Apparently, as an author, I have an obligation to society to be a creative writing instructor and agent at large for anyone who has written a book. Here's an excerpt from an email I got today:
[…]I haven't been able to get my novel published. Several notable editors and agents who have seen it were, in their rejections, very complimentary about the writing quality, the plot, etc., etc. Maybe this was just professional courtesy, though it felt authentic. I think they just didn't see massive commercial potential, or a referral from a big name.
I do think it's a good book and should be published. And I wonder what you think.
XYZ is an off-off-beat detective novel. That is, I think it's off-beat in unusual ways, and "on beat" as well. I hope you'll read it, send me your thoughts on it and, if you really love it or greatly respect it, volunteer an effective connection that could get it published or filmed.
The manuscript of the novel is attached.
Keep in mind, this lady is a complete stranger. Here's how I replied:
Thank you for your note and your kind words. I'm afraid I just don't have time to read your book and give you comments. I have a novel due on Nov. 1, and I just signed a 12-book deal with Amazon that requires me to deliver a book-a-month. Yes, you read right, a book-a-month. I also do not feel comfortable reading books-in-progress by people who a) aren't close friends or family or b) students of mine in a class, so I have deleted your manuscript unread. I hope you understand.
It's not a book in progress. It's complete.
So I wrote her back:
Yes, I understand that. What I mean is, it's not a galley of a book that's about to be published. It's an unsold manuscript…and you want a critique, which I don't have the time to do. Nor is it my practice to read unpublished manuscripts sent to me by strangers.
Again, she still didn't get it. She replied:
That's not really what I was after. I don't need a critique. But never mind. Thanks anyway.
No, that's exactly what she was after. In fact, she wanted that and more. She wanted me to stop what I am doing to read a book from a total stranger, evaluate it, and then pass it along to all the contacts I've made in publishing and film.
I've certainly done that before…the difference is, it's been for family, friends, or students of mine. People that I know, that I have a relationship with, personally or professionally. But who is this woman to me? Nobody.
It just astonishes me how incredibly presumptuous some people can be.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have a manuscript to send to Stephen King that I'd like him read, give me his opinion on, and then send to his editor and his contacts at Dreamworks. We've never met, but that doesn't matter. He owes me. I've read some of his books.
11 thoughts on “The Mail I Get”
Ouch! I can sense your frustration just by reading this. You handled it professionally and better than most. As a writer who is trying to get published myself, I cringe when I read stories like this because it makes it harder for those of us who try to do things the right way.
I think after your readers read this post though, you might not have this as an issue anymore!
Congrats on your book deal!
I could only smile as I read this. My response to such queries is that I’ll happily read a manuscript–for $50/page, payment due in advance. What else does a writer have to do all day?
My god, all you’re doing is writing a BLOG. She’s writing a NOVEL. Priorities, Lee. 😉
Very well handled! Repeatedly sensitive to her feelings without becoming annoyed, keeping the smile on your face and in your voice.
The presumputous attitude might have been born from a gnawing kind of desperation that is breaking out into behavior. Feeling desperate is a terrible state to be in. It might be a compliment that this author is turning to you! Maybe you come across to her as a person who can cure desperation!
At the university, we have some squirrels that hunt for food all day long in a grassy quad. I carry a bag of peanuts in my knapsack and feed one or two for a few minutes who have gotten to know me. It puts a smile on my face, and others who see me are judging me more benignly, I think. The theory is that the universe sort of gives to us what we give out, so maybe one of my long-lost relatives will bequeth a peanut farm to me one of these days!
Why are you obsessing over this? Is this to show us how revered you are in the publishing world? Throw it in the trash and move on.
I’d say, “Welcome to the Internet”, but I think you get it already…
Of course, is this any different than the waiter in LA trying to slip a copy of his script to a Hollywood producer along with his lunchtime soup and salad? When successful people put their contact information out there for the world, such is the result. Hell, I’m not successful by ANY means, but I’ve gotten a fair number of “Hi, would you be willing to read and review my book” e-mails over the past year. I always reply that I’ll put it in the queue, but there aren’t any promises. Most everyone has been cool with it so far, and I know that’s the point you’re trying to make – not that she wrote you, but more that she didn’t get what you were aiming at with your reply.
And truth be told, and not in her defense, you come across as a very welcoming person who is clearly supportive of new talent and by no means a “literary gatekeeper”. Such e-mails are the price you pay for appearing to be a nice, welcoming person!
I was put in mind of Josh Olson’s less polite approach in his article called “I Will Not Read Your F***ing Script”. (Seussified adaptation located here: http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2009/09/harlan_ellisons.php)
Hey Lee it could be worse. At least she didn’t tell you she had a great idea she’d be willing to “let” you use for your next book if you share the advance.
The “idea givers” are a personal fave.
I get those all the time, too.
Heck, I have a cousin who produces television shows but I would not send him anything. Mainly because I have not seen him in 30 years and we did not get along anyway.
Double heck, I just looked that cousin up on IMDB and I’ve never watched a episode of any of the shows he produced. I feel a little guilty now because my mother is always telling me when the shows are on.