Over the last couple of weeks I've been looking for a job in the Phoenix area. It's really the first time I've been seriously looking for a job in about 13 years. It occurs to me there are a lot of similarities between job hunting and trying to get a book published.
The first thing that struck me is that employers have a lot of hoops you have to jump through just as agents and publishers make you jump through hoops. Some of the hoops now are even pretty similar.
When I was applying for jobs 13 years ago you mostly emailed or uploaded resumes. But now that's not good enough for employers. No, no, no. Instead now you have to go and "create an account" with their site. During that creating an account you'll probably end up loading your resume and then just for fun rehashing a lot of the same information on it in different little boxes. Now the stupid thing is you'll probably never have call to go back to this site again. So you might as well make your password "oovdisjoifewfjewoerlkdfvmoefijw" because who's going to give a shit? Mostly it just takes up a lot of your time, but hell you're unemployed, so you got lots of time to waste, right?
Publishers and agents to my knowledge don't make you go through that much hassle--as far as I know--but they still think you have lots and lots of free time. Every publisher and agent will have their own twists on the submission process. Some will want just a query and others will want a query and maybe an outline or maybe a query and pages. So on and so forth. And since it can sometimes be difficult to even find the submission guidelines, you can end up spending a lot of time getting together what they want.
Whether you're looking for a job or trying to publish a book, there's always a song-and-dance number you're expected to go through in the process. This song-and-dance number usually requires some exaggerating, if not outright lying involved. With job hunting it's first the resume, which you might have to pad a little, which is really just the warm-up for the main event: the interview. That's when they expect you to go in there, smile, act polite, and then feed them a bunch of bullshit canned answers to fit onto their little form. Most of it you know is a lie and they probably know is a lie, but no one really cares.
With publishing, the song-and-dance is the query letter. There you're not probably lying, although it might help if you lie and make up some blurbs from Stephen King or JK Rowling. But let's face it, the query is largely a bunch of canned bullshit that is supposed to represent your book in the way the interview is supposed to represent you as a potential employee. And in both cases, it's not really an accurate representation.
Both job hunting and publishing can sometimes be cruel and make you think you're making progress when you're not. Who hasn't had an interview they felt they've nailed only to realize later they haven't? Temp agencies are especially guilty of poisoning your soul with hope. In 2001 I went through this a lot. They pull you in there, tell you about all these great jobs they have, make you go through filling out applications, W-4s, and direct deposit forms like you've already got a job. And then...you never hear from them again!
In publishing they poison your soul with the request. Sometimes it's a partial request for your manuscript and other times it's the full request. Either way you think, "Wow, they must have really liked it to request pages! I'm in for sure!" And then...you never hear from them again! Or you get a form rejection letter. The best case (besides being published) is they tell you why they didn't like it and maybe provide some tips for revision. Either way, you're thinking you're so close only to have the rug pulled out from under you. Wah-wah-waaaaaaah.
Probably the most important similarity is that whether you're looking for a job or trying to get your book published, they will quickly disabuse you of the notion you're special. Like for instance you've got 16 years of accounting experience and they say, "Oh, that's great, but you don't know Quickbooks? Then fuck you." In the same way publishers/agents will say, "Oh, you spent 16 years writing this book? Meh. Fuck you. We'd rather publish Kim Kardashian's cookbook."
That's certainly deflating to your ego, which can get you in a funk pretty quick. The thing is, with publishing you can always just say, "Fuck this" and put the book in a drawer. It's a lot harder to do that with a job, though you hear of all these people who have "given up" on searching for a job since the recession in 2008. It's not a luxury I can afford, I know that much.
The bottom line is both looking for a job and trying to publish a book are time-consuming hassles that require a lot of fortitude and patience.