“Sir! Could I have a word with you please?”
Ben Wilson was not the type of man to take risks. Occasionally he would cross the street after the “Don’t Walk” symbol had started flashing red, but most days not. Now he found himself walking into a major publishing house editor’s office without an invitation. He had reached his breaking point.
Shelly Lance, the receptionist, rushed in the door behind him. “I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Withers. He has no appointment, but he just pushed past my desk.”
Mr. Withers remained calm. Dispatching unaccomplished and desperate folks like Ben was part of his job. It was nothing personal. He could not afford to get personal about it–ever.
“Well. Never mind that, Ms. Lance,” he said. “I will be happy to speak with Mr. ... I’m sorry. I am afraid I did not catch your name.”
“It’s Wilson. Ben Wilson,” the young man answered.
Ms. Lance quietly exited and closed the door. This was something she did not care to see again.
“Mr. Ben Wilson! I certainly know that name. It comes through the office at least once a month. I believe the postman knows the route from here to your home quite well,” Withers said. He knew this would goad Ben a little, since the rejection letters were mailed at Ben’s expense in his own self-addressed, stamped envelopes.
“About those letters, sir … every one of them is a form letter. I carefully follow all your submission guidelines. The least you could do is provide an explanation when my work is rejected.” Ben was out of his league. He was stepping out into the crosswalk in front of Mr. Withers’ Cadillac and the light was about to turn green.
Withers always enjoyed this kind of thing. Sometimes it was more fun to draw it out, sometimes cut it short. At present, he kept his options open and said, “Ah. So that’s it. You don’t mind that we reject your work. You just want some feedback. Is that it, Wilson?”
Ben did not like the way Mr. Withers was twisting the conversation, but he had risked too much to blow his chance for an answer now. “Yes, sir. That is, I do mind, but I would like an answer. You said you were familiar with my name, but what about my work? I would like to know what you think about it.”
When Withers saw that Ben was willing to sacrifice his pride to get an answer, he decide to cut this one short, saying, “Very well, Mr. Wilson. You have been honest with me, so I will be honest with you. We all know your name in the office, because your submissions are something of a joke to us. Here is my critique of your writing. It has a refreshing quality to it–comic relief you might call it. Have you considered a career in comedy? In your case, it would be more lucrative than a writing career. You are unaccomplished, unimaginative and unskilled as a writer. In short, your work will never make it past the first floor of our organization to the publisher’s desk. That is my opinion. Good day, Mr. Wilson.”
Ben was picturing people standing around a water cooler mocking his work as he said, “I see. You’ve made yourself clear enough, though you might have stopped short of insulting me.”
As Ben collected himself and his things, the side door to Withers' office opened and someone he had not expected to see walked in the door. It was Chris Templeton, his old college roommate.
“Sorry, Withers,” Chris started, “I should have knocked … Ben? Is that you?”
“Chris! What are you doing here?”
His question reminded Withers of Ben’s unimaginative writing style.
Chris rushed to embrace Ben and answered, “My dad is the publisher here and I meet daily with Mr. Withers to discuss new talent. I never imagined he’d discover you today! Why don’t you come up with me to meet my Dad? He’s heard so many story about you, I’m sure he’d love to read some stories written by you. Withers, let’s reschedule for tomorrow.”
As Ben followed Chris out the door on his way upstairs, he turned to Mr. Withers and said, “I suppose you were right, sir. I never could have made it upstairs on my own merit. All I needed was a relationship with the son to gain an audience with the father.”
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