Tuesday, October 25, 2011

don't shoot the acquisitions editor: a traveler's guide to rejection

When traveling in places like India and Nepal, you are quickly and quite against your will forced into the role of a Rejector (unless you want to come home with six dozen sarees, an altar's worth of Ganesh figurines, three or four dubious musical instruments and a pound of hashish). This gave INTERN new sympathy for the Rejectors in publishing, whose experience, INTERN imagines, must be something similar...

Imagine yourself in a crowded marketplace where you are shopping for shoes. Spread out before you are dozens of stalls where local cobblers are hard at work, surrounded by heaps of colorful shoes in all different sizes and styles.

"Oh man!" you think to yourself, your heart tingling with anticipation. "This is going to be the BEST DAY!"

You LOVE shoes. Nothing makes you happier than finding the perfect pair. You take shoe shopping so seriously it's practically your job. You stride towards the first stall, drawn at once towards towards a leather sandal in a style you haven't seen before.

Noting your interest, the cobbler immediately begins pitching his ware.

"This is the most beautiful sandal!" he sings. "Made with the finest leather! Ostrich leather, extremely rare!"

You turn the sandals over in your hands, inspecting the workmanship. You're a little dubious about the cobbler's claim about ostrich leather, but the leather is quite lovely. As you run your fingers over the stitchwork, the cobbler continues his stream of talk.

"You are most beautiful lady!" he says. "I give you good price! Unbelievable price! You try them on, beautiful lady!"

Charmed in spite of yourself by the cobbler's flattery, you sit down on the low wooden stool and slip the sandals on. Or rather, you try to slip them on. It turns out they're two sizes too small.

Giving the cobbler an apologetic smile, you put the sandals back on the pile.

"Too small," you say.

"Too small?" he says. "OK beautiful lady. Come again tomorrow, I'll have sandals two sizes bigger ready for you."

"That's OK," you say.

"You come back tomorrow! I work all night to make bigger size for you! I won't sleep until they are ready! Beautiful lady!"

"Really, I don't think I want—"

"Beautiful lady!"

You scurry off and try to melt into the crowd before he can make any more promises for things you didn't even ask for.


At the next stall, an irate cobbler chases you all the way down the block waving a pair of dilapidated plastic Dora the Explorer thongs in your face, despite your repeated shouts that you are NOT in the market for children's shoes.

At the next stall, you spot a pair of heart-stopping red stilettos. But they're just too similar to a pair you bought last month, and there's only so much room in your closet. You force yourself to put them back on the shelf, giving the cobbler your highest compliments.

At the next stall, you find some amazing clogs carved out of local wood. The cobbler is a genius, a craftsman of the highest order. But when you call up Harry at your personal Shoe Approval Panel to tell him all about them, he cuts you off mid-gush. "You've already blown the budget on clogs this season," he snaps. "You're supposed to be looking for running shoes with decent arch support."

At the next stall, you try on a pair of alpaca boots decorated with sea shells. Harry at the Shoe Approval Panel gives you the go-ahead to make an offer, but just when you're laying your rupees on the table, a rich New Yorker appears out of nowhere and throws down a stack of hundred dollars bills. The cobbler's eyes bulge out of his head. You frantically dial Harry. "I need more money! This New Yorker's trying to steal my sea shell boots!"

You appeal to the cobbler. "I can't offer you more money, but I really CARE about these boots. I'll wear them every day!" But the cobbler is already bagging up the boots. The rich New Yorker sniggers at you and swaggers away, boots in hand. Your sense of loss and disappointment is so acute you start to cry right there in the marketplace. The cobbler looks away in embarrassment. You slink off for a restorative cup of chai.

Once you've pulled yourself together, you head back into the marketplace to look at more shoes.

At one stall, you really hit it off with the cobbler, who is smart and friendly and gives you a fascinating history of shoe-making while you're browsing. You really WANT to buy shoes from this person. You could see yourself becoming good friends, and visiting her in her workshop, and making her shoes famous all over the world. But when it comes right down to it, you're just not a platform heels kind of person. They make you look ridiculous. You make THEM look ridiculous. And doesn't this extremely talented cobbler deserve to sell her shoes to a person who can do them justice?

The next few stalls contain shoes that are fake versions of brand-name shoes, shoes that are hopelessly overpriced, and shoes that look neat but just don't fit your feet. You chat with dozens of cobblers, most of them delightful people who are devoted to their craft. Every time you walk away from such a cobbler without buying anything, you feel a little twinge of guilt—but what are you supposed to do? If the shoe doesn't fit, it doesn't fit. And if you bought shoes from every cobbler who came along, you'd end up with a closet full of shoes you never wear.


By the end of the day, you've "rejected" countless pairs of shoes. It feels like half the cobblers in the marketplace are mad at you. Even the monkeys swinging in the treetops bare their teeth and hiss when you walk by. You try to remember where you saw that pharmacy. You could use some tylenol. And possibly a Valium.

Why do cobblers need to take everything so personally? If you were an octopus hat vendor and you went around to the cobblers' stalls trying to sell them octopus hats, most of them would almost certainly reject you. Nobody OWES it to you to buy an octopus hat, no matter how frustrated you feel.

You start to fantasize about becoming an octopus hat vendor, just to show all those cobblers what it's like to have to turn someone down.

"Beautiful octopus hat!" you would say, slapping the octopus onto their heads. "Made with finest tentacles!"

You wonder if you are becoming delirious.

You wonder if you have malaria.

You hail an autorickshaw and head back to your room for a nap.

The next morning, you head to another shoe market, where another crowd of cobblers are waiting to woo, frustrate, and enchant you with their infinite piles of shoes...


  1. Haha, great analogy. I've been to a few markets like this so definitely get the feel of the atmosphere.

    I enjoy the haggling the most. Even if its actually a ripoff, I THINK I'm an expert negotiator. Welcome back.

  2. Ah, yes. This reminds me of Dubai...

  3. Such a brilliant analogy. It almost makes rejections easier.

  4. Fabulous! This. Is. Acquisitions.

  5. Ha, definitely relate to this from backpacking in SE Asia and Central America.. just makes me combative and ready to pretend like I don't speak English.

  6. More writers need to understand this analogy before creating and promoting octopus hats that become mountains blocking the path to SHOES!

  7. But....but....it's a really great octopus hat. It looks fetching on you.

    Wait, where are you going? Come baaaaack, beautiful lady!

  8. I sympathize with the shoe shopping. My ex-wife, while having many good points, secretly holds the belief that Heaven is a giant Nine West store with tireless clerks and no other customers.

    Keep searching. Perhaps the next market will be the legendary Shoe Shangri-La.

  9. Okay. I can see their side of it. But rejection still hurts.