But I know a lot of people don't. And I admit that sometimes I'm one of them. Being around real live earth-persons makes me feel like a million bucks - it's the biggest thrill, honestly - but email and Twitter and Facebook and blogging easily reduce me to tears. I know I'm not alone in that. "Why do we have to do this social media garbage?" cries that reliable wailing and gnashing of teeth. "This has NOTHING to do with the quality of my writing, but agents keep saying they won't even consider me if I don't do it!"
This is an almost perfect echo of what I hear in my day job (well, night job), doing test prep classes for high school students. "Why do I have to take the SAT?" the little darlings keen in frustration. "This has NOTHING to do with how much I know, but colleges won't even consider me if I don't do it!"
And you know, I think these two mournful choruses really share the same origin. A hundred years ago, the SAT and ACT didn't exist, and social media was in its dots-and-dashes infancy. (Though Face-book was not unknown.) You got your book out to the world the good old-fashioned way: by sending your manuscript to a publisher. And as for getting into college - well, what could be easier than sitting your Greek and Latin exams, producing your certificate of good moral character, and waiting for your acceptance letter?
Sounds like a simpler, friendlier time, doesn't it?
Well, here is a question: did you ever see Charlie Brown's All-Stars? It's a Peanuts special from the '60s, and the short story is this: Charlie Brown has the chance to get his baseball team real uniforms, and entry into a real league, and (naturally) jumps at the chance - until he's told that the league doesn't allow girls or dogs. If he wants his team to go pro, he's going to have to ditch some of his teammates.
|Who don't always appreciate his managerial style.|
And when there are 50,000 people applying for 1,000 places, you do have some extra work to do in whittling them down. It's not enough anymore to just toss out the ones with rotten grades or lousy spelling. That still leaves 20,000 solid competitors. So you have to start looking at other things. Throw out everyone who doesn't do extracurriculars. Then put in a standardized test, and axe everyone who fails it. What does that leave, 5,000? Okay, new rule: we want to see volunteer work. Tell them to start clothing the hungry and feeding the naked and neutering shelter-puppies on the weekends, or they're out. And if too many students start making it through all those hoops, I promise you that they will invent a new one, or make the existing ones even smaller.
Which isn't to say that the hoops are all completely arbitrary. For example, a successful writer is going to have to be able to sell themselves and their book - so it's reasonable to see whether and how they've made a start on that.
"So, Tex," you may now resentfully sigh, "you're saying that the New World Order is good and right and just, and Twitter is the price we pay for diversity and freedom."
Not at ALL, my hypothetical friend - not at all, and I will tell you why. But let me pause here for the moment, and resume on Wednesday.
In the meantime, here is a question: for those of you with skin in either game (publishing or college admissions), what do you reckon we could do to level the playing field? How can we more fairly assess the applicants - or should we quit squabbling over who gets a piece and focus instead on enlarging the pie?
So they have one man on first, but if they think they can beat us, they'd better try.
I hate it when they try.