Eden was a snake or “Jesus” is the combination of letters at which the whole world will bow or that followers of the devil will be marked with barcodes or biochips.

The rejection letter actually was a letter: a bona fide snail-mail production. Good quality paper, too. The part that impressed me was the latter part of this section:

We are grateful for your consideration, but I am afraid that in our very full program we do not see a niche for either of these books, and that we must therefore disappoint you.

I doubt anyone there experienced gratitude; it is stretching credulity to believe that the lady in question was afraid. What was particularly apropos was the statement that “we must therefore disappoint you.” I think the aspect of it that catches me is the recognition that their rejection would be disappointing. It is of course, but I think this is the first time that a publisher has attempted to put themselves in my position and to acknowledge it.

I suppose I could feel insulted that they would so dare to presume they knew my feelings but this outrage would be that of a cad and poseur (not that such reasons have stopped me before). Naturally a writer feels disappointment that both proposals have been rejected – again.

Sure the letter was mostly a form – given the enormous volume of proposals large publishers receive (only 1% of proposals are published) it would have to be – but at least it did have those personal touches.

Although Eerdmans should use laser rather than ink-jet printers for their letters: the text in the second fold of the three (three to fit an A4 sheet in the envelope) was reflected in the third fold at the base.

My experience of 2008, condensed into two letters.