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Yes comes right away, No never comes
“Yes comes right away, No never comes”, is a phrase I learned from Gretchen Rubin. I’m a believer in her “four tendencies” and reading her books has helped me understand myself (I’m an obliger, btw).
But yes comes right away, no never comes has completely changed my attitude to lots of endeavours. Most of my work is freelance, so I’m sending off pitches all the time. And it is absolutely true. An editor who responds within an hour is saying YES. If you never get a reply, they’re not interested.
There are some editors who offer a same-day “no” service, which I appreciate, because at least then I can send it elsewhere. And this is a regular part of freelance writing: sending pitches to multiple places before they get picked up. This guy is joking but not really:
Responding to the no is also part of the challenge. Dan Kois, an editor I wrote a few pieces for at Slate, changed my freelancing life (though he wouldn’t realise it). I read an interview with him, years ago, in which the topic came up of men getting more bylines than women. He said from an editor’s perspective he saw a clear split. If he turned down a man’s pitch, the writer was back the next week with another. If he turned down a woman, he never heard from her again. Reading that was like a light going on for me, because I recognised my own behavior. I would be stung by a rejection and slink off somewhere, too embarrassed to contact that magazine again. But after reading Kois’ comments, I changed my approach entirely. I kept pitching, to the same places that turned me down, and started getting pieces accepted by them.
There’s also a M/F split I’ve noticed with editors: female editors are more likely to ghost (no never comes). Having been in their position, I don’t blame them: sending out a “no” to writers only invites pushback, as the writer tries to argue in emails back and forth that their piece is in fact perfect and the editor is wrong (this, children, is not a good technique, but you would be surprised how many try it). A woman saying no is doubly likely to get writers trying to do this. Just ignoring the pitch is easier.
My experiences in academia also shaped my response to “yes comes right away, no never comes”. Because although no never comes, yes doesn’t come right away either. It’s so hard when you’re starting out, and applying for jobs or grants, because everything in the academic world takes forever. It’s a challenge to accept the advice to never contact the search committee. They haven’t lost your details. They will call you if they want you. But it’s common for job searches to take months. And you want to know, so, so badly.
Plus your Uncle Kevin has told you that you really need to show you’re keen, so why not call them? Restate your interest. (Firm handshake, good eye contact, back in my day….).
This does not help, in fact comes off as pushy and desperate (I’m actually not aware of any industry in which this kind of pestering helps, but it’s a widely-held belief, so surely it must have worked for someone, at some point). I did not appreciate how pushy and desperate it is until I was on the other side of it, and getting emails (actually red flagged as URGENT, I kid you not) from someone demanding I give them a job.
No has never come for me on jobs I applied for more than 5 years ago (those HR sites that invite me to “check my status” still say I’m “under consideration”). I also regularly receive rejections for jobs I’d completely forgotten applying to. The no has come, but the sender has evaporated from my mind, so it is meaningless. It is not even a rejection at that point.
The idea of “ghosting” in social settings has become a theme of recent years too: friends who just drop you with no explanation. Letters pages are full of queries like this one:
People are being ghosted by their friends and want to know what they did wrong, and how to fix it. It seems like it’s obviously a more common problem now than it was 30 years ago. My theory is that older generations simply accepted the likelihood (indeed inevitability in some cases) of losing touch when people moved away, while simultaneously it was harder to “ghost” someone, as most people would find it hard to avoid friends they knew through through work/church/community.
Now many of us have friends we mostly see digitally (even if they are close by), and it’s easier to just close that off. But we also have the ability (for better and worse) to keep in touch with people from different phases of our lives, in different parts of the world, in a way earlier generations didn’t. Some friendships linger on probably past their natural lifespan. Yet we don’t have a script for ending a platonic friendship the way we do romantic relationships. Having the “it’s not you, it’s me” conversation with a friend would seem weird and stressful. I can understand why people just stop the email chain and leave the group chat.
I value the friendships I keep, and I’ve been the ghostee a couple of times. I don’t know precisely what I did to piss them off (if anything), but I decided to just leave it, rather than chase answers. The friends who want to see me are sending me emails and texts and suggesting coffee dates.
These Yes-es are in my inbox.
No never comes.