Not Interested

I got this email the other day. Here it is, in its entirety:

For anyone interested.

Real grabber, isn’t it? Who could resist clicking the link after a pitch like that? The link takes you to a blog, where Steve Clackson has posted the first few chapters of SAND STORM, his novel-in-progress, for which he is seeking an agent and publisher. I’m not sure what he hopes to gain by sending me the link. A manuscript critique? A referral to my agent or editor? A TV series option? Whatever it is, I’m not interested. But forget about me…what about the others he’s doubtlessly sent this link to?

Does he really think an agent will stumble on his blog and offer to represent him? Or that a publisher will be so enthralled by his prose that they’ll offer him a book contract? Or that a development exec at some studio will read it and beg to buy the movie rights? Sure, some blogs and websites have led to book and movies deals. But it’s exceedingly rare.

My advice to Steve is to take the chapters down. The book clearly needs lots of work before it’s going to be ready to submit to an agent or publisher. And he isn’t doing himself any favors by posting the rough chapters publicly and — cringe — posting a cheesy, home-made "cover" and — big cringe — linking to a "review" of the pages from some blogger.

Where do people get these really, really bad ideas?

UPDATE 5-26-06:  For reactions and discussions prompted by this post, look here, here, here, here, here and here. The consensus, with a couple of exceptions, seems to be that I’m a bully who reacted too harshly (one blogger, David Thayer,  likened this dust-up to "Godzilla vs. Bambi"). Perhaps that’s true… I was certainly in a sour mood last week.

41 thoughts on “Not Interested”

  1. Shame on you for a gratuitously nasty comment about a fellow writer. As to that dismissal of the positive “‘review’ of the pages from some blogger,” at least it is clear Bruce Hoffman took the time to read the book before he wrote his review.

  2. Come on Lynne. You’re kidding right?
    A published author, produced TV writer and all-round writing guru offers the guy some good advice. Gratis!
    You know how many delete buttons will click on that email without opening?

  3. But then again, the self-styled “Wicked Witch” says she liked Mr. Clackson’s work, which calls into question her bona fides as an editor. If she cannot see what’s wrong with Mr. Clackson’s effort, I certainy wouldn’t want her to edit anything of mine.
    I read most of Mr. Clackson’s post, but didn’t read it all. It was an absolute chore. Sand Storm is very poorly written. There is so much wrong with it that a detailed critique would be longer than the fragment presented.
    Published writers have no duty to our “fellow” writers who aspire to publication. Our duty is to our readers.

  4. Umm, Lee, now don’t take this the wrong way…
    But, A, the premise of his novel sounds infinitely more intriguing than anything I’ve ever seen from you.
    And, B, you seem a bit hostile towards the guy. Are you that insulated that you have forgotten what it was like to be young, hungry and desperate? To be willing to do anything to bring your vision to the light?
    The truth is this writer is obviously a hack. But so are you, Lee. Let’s not forget this. You are the undeniable embodiment of true mediocrity, and your hostility reeks of the knee-jerk, vitriolic sentiment of the ultimately replaceable.
    Lighten up.

  5. I partially disagree with Lee’s comment. Though he is right in that it is EXCEEDINGLY rare for publishers and agents to discover novelists in the blogosphere, editors and agents are continuously combing the deepest, darkest recesses to discover talented writers. Mind you we ignore it when talent beats us over the head like Sandstorm does. I posted yesterday about an author who WAS first discovered by posting his WIP on his website, was eventually picked up by a respected independant press, and currently being wooed by publishers, agents, and film studios alike (myself included). But this is by far the exception to the rule. Bottom line, if you’re a good writer, your work will be discovered. Though I agree that Sandstorm’s WIP has quite a long way to go…

  6. Here’s a small – big cringe – clue. A lot of bloggers, ya know, read. Books. The review in question also appeared in newspapers.
    Does the book by Clackson need some work? Of course. It’s not final product. You have the time to be a pain in the booty, but not helpful at all to an unpublished, agentless writer? That’s odd behavior.
    PS Love Monk though it is starting to get a little silly. Didn’t know there were books out. I’ll review your latest though, if you like? Put me down on the back cover as “some blogger.”

  7. It’s prose only James Kosub could love. For example:
    “All eyes were on him as he stooped folding a corner of the carpet back. He picked up a handful of sand rising as he began to speak, a small amount seeped through his fingers onto the luxurious carpet.”
    For starters, he needs to learn about the comma and how to use it (necessary commas are missing throughout his chapters). He could also use a refresher course in verb/tense agreement (picked/rising/speak/seeped??).

  8. I’m an editor at a daily newspaper. I’ve been in the journalism business for thirty years. I can’t think of any newspaper that would review two chapters of a book in progress. I’d be very interested to know exactly which newspapers published your review of an unfinished, unpublished novel.

  9. “You are the undeniable embodiment of true mediocrity.”
    That’s me. It’s reassuring to know I’ve achieved my true potential.
    Yes, I was hungry and desperate once. The fact is, I still am. But I’ve never done anything as ill-considered as posting two chapters of my unfinished work on the Internet. Nor have I solicited strangers with a pitch as lazy, uncreative, and unprofessional his. When I’d like someone to read something of mine, like a script or novel or article proposal, I usually write a short, persuasive cover letter. That’s just common sense. I’d never just write “for anyone interested” and add a link.
    But the email aside, I believe posting his rough chapters on the Internet — coupled with the plea for an agent and publisher, a mock cover, and a link to a blog review — is more harmful to his aspirations than helpful.
    To answer Temple’s comment, I am being helpful. I’m helpfully advising Steve to take his chapters down before he humiliates himself any further.
    It’s one thing to give a very rough work-in-progress to some friends for feedback — it’s another to post it on the web and actively encourage everyone to read it.

  10. Temple,
    I can’t help but notice you didn’t answer the editor’s question. Which newspapers published your review of SAND STORM?
    I’m not in the newspaper business but I can think of lots of reasons a newspaper wouldn’t review two chapters of an unpublished (and, perhaps, never-to-be published) novel. For one thing, it would be pointless. There is no news value whatsoever in the review an unfinished book by an unpublished author that nobody has ever heard of. How does it serve the newspaper’s readers? They can’t buy the book. They can’t read the book. It’s not by a celebrity, politician, or someone else in the news. There is no reason for an editor, much less a reader, to give a damn. There is no angle.
    But I’m eager to know which newspapers thought otherwise and published your review.

  11. I post fiction on my blog from time to time and enjoy the occassional feedback from readers. I read Steve’s excerpt and wonder if your reaction is to his work or his email to you, Lee?

  12. Well for starters as I posted on my blog that here are chapters 1&2 for anyone interested. We do this often at places like as well as others.
    Secondly it is a finished 90,000+ word novel edited by two well known editors.
    Third- Temple as well as other Editors/Book Reviewers have read the whole novel and for the most part quite like it.
    Fourth- I have fulls and partials out right now with both publishers and agents.
    Fifth – the “mock cover” is an actual picture of the USS John C. Stennis Aircraft carrier which does figure fairly prominently in my novel.
    Last it was just a notice that the chapters were up at my site, not a solicitation, but as I mention on my blog it gives some insight as to who you are.

  13. People really need to click links around more before asking the questions. I can’t help but notice a strong dose of suspicion.
    The anonymous editor (is s/he an editor, a name would be nice) tells us what he would do and his experience. I told him what I did. I am a newspaper editor myself at the Eloy Enterprise, a weekly in Arizona. Reviews I do often go in the Casa Grande Dispatch, a daily owned by the same company where I was a reporter for two years.
    I don’t put all the reviews I write for Web sites in the newspapers, but this one I put in because I thought my readers would be interested. I was sent a copy of the entire book by the way not just a couple of chapters, and gave Clackson some advice separate from the review.
    Saying that, I try real hard to read as a reader would, not as a copy editor or a person with an English degree, which I don’t have in any case. Perhaps you can understand why I do it this way? Obviously, it needs to be “sold” to an agent / book publisher before being sold to readers, but I can’t give that POV as I’m neither.
    The value of the review surely is that publishers and agents read newspapers and budding writers read newspapers, on and offline, and can be inspired. And the value is to the author, who, as anonymous editor aptly demonstrated, has a tough time getting noticed.
    The subject matter of Sand Storm was also mind-catching.
    No they can’t buy it, but there is also a thing called Internet publishing, which Clackson may get to instead. Not tony, but tony enough for many. Everyone starts somewhere.
    Your advice, what there was, was lost in the cloud of snide that surrounded it.
    Now, you never addressed the clear contempt in your voice about bloggers. I personally am not offended – I have developed a thick skin in almost 10 years of journalism. And, if I’m not mistaken, you’re “some blogger” to a lot of people who’ve never heard of you but find your blog. That would be me. (And, yes, I do hate that word “blog.” It sounds terrible rolling in and coming out of mouths).
    Have you not seen Clackson’s explanation at his site as to why you received the e-mail by the way? He’d likely e-mail it to you, except he might again get his pinky chopped off.
    As I say at the top of the review, I still do not know Clackson, never met him. He’s sent a few (less than 10) e-mails my way about his book. That’s it. I’m just having a conversation as I was indirectly part of it.
    A pleasure. I look forward to your takedown of Texas Hold ‘Em e-mails. I may do that one myself.
    – Temple

  14. Where do people get these really, really bad ideas?
    Just to answer this question generally (as opposed to specifically in this case), people tend to get really, really bad ideas from other people with really, really bad ideas.
    For whatever reason, those ideas seem to spread a lot faster in writer’s circles. I’m not sure why.

  15. The main problem Clackson has is that he’s just not a very good writer. Goldberg might be a dick for pointing out Clackson’s internet foibles, but no one with an ounce of taste can look at Clackson’s writing and deem it publishable.

  16. David,
    Both. The misguided solicitation and the poor writing of the sample chapters.
    Good luck with the book. I’m glad you’ve engaged some “well-known editors” to help you. I’m still at a loss to understand why you sent me, or anyone else, that email. Why would I possibly be interested in your work-in-progress?
    You’re obviously implying that I am the anonymous commentors. I’m not shy about expressing my opinions… particularly on my own blog (Or we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place, would we?). When I have something to say, I put my name on it.
    I don’t have contempt for bloggers. As you point out, I’m one myself. You’re missing the point…or simply don’t want to acknowledge it. So I’ll spell it out. Getting a positive review of your unpublished novel from a blogger nobody has heard of (no offense, but a rave from Temple Stark doesn’t carry much, if any, weight) not only isn’t impressive, it makes you look silly and amateurish and desperate. It would be one thing if he had a rave from, say, James Patterson or Lee Child or Barry Eisler or someone else respected in the thriller or publishing field. But Temple Stark?? What does Steve hope to gain from your endorsement? Legitimacy? Sales? What does a review from you mean? Quite frankly, nothing. And the fact that he thinks it does is just one more glaring indication of his naivete and desperation. He might as well post a review from my dentist, while he’s at it.
    There’s nothing wrong with being naive, desperate and eager to sell your work…but it’s certainly not the public image you want to create for yourself.

  17. Here’s an excerpt from Temple Stark’s review:
    “The reader’s curiosity should rise up quickly, as the terrorists develop their plan, to wonder just what the plans are gearing toward.”
    Reading that, no wonder he thought the book was good. He has this to say about you on his blog, Lee:
    “I’m ‘some blogger’ as described by ‘some TV writer’ who’s ripped off the main characters of the Monk series to make money writing Monk novels.”

  18. What the review means to me and why I show it on my sight is that it shows that someone in this case Temple Stark a journalist and well known blogger liked enough of what my sight carries and what the small blurb about my book says to request a copy to review.
    How often does that happen…almost never.
    Then to have him give his review on Blogcritics and in his newspapers and state that overall he liked it and found it interesting and a “stomach clench of a story” well I was very pleased to have someone I had never met take the time and effort to review and then post his review. I don’t know if it hurts or helps but it is rare. From his posting of the review I have had two other Editors/Reviewers read and generally like the book. “Great beach weekend read” and “as a thriller I could do worse than pick this up for a long flight I found it a highly entertaing read”.
    So for a first time author anything I can do to draw attention to my work is worth considering and possibly pursuing.
    Just the blog itself has opened a lot of doors and helped me make numerous contacts in an industry where admittedly I’m a novice.
    I don’t know your background or how you got your start but if you were starting out today with no contacts a complete unknown you may look at this issue differently.

  19. Steve Clackson wrote:
    “What the review means to me and why I show it on my sight is that it shows that someone in this case Temple Stark a journalist and well known blogger liked enough of what my sight carries and what the small blurb about my book says to request a copy to review.”
    He really needs to learn how to use a comma. The sentence structure of his comments are indicative of what is wrong with his book.
    I don’t know that I’d be too pleased if someone called my book (not that I have written one) “a stomach clench of a book.” It sounds like he has food poisoning.

  20. Temple,
    You wrote: “‘I’m ‘some blogger’ as described by ‘some TV writer’ who’s ripped off the main characters of the Monk series to make money writing Monk novels.”
    I haven’t ripped off MONK. I was asked by the creator/executive producer of MONK to write the books and I do so with his input and approval. I write the books under contract with Penguin/Putnam, which licensed the copyrighted characters from NBC/Universal. But you’re correct about one thing: I do make money writing the MONK novels.

  21. Well I have something of a personal nature to add. A couple of years ago I applied for a job at the Eastern Arizona Courier and had a brief dealing with Temple Stark. It was quite strange and ended badly after asking a question of the Great Editor on a Saturday. For asking it by E-mail I was let go from the hiring process.
    My response as a 50-year-old applicant was, “that little punk.”
    To review an unpublished novel this bad is a testament to just how small a pond this kid operates in. Unbelievable.

  22. I’m sure Mr. Clackson meant “site” and not “sight”. We all need editors.
    In any event, there has been much more publicity on this site for Sand Storm than it deserves, even as, like Lee, I wish Mr. Clackson well. But he really does need to learn the craft of writing before committing himself to 90,000 words of clunky prose and expecting it to deserve unwarranted praise.
    I’ve made fun of Lee before for being a hack, witnesseth whereof my parody of IAMTW, PHARTS. I’ve done this because I know Lee and know that he can take the teasing–no professional writer has a thin hide, and Lee can take it and dish it out.
    But to claim that he’s indulging in the “knee-jerk, vitriolic sentiment of the ultimately replaceable” is just plain stupid, and follows Warren’s First Law of Criticism: criticism ultimately says more about the critic than the work being criticized. Name-calling and ad hominem attacks are on point, neither of which Lee himself did in his initial post.
    So how does the First Law justify Lee’s negative remarks? Simple. Lee has the résumé to make judgments with meaning.
    The Man with the Iron-On Badge is obviously the work of an accomplished professional. Sand Storm, while perhaps laudable as a freshman effort, is just as obviously the work of an amateur.
    The question was asked as to how Lee got started as a writer. I know the answer to this question: he started as a writer of really bad “male adventure fiction” (of “The Destroyer” variety, although not as good as Warren Murphy’s stuff) under a pseudonym, and then managed the transition to being a writer of TV. Lee’s the first person to say that those early works were utter dreck–but it cannot be denied that he’s come a long way since then.
    Go back to your word processor, Mr. Clackson, and get a copy of Strunk and White. And don’t take it personally.

  23. I think the one thing everyone is missing is what a terrible writer this Temple fellow is. I just read his book review and one must wonder what newspaper in the world would think his level of critique is publishable?

  24. Although I’ve never had the pleasure of writing for the Casa Grande Dispatch, I have reviewed books for a few other newspapers.
    I can’t imagine why any professional reviewer would bother “reviewing” 2 chapters of an unpublished manuscript, nor can I imagine the editor who would publish such a thing.
    There are so many problems with that scenario that it boggles the mind.

  25. There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism, but this is not constructive criticism. This is public humiliation. You may say Steve Clackson invited it by posting material that needs work, but there was nothing stopping you from e-mailing your advice to him. Considering you started out writing “utter dreck,” it’s not really fair to slam a guy for trying to get published.

  26. If Steve’s work was any good (which it’s not), and if posting it on his blog and inviting people to read it was a brilliant idea (which it wasn’t), Lee pointing us to the chapters wouldn’t be humiliating, would it?
    I read Lee’s post, followed the link, and came to my own conclusions. Lee didn’t humiliate Steve. On the contrary. Steve humiliated himself.

  27. The digressive polemics here obscure the validity of Lee Goldberg’s point: no promotional good is served by posting some poorly written chapters. I would like to add something that constantly astonishes me, which is that the people who post poor work seem utterly unembarrassed by it. I suspect most of them are ignorant of the fundamentals and could not tell good work from bad. They are indeed embarrassing themselves, perhaps fatally if they hope to have a writing career. In 1946, Maxwell Perkins, Ernest Hemingway’s editor, told a group of neophyte editors that Hemingway had rewritten the opening of A Farewell to Arms about fifty times, and Perkins advised the group not to intervene when a writer does that, but to stop the revisions only if a writer has gone too far and the revisions become sterile. How radically this contrasts with the idea that somehow it is good to post some rough-hewn chapters.

  28. This guy didn’t just post it on his blog and wait for someone to come along. If that were the case, it might be rude to speak as Lee did. But Clackson emailed the link. He sought Lee out. He’s asking for feedback, and attention. If he didn’t consider that it might be negative, then he’s not ready for anyone to read his work.

  29. You think that some people who try to write fiction have no idea how bad their work is? The worst and most unashamed scribblers have got be alleged poets.
    When I was publisher and editor-in-chief of a quarterly cultural publication which actually paid its writers, I was snowed under by bad poetry far more than I was by bad prose.
    And one of the worst was my next door neighbour. Imagine the horrors of dodging both her dreadful work and her in-person inquiries.

  30. Excellent Mr. Wheeler. Hemingway sure knew how to do it and you get the idea he didn’t arrive there by accident or for lack of effort. It’s true what you say: these writers are not only unembarassed by their online work they’re clueless about its needs.

  31. “Secondly it is a finished 90,000+ word novel edited by two well known editors.”
    It is finished, but not in the manner Mr. Clackson intended. It would serve others well to post the names of your editors, Mr. Clackson. They did you no good and other writers would do well to avoid them.

  32. Tari, I can only imagine the nightmare you endured, but the point is you did dodge your neighbor. You did not signpost the nation with directions to her home so they could pelt her house with eggs, tempted though you may have been.
    There is nothing wrong with being honest and telling people what you really think, but doing it publicly when you could shoot them a return e-mail is not very nice. That at least is my opinion and I’m not changing it, especially since I’ve sent copies of my work to agents and reviewers all over the map. Don’t expect me to send a review copy to reality TV writing judge Lee ‘Tonne O’Bricks’ Goldberg:
    “It’s crap, you useless scribbler and I intend to tell the world just how worthless you really are. Maybe that’ll teach you, though I sincerely doubt anything could get through that thick, dull skull of yours and infiltrate what little brains you may have.”
    “P.S. Razor blades and a warm bath two doors down to your left!”

  33. Ditto Peter, and Noel the world can indeed be harsh but especially for a self-published book, but a sample chapter of a published book, even badly published one is not the same as posting chapters online a priori. Your numbers are an indication of the future for Clackson.

  34. Noel,
    I didn’t say anything remotely like the comments you posted, nor do your comments reflect the meaning of what I did post. The harshest thing I’ve said about his book is that it needs work, which hardly translates to “it’s crap, you useless scribbler.”
    I’m not an editor, agent or publicist. I’m not someone who offered to read Steve’s work. I’m a writer with a blog who regularly posts the mail I get from readers. Steve sent me an unsolicited link to his publicly-posted work-in-progress precisely because I’m a writer with a blog. He wanted attention. It’s not like I went out looking for a writer doing something stupid and found him. He found me.

  35. Another point worth mentioning here is simply that, with the arrival of the Web, two camps of writers have formed – those who “broke in” to the film/TV/literary industries before the proliferation of writing portals, blogs, etc. and those who didn’t. In the spirit of full-disclosure, I’m in the latter camp.
    Each camp uses the Web differently. Professional writers use it, for the most part, to promote, teach, comment, rant, and vent about their projects/professional experiences. Amateur writers, for the most part, use it to market and distribute their work. There’s obviously an enormous difference between the two. Such a difference that one could argue it’s a legitimate cultural divide.
    Amateur writers use the Web in ways that professional writers might find unprofessional, offensive, and perhaps even career-threatening. But amateur writers see it completely differently. I personally have a writing portal where I post blogs for each project and offer .PDF samples of my work for download. I’ve found it to be a very effective tool in allowing those I network with to be able to access and gauge my capabilities as a writer instantaneously and at their convenience.
    In defense of Mr. Goldberg’s point, the samples I put up on my portal are always of work I feel I can take no further (3rd drafts) and consist of exactly what I would submit to a literary agent, TV/Film agent, editor, or producer (first 50 pages, first acts, etc.). I also never send out one-line emails when I’m trying to market my work, especially to someone who doesn’t know it. I put as much time and effort into writing marketing emails or query letters as I do the projects I’m marketing.
    That said, it’s undeniably a time of change. Because of the Web, all writers have gained a very powerful tool to access the gatekeepers of the entertainment industry. But because of that seemingly omnipotent tool, the fight to break through the White Noise is harder than ever. Writers are forced to come up with innovative ways to distribute and market their work online. Some fail horribly. Some succeed wildly. But, as always, success is a very subjective word. Whoever sent their email to Lee now has an entire post (with both negative and positive comments) that’s being read by a ton of people.
    Regardless of the overall success ratio right now, the public’s expectations of gaining access to stories online is already here – films, TV shows, novels, etc. – which means the writers and the industries that provide those stories will naturally follow.
    As for the cultural divide, who knows? If I could predict that, I’d write a book and adapt into a screenplay, put the first drafts online, then send out email blasts to every agent, editor, and producer in the business. Kidding, kidding.

  36. I’d say putting them online before publication of any kind is a poor way to market work. The best way is send the finished product to the agent list, or directly to publishers who accept it according to instructions. This is one business where things are done the old fashioned way even if e-mail is employed in the process. Books and film are two very different animals as Lee will surely attest to.

  37. I came to this debate via Books, Inq. and I am glad I did. It was (is?) a fascinating, energetic and exciting argument.
    Thanks again.


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