The Mail I Get: Recommend Me Edition

Two weeks ago, the same day that my new novel BONE CANYON came out, a complete stranger sent me an email on Facebook asking me to recommend him to my agent:

Hi Lee: Need to ask a question. Do you have an agent, order you publish yourself? If you have an agent, can you refer me to him/her. I have completed a novel, 60,000 words. If I send a cold-call query to an agent, I get a polite response. If I send a query to an agent with a recommendation, I get feedback. So far, feedback has said my manuscript is “well written.” But that doesn’t mean they will represent it. Asking for your input and a recommendation to your agent. Thank you, Ben

I didn’t reply…because I was very busy promoting my book and I really didn’t want to deal with his request. Two days later, I got another note.

I sent you the above message. Would love to get a response.

I didn’t reply to that one, either. The next day, I got an email through my website:

I left you a message on your Facebook page but never heard back from you. Can you read it and respond?”

This time I responded. I said: “I am represented by an agent and no, I will not recommend you to her. What an outrageous and inappropriate request to make of a complete stranger. Why would I do that? I don’t know you and I don’t know your work. And no, I don’t want to read your book. Here’s a blog post I wrote on the subject.”

He wrote back on Facebook:

You’re an asshole.

Then he followed up with an email saying:

What an asshole you are. I won’t expand because I don’t want to hear your pompous diatribe. So I’ll leave it at that.

I responded:

From screenwriter Josh Olson who, in his great 2009 piece in The Village Voice, said it best when dealing with a person like you:

“At this point, you should walk away, firm in your conviction that I’m a dick. But if you’re interested in growing as a human being and recognizing that it is, in fact, you who are the dick in this situation, please read on. Yes. That’s right. I called you a dick. Because you created this situation. You put me in this spot where my only option is to acquiesce to your demands or be the bad guy. That, my friend, is the very definition of a dick move.”

Here’s the rest of his wonderful essay on guys like you:…/i-will-not-read-your…/

Your emails to me make it very clear why you’ve had no success finding an agent or getting published. You might want to rethink your approach going forward. Good luck!

Ben responded immediately:

You are still an asshole.

A bad guy.

A dick.

A jerk.

I am very secure in my writing. Based on past experiences, I am very secure calling you the above names. You made your position know. I get it. But you are pretty insecure otherwise it seems. Now asshole just walk away. Take a frickin hike.



Five minutes later, he added:

Response 2

From now on, just send me or people like me a one or two sentence response saying you are in no position to read a manuscript and offer recommednations. That’s all you need to do. But you make an asshole case out of it trying to shame people. It shows you are pretty insecure or at least very petty. You need to rethink your approach to dealing with well-intended writers.

Now I’d had enough. Here’s what I wrote:

Wow, are you full of yourself. Let’s recap, Ben. You sent a note on Facebook to an author you don’t know (or, apparently, don’t know anything about). You began by asking this question:

” Do you have an agent, order you publish yourself? ” 

If you’d done even the most basic research about me, you’d know the answer to that question, that I am a #1 New York Times bestselling author who has been published by Penguin Putnam, St. Martin’s Press, Random House, etc. But that was too much work for you. And if you’d ever opened one of my books, which I’m sure you haven’t, not only would you know if I have an agent or not, you’d also know their names, since I thank them in my acknowledgments. So, strike #1 for laziness, poor research and a complete lack of professionalism. (Add poor-proofreading: “order” instead of “or do” in your dashed-off, “cold call” email)

You went on to ask: “If you have an agent, can you refer me to him/her.”

You are now asking a complete stranger to make a personal recommendation, leveraging their hard-earned reputation and hard-won personal relationships, on your behalf… a huge ask, even for someone who actually knows me or even, at the minimum, my work.  But you don’t acknowledge that. You think it’s nothing. So, strike #2 for ignorance and rudeness. (Add poor proofreading: you forgot to add a question mark to the end of your question, which again underscores the unprofessional, dashed-off nature of your “cold call”).

You go on to say: “If I send a cold-call query to an agent, I get a polite response. If I send a query to an agent with a recommendation, I get feedback. “

So, you’re saying  I should do this for someone I don’t know because my relationship with the agent will help get you feedback. In other words, you’ll get more attention from the agent because she feels a responsibility to me, the person who recommended you. 

And you’re making that request with no acknowledgment whatsoever of the significance of what you are asking. And you don’t even ask politely. So, strike #3…for presumptuousness, ignorance and rudeness.

You go on to say: “Asking for your input and a recommendation to your agent.”

Now you are asking an author you don’t know, or even know anything about, to not only recommend you to his agent (twice, I might add), but now you also want him to give you feedback…another big ask. So, strike #4 for nagging, ignorance and rudeness. 

And there wasn’t a single “please” in your entire cold-call email, a big strike #4, for having no common courtesy.  

But you didn’t stop there. When I didn’t answer you immediately, because really, what could possibly be more important in my life than responding to a complete stranger, you asked me two days later to respond. When I didn’t, you then prodded me again, a day later, through my website:

“I left you a message on your Facebook page but never heard back from you. Can you read it and respond? Thank you”

You not only hit up a complete stranger for a big favor, you now had the chutzpah to insist on an immediate response… and to complain when you didn’t get one (and, once again, the word “please” seems to be missing entirely from your vocabulary…because the whole world owes you their time and attention). 

I’m sure you have no idea how rude and inappropriate that is, but we’ll set that aside. This may come as a shock, but I have a few other things going on in my life (for example, if you’d done any research on me, you’d know I had a new book come out last week and have been busy doing scores of interviews every day). I have no obligation to you… certainly not to drop everything to engage with you. 

But no, in your mind, there is nothing more important, more time-critical, than you and your needs…even to someone you don’t know and know nothing about.

And when I did respond, (“I am represented by an agent and no, I will not recommend you to her. What an outrageous and inappropriate request to make of a complete stranger. Why would I do that? I don’t know you and I don’t know your work. And no, I don’t want to read your book. Here’s a blog post I wrote on the subject…), your reply was:

“You’re an asshole.”

Amazing. And you have the gall to try to school me on how to behave? Your arrogance and cluelessness are astounding. You aren’t a “well-intended writer,” but you’re certainly an ill-prepared, impolite, and self-defeating one. You asked me for feedback. Well, now I’ll give some to you. 

The proper response from you to my reply would have been an apology, an acknowledgement that what you were asking was out of line and ill-considered, and that you now realize that it was a foolish way to approach an author for advice…especially one you don’t know…and that now you know no better. That you don’t blame me for being irritated, you would be, too. 

That might have led to something productive. Instead, you doubled down on ignorance and arrogance…and responded with a crude, childish insult that proved me right: You aren’t someone who deserves my help…or *any* successful author’s help. 

No, Ben, I am not an asshole. What I am is a successful author, screenwriter, TV producer and publisher who is very busy…and doesn’t have much free time. Even so, over the last thirty years, I’ve taught and mentored writers across the United States and all over the world…in classrooms, in seminars, at conferences, and on-the-job. The difference between those writers and you is that they’re smarter, more professional, more polite, and a lot less full of themselves.

You’ve made many dumb, cringe-worthy mistakes in your interaction with me…and instead of responding now by telling me that I’m an ugly, smelly, talentless, creepy, petty, vindictive, Godless asshole, shithead, bastard, prick and overall terrible person, don’t respond to me at all. Instead, think of this as a learning experience and rethink your deeply flawed strategy of “cold calling” authors you don’t know (or know anything about) for help. You need a new approach….because your current one sucks…and works against you. 


His reply was entirely predictable:

You really took all that time to write this. Wow I must have really got on your nerves. You are sick. You need help. Ask your therapist if this is logical. 
As I said a simple two sentence reply at the beginning would have sufficed. 
I’m not even going to read this
I’m just going to delete it
Good night

I don’t think Ben, with his attitude, is going to have much luck finding an agent or getting his book published.

19 thoughts on “The Mail I Get: Recommend Me Edition”

  1. Wow, what an arrogant idiot he is. Kudos to you for handling it with class and finally, when he just pushed too far, telling him what he needed to hear. Too bad (although entirely predictable) that he wasn’t able to hear it. (I also laughed out loud when I read “order you publish yourself.”) BTW, the one time I wrote you with a comment about something I liked in your book, you immediately replied with a lovely email back – which made me like you even more. Can’t wait to read the new one.

      • Hi Lee

        I have read many of your works and enjoyed them. Most recently, I finished both Eve Ronin books and would be curious to know if you have other series that are centered in Los Angeles. For almost 8 decades, I’ve lived in the San Fernando Valley, Thousand Oaks and eastern Ventura County. It was a particular treat to see your correct descriptions of venue and location.

        Looking forward to the next Eve Ronin book when it is released this fall.

        Thanks again. I really enjoy your writing style and your unique ability to create a three dimensional scene through the use of character dialog.

  2. Absolutely epic takedown. And yet, like every drunken bar brawler in history, he’s got to spit out his broken teeth, wipe his bloodied chin, and hurl one final insult as the paramedics drag him off to the ambulance. There’s no helping the entitled Bens of the world, but at least he can serve as a lesson.

  3. Too many beginning and/or prospective writers have little idea how difficult, arduous, and time-consuming the writing task is. There is a protocol which should be followed and relationships with people in the book business is earned rather than demanded. It is the same thing with people who “review” our work that have some axe to grind and feel compelled to share their dislike with the world at large. Both types think they can write a publishable novel, but neither ever does. Great blog, Lee. It was informative as well as a cautionary tale and something that sooner or later we all experience.

  4. Gerry, so true! I just did a spit-take of my morning coffee while reading your deadpan comment. Lee’s gripping “you are there” tale of the increasingly distasteful encounters with boorish Ben had me on the edge of my seat with mouth agog. Shame on Ben. All hail Lee!

  5. Great popcorn thread.

    You taught him well on how to reply to a jerk (him), but I suspect none of your message will take.

    When dealing with people like that, in life, I have some consolation knowing that they have to spend the rest of their lives with themselves, but we get to move on!

    Love your work!

  6. Well I must say his book will definitely need a proofread. The man can’t complete a sentence without screwing up something. Your responses took way to much of your time. He will never listen or change. He seems incapable of learning from his mistake. Don’t waste so much time on idiots like that. I do think he is right on one thing. He got under your skin. Hey, maybe a good book will come from your mind from this encounter. I know ideas flowed from mine. But, I am not a writer. Wish I was because these idea would have an outlet. LOL. Keep up the great writing.

  7. Your detailed response totally made my day. When I first read his request, I literally took a deep breath and said out loud, that’s rude. Your response was appropriate and comical. I finally got the chance to read a response that detailed how I felt on your behalf.

    Maybe Ben can fuel a character in your next book .

    Love your work and your response.

  8. Still laughing! Although your rude correspondent finally got what he wanted from you, it was not the kind of response he was looking for. I met you some time ago at a workshop you conducted and you were very kind in giving me some advice regarding screenwriting. I followed it.

  9. Oh, this is classic. I hate that it took so much of your time, but it sure made my morning hilarious. All writers have heard from “writers” who think nothing of asks like this. It’s all me me me — and then when you actually do help him, at length, with the truth, it’s not the “truth” he wants, so it’s rejected. I hope your spleen survived okay.

  10. Lee,

    Your blog post reminded me that we all have a choice as to whether we respond to mistakes made by others with indignation or with kindness. Your story is compelling in part because you are so unassailably right, and I’m sure that those who enjoy a good flame war will applaud you.

    But there’s no avoiding the fact that the first vitriolic statement made in your exchange with Ben was yours: “What an outrageous and inappropriate request to make of a complete stranger.” No matter how many people you might find to agree with that statement, at that moment you sacrificed the opportunity to guide another human being to greater self-awareness. Even your final email to Ben, filled with valuable advice, had to fall on deaf ears. You had made sure of that.

    There is a part of all of us that wants to be right and make other people wrong. That’s the proverbial devil sitting on one shoulder. And its whispers are especially compelling when no one could argue that we aren’t right. But no matter how right we are, succumbing to the inclination to berate another person diminishes the sum total of human happiness in the world. You were under no obligation to reply to Ben, let alone be helpful to him, but it’s worth noting that verbally slapping him was also optional. And the only effect it had was to make someone you’ve never met more hurt and angry than he was before.

    When other people blunder, are rude or inappropriate, we can lash out or we can seek to enlighten. All of your advice in that final email could have set Ben on a new and more productive path had it been proffered with kindness and generosity. Writing that email would have taken no more time, but unlike the one you did write, it would have made a difference.

    Please know that I’m not suggesting that your decision to upbraid Ben wasn’t justified. Your interpretation of his emails as presumptuous and tone-deaf was entirely defensible. All I’m suggesting is that castigating him was a choice. Another way of viewing Ben is as a fellow human being with a blind spot. That might have led to a different response.

    I want to close by saying that I admire you greatly and am grateful for your books. They have given me many hours of enjoyment.


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