The Mail I Get

There’s something almost as bad as the complete strangers who want you to read their unpublished manuscripts, read their scripts, and listen to their pitches. It’s the people who expect you to be at their beck-and-call for discussion, whether you want to talk with them or not, simply because you are in the public eye. Here’s an example.

I got an email from a stranger on Facebook who wanted to share with me a bad experience she had with a vanity press. She wrote, in part:

My name is X and I had a book published with XYZ. Please tell me more of what you know. Having my story published didn’t feel like a skam. I had to do all the editing, which I knew nothing about. It was a long process only because I was learning as I went along. […] Yes they try to get you to buy alot of thier gimmicks. Afraid I fell for a couple because we want to believe it will help sell our books. Have any good advice for me?

I replied, in part:

My advice is NEVER pay to be published. You are throwing your money away. As far as XYZ goes, they are a vanity press and they prey on the desperation and gullibility of aspiring authors. They will tell you whatever lie you want to hear as long as your credit card is valid

She took issue with that and wrote me another email. Here’s an excerpt:

You made a remark that has really bothered me. It came across as degrading talented authors, saying we were being taken for a ride. That we were desperate and our desperation was making us gullible, really sounding like we are all stupid. I see you have accomplished a great deal with your writing. I am sure a lot of self pub. authors are doing as well. I’m working on that my self with my book. I’ve had great responses and reviews. I was not desperate. I just wanted a fast way to get my book out.

I ignored it because I had nothing more I wanted to say. So, she started nagging me for a response by posting comments on my Facebook wall every few days, like this one:

Still waiting Lee.
Please tell me you’re a nice guy.

So, in other words, by not responding to her email and her constant nagging, I am, by default, not a nice guy. Josh Olson was right in his essay when he says you really can’t win with these people. You are damned if you respond and damned if you don’t. So here is what I wrote:

That last line — “I just wanted a fast way to get my book out” pretty much explains why you got taken by a vanity press. The truth is, that very few self-pub authors are doing well…99.9% of them never even come close to making back their investment. The only ones who make money going to vanity presses are the vanity presses. I’m sorry if you were offended by my remark but the fact is, regardless of how talented you are, you were gullible and naive…and, by your own admission, desperate (“I justed wanted a fast way to get my book out”). XYZ counts on people like you.

One other thing, a bit of advice on dealing with authors and people you don’t know: I don’t work for you. I am not your child, your teacher, or your shrink. I am responding to this email as a courtesy. Chiding me repeatedly on my Facebook page as if I am your employee, or as if I have nothing better to do than talk with you, is NOT a way to win friends or influence people.

Believe it or not, I have other priorities in my life …all of which are more important than responding to a complete stranger who didn’t hear what she wanted to hear about her self-publishing mistake…and instead of leaving it at that, decided that nagging me was a bright idea.

I fully expect to get an email back where she tells me her tale of woe and then informs me that I am an insensitive prick who doesn’t want to help others.

UPDATE 10/11/2009: I don’t know whether she read this post or not, but I heard back from her. She did end up telling me her tale of woe, and about all the hard work she put into the book…but instead of calling me I’m a jerk, she apologized very politely:

Please accept my apology. I am not the person you have perceived me to be. I would like to be a friend. If you don’t I will understand. I am no one special, not looking for fame. I do admire anyone that writes for a living. It’s not easy. I feel really bad for the way I went about trying to interact with a stranger. We both felt like we were being disrespected.

UPDATE 10/13/2009:I didn’t reply to her apology. So I got this email from her today:

Alot of my facebook friends that are alot more famous than you, did not like what you said. You could have posted an apology as I did.

Some people never learn. She doesn’t realize it, but she is exactly the person I perceived her to be.

10 thoughts on “The Mail I Get”

  1. Lee, Lee, Lee – ya gotta learn never to respond to people like this. It’s Pavlovian – if you respond once, they will badger you a zillion times hoping for another response.
    And you will never, ever make them happy.

  2. Lee… must be great to be so popular. The only e-mails I get on a regular basis come from overseas bankers who want to give me gobs of money in exchange for some personal info… what’s the worse that could happen?
    — Brendan

  3. Must be the weekend for Facebook Weirdos. I got a friend request from someone I didn’t know who searched me out because she likes my reviews at Amazon. When I ignored her two messages and turned down her friend request, she sent me another one about 12 hours later, with another message. So I blocked her.

  4. I recently got a letter from a lifer in prison who said he loves my novels and would I please send five hundred dollars so he can buy a small TV, religious items, etc. If not that, would I be a pen pal? I wrote him to say I would correspond now and then. I want to tell him there is one thing that cannot be imprisoned, and that is his mind. I want to point him toward Stephen Hawking, imprisoned by a form of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, in a wheelchair, helpless, paralyzed, yet one of the foremost scientists of our times. Maybe I can help the lifer, who says he will leave only in a body bag.

  5. Richard, great response!
    Lee, I understand your feelings and I used to have them often when working in customer service and one of the clients would ask for stuff we didn’t do, and wouldn’t take no for an answer and got testy. It was as if I was the bad guy for saying no to anybody. As long as I complied, no matter what it was, every stakeholder thought I was doing a good job. So I think it might work that way with you and these ‘crazy clients.’ If you say no, all of Hollywood is watching and you might be being judged as a grouch, which might not help promote you to a showrunner position. So I really believe you need a service that would handle these demanding types, who could send standardized, courteous email replies to take you off the hook, and keep you in a positive, creative frame of mind and keep the good will of the cc’s. The cc’s might make for a colorful series of blog posts but is it worth it if you rep in Hollywood might suffer for it? Just an idea!

  6. Very interesting to read this post right after the one about your friend, Stuart Kaminsky.
    “We became friends. He was one of the first writers to blurb me and gave me a lot of great advice over the years (and I was ridiculously honored, and thrilled, the first time he called me for advice on something.”
    I wonder if some of these people aren’t looking for something similar.

  7. Arlo,
    I have no doubt you are right. The difference is all in the approach and the intent. I didn’t write Stuart and ask him for advice or for favors. I wrote him a fan letter and in our subsequent correspondence we mostly talked about mysteries and, in a larger sense, the craft of writing. It wasn’t until YEARS later (in fact, DECADES) that I asked him to read something of mine, and at that point it was a galley for him to consider blurbing. And by the time I asked him that favor, I wasn’t a stranger to him anymore …I was his friend. I didn’t ask a complete stranger for a review of my manuscript.
    I didn’t hound him for replies, impose on his courtesy, or set out with an obvious agenda to use him as a contact to further my career. I just really liked his work and learned from the observations that he shared with me on the craft of writing.
    I correspond with lots of aspiring novelists and screenwriters. And I enjoy it. The difference between them, and people like this woman, is that they aren’t hounding me…or treating me like I am at their service…or looking at me purely as a “contact” to be exploited for their gain.

  8. Dan wrote: “If you say no, all of Hollywood is watching and you might be being judged as a grouch, which might not help promote you to a showrunner position.”
    I can assure you that “all of Hollywood” isn’t reading my blog…and those who are will probably sympathize with my experience. Whether or not I get a particular producing gig won’t depend on how I answered an email from a self-published author who got screwed by a vanity press. But I appreciate your concern.


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