Back in the spring of 1984, I sent out a mile-high stack of résumés, scattershot applications intended to change a job situation...

Share story

Back in the spring of 1984, I sent out a mile-high stack of résumés, scattershot applications intended to change a job situation that had turned stagnant.

After landing in a new location, I received a forwarded letter from a now-defunct, second-rate Southwest newspaper. It had received more applications than expected for the job — about 50 — but was happy to inform me I was in the Top 40.

I kept this letter for years, waving it around as dumb and wasteful correspondence. If the newspaper had forgone this particular mailing, it might have stayed in business another 10 minutes.

It turns out those were the good old days. Sending out job queries today resembles a video game, and not just because it’s a graphically thrilling experience best enjoyed sitting in front of a wide color screen. It’s like shooting a missile into some lost universe.

Maybe there is a difference. When you play a video game, there is some indication that you hit the target or didn’t.

The situation has caused me to modify one of the rules of freelancing, which I’ve honored since typewriter days.

When trying to sell a story, the accepted process is to make a list of five appropriate publications and query them in order. This allows you to shape the query, using the reasons for one rejection to make it more appealing to the next.

Sending out a single query also is just good form. It was once true that querying several publications without letting them know it was a multiple effort was a sin just shy of cheating on your spouse.

Things have changed. I am trying to sell a review to a concert next month and have sent out five simultaneous queries to different publications. I made each think it’s the only one; to let on otherwise is to completely ruin chances of a response.

What will I do with two replies? Who knows? These days, getting just a single courteous reply seems out of the possible realm.

While you should always carry your own moral beacon, it is sometimes impossible to avoid defining your own behavior by the actions of others. If publications are consistently rude by ignoring pitches, then sending out multiple queries is a small sin indeed.

Now, let’s turn it around. I get several product pitches each week from well-intentioned PR people who believe their client is worth a mention. I can’t remember ever writing back and thanking them for their efforts with a polite “no thank you.”

So I guess I’m as rude as anybody else and have no right to complain.

The basic solution is the old rule: Treat your correspondents the same way you want to be treated. Since that action’s success is a crapshoot, it’s best to develop a strategy for the inevitable time when your own messages are ignored.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at