Monday, May 24, 2010

When Asking for Help

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I get a lot of Writer Beware correspondence. I mean a lot--up to 20 emails a day. I also often hear from writers who don't have scams to report, or an agent's or publisher's reputation to research, but are looking for answers to general questions about writing and publishing, or are wondering where and how to start their agent or publisher search, or just want to reach out to someone who's been there, done that and may have a bit of encouragement to offer. It can take quite a bit more time to respond to such emails than to the more basic questions, but I'm glad to help if I can.

Because of my volume of correspondence, and also the fact that Writer Beware is something I do in my spare time, it often takes me several days to reply, especially where the question involves research. My Writer Beware email address has an autoresponder explaining this, so that people won't be upset (I hope) if they don't hear from me for a week. But there's no autoresponder on my personal email, which is where I receive a lot of the less Writer Beware-ish questions--including one, last week, from an aspiring writer who was worried that his friend's negative reaction to his work-in-progress meant the work was doomed. He wanted to know if I could give him some advice, since the subject of his book paralleled some of the themes I work with in my own writing.

For a variety of reasons, I never critique unpublished manuscripts. But his brief description of his book intrigued me, so I wrote back to let him know that while I couldn't read it, I'd be glad to dialog about ideas. He immediately sent me a very long plot summary. It looked complicated and I wanted to give it serious attention. Because I was very busy right then--a writing project, a trip out of town to work on a construction project, a similar project at home, and of course, Writer Beware--I put off looking at it.

So a week goes by, and just as I'm thinking that I really have to sit down and give this writer a thoughtful answer, I get a nasty note from him implying that I've wasted his time and asking me to "at least" tell him why I found his work so offensive I couldn't be bothered to respond. Now, maybe when I received his plot summary I should have dashed off a note letting him know that it'd be several days before I could reply. On the other hand, it's not like anyone is paying me to answer requests for advice from total strangers. Given that he was asking me for a favor, I assumed that he was willing to be patient. I wrote back to tell him so, upon which he informed me that he wasn't going to kiss my ass just to get my help.

Ooooookay.

Now, I'm not writing this to whine about mean emails, or to complain about rude and ungrateful writers, or to pat myself on the back for doing volunteer work. Yes, I help writers in my spare time, and it takes up a good deal more spare time than it probably should. But that's my choice. I don't have to do it; I want to do it.

But if, as an aspiring author, you're going to contact a professional writer--or a publishing professional of any kind--and ask for their help for free, you need to be aware that a) they have no obligation toward you; b) they are probably very busy with their actual jobs and helping you is extra; and c) you are not going to inspire them to be more helpful by reacting rudely if they don't get back to you fast enough or they provide advice you don't like.

The Internet has provided a truly astonishing degree of access to publishing professionals. In the olden days, when telephones and snail mail were the only options, agents and editors responded only to queries, and writers could be reached only through their publishers. Nowadays, that divide has all but vanished. Agents, editors, and others freely dispense opinions and advice online, and almost anyone is reachable at any time by email, blogs, websites, social media, etc. I think that many aspiring writers, especially those who don't remember the pre-Internet world, have come to take this incredible degree of access much too much for granted--and in some cases, even to see it as a kind of entitlement, where it's the professional's obligation to help, rather than his or her generous choice.

I'm not saying that you should fall at the professionals' feet and worship them, or that you should be uncritical of what they tell you. They are people, and even the wisest people make mistakes, have opinions that can be disputed, and manifest bias. But if you contact a professional with a question or a request for advice, you do need to be aware that you are imposing on their time, and that you yourself should behave professionally.

In other words, if you want the milk, don't diss the cow.

(I should say that 99% of the people who contact me are polite, professional, and very pleasant to deal with. I thank them for that!)

58 comments:

lakeviewer said...

This is just common sense, though lost on the very young who never had to wait for anything they wanted. Glad you took the time to pass on some simple rules.

Snarky Writer said...

Unfortunately, this attitude is rampant these days. As a teacher, I often have students e-mail me in the wee hours of the morning about an assignment due first thing the next day, then whine that I'm never available by e-mail.

If you haven't already read it, I highly recommend THE NARCISSISM EPIDEMIC by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell. Be prepared to be depressed, though.

ganymeder said...

I'm astonished that someone that's basically getting something for free would be that rude. I mean, what you state in the article *should* be common sense.

I'm sorry you had to deal with that rudeness when you were being generous with your free time. I'm sure others appreciate it more. :)

Don said...

I had something similar happen when I was editing a typographic magazine. Someone sent me an article and then before a week was up, called me to angrily withdraw it because they hadn't heard back from me.

I was leaning towards publishing it when that happened, but a need to fill pages doesn't outweigh a desire to avoid annoying people.

HL said...

It's not only a sin of the young...

Thank you--thoughtful piece.

Marilynn Byerly said...

I'm always happy to answer specific craft and publishing questions through my blog and website, but, if the question is general to the point that it is obvious that this person has done no reading or online research on the subject, I suggest they go to the library and ask for a librarian's help for some general books on the subject.

kara said...

I had a somewhat similar run in recently. I'm not sure it's even about getting help for free. Some writers just do not have any idea how to interact appropriately with other writers and publishing professionals.

Tianna said...

People who respond the way that this fellow do mess things up for the rest of us. Sorry to hear about your bad experience, and thank you for your post. Professionalism is key to success. Especially in a business as variable as the publishing business can be.

G said...

Man that dude was tight.

I know when dealing with professionals in any type of industry, it's just common sense to treat them like you want to be treated.

I know when it comes to writing, I don't know much, so any help I can get, I truly appreciate.

I do have a few professional writers who read my blog, and I'm very careful on how I approach them about writing tips or favors.

I know they have regular jobs, so free time for them is hot commodity.

With one of my readers (who's a former journalist and is co-editor at a e-zine), I was fortuante enough that she accepted my request to give my current manuscript an initial read through. Because I know how busy she was, the only thing I told her was that I didn't expect her to look at it until her work obligations were met and that she had the free time to spare.

I'm in no hurry to get it back and it will make me appreciate the time and effort that she'll put into for me.

Peter Dudley said...

Sigh.

My day job involves a certain amount of customer support. That is, I'm pretty much the last stop when a support issue gets escalated for my programs. It is a truth that the most vitriolic, small-minded, mean-spirited complaints come (a) via email and (b) from people who are being given something for free.

Thanks for putting in that last sentence. It becomes so easy to focus on the three things that went wrong in a day and forget about the 10,000 things that went right.

Renee Miller said...

Interesting post. I was planning a post this week about writing and critiquing other writers' work. This was part of the reason I wanted to post on this subject.

I think that when you are getting help or advice that is given free of charge, because someone really wants to help, a little gratitude and patience goes a long way. Also, writers/people need to understand that most people are busy. Aspiring authors have day jobs, commitments, as do published authors and industry professionals.

It's a shame you have to interact with that kind of nastiness because you really do help all that you can. I know when I've gotten rudeness or simply a sense that the person felt I should do more rather than thanking me for making the time to try to help them (which I have very little of) I am reluctant to put myself out there again.

As Tianna said so perfectly: Professionalism is key to success.

Too many forget this.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

So sorry that he was ugly to you. I don't know why people do that. If they actually had to write on paper, address an envelope and go to the post office and put a stamp in it, I'd bet they wouldn't be ugly...Sorry, Victoria! I hope you got 19 nice emails on the same day you got his. Your advice is appreciated by your blog readers. :)

M. C. Evers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lili said...

This guy e-mailed me a while back to say his first book was coming out and would I read it and blurb it? I was insanely busy, so I e-mailed back saying no, sorry, I'm up to my ears, but I wish you loads of luck and look forward to reading it when it comes out.

He wrote back trying to nudge me into at least reading it. I wrote back saying basically the same thing I said the first time.

He wrote me a very snotty e-mail hoping all his sales won't be this difficult. Apparently I owed it to him to take time off from writing my book to read his.

Charming. Not only will I now not be buying his book when it comes out, but in future I'll be much more wary of responding to blurb requests that come directly from authors rather than from editors. People like this mess things up for the good ones.

Imagine if I'd read the book and hadn't enjoyed it enough to blurb it. I'd be getting tantrumy e-mails from Little Mr Entitlement for the rest of my natural life.

behlerblog said...

Oh, Vic, been there, had that happen, too. I've often wondered if half the people who have come unglued at me over the years because I was attentive enough quickly enough would be equally as rude to my face. The internet provides a lovely barrier that emboldens those with short attention spans and a lack of manners.

Disheartening, isn't it?

S.M. Carrière said...

Oh wow. Sorry you had to deal with that!

Some people's children, honestly....

Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God said...

And I thank you for the public service you provide on Writer Beware blog, Victoria.

Anyone who has ever tried to help another person has run up against the occasional rude, "entitled" one. I chalk it up to a lack of training at home. That's the only place manners are taught consistently - or not.

Robin Bayne said...

I have seen a lot of this too. Recently I joined a new group and became the small press chair, and was contacted by a member who told me he only joined to get info on getting his book small-press pubbed. (the tone was I had to help him) So I did, and put him in touch with an editor who was actively seeking his type of project--never heard another word from him.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that so many aspiring writers assume professional writers can and should put aside their own work and provide free services. My husband is an accountant, and he has yet to hear from a stranger who demands that he take a few days off work to evaluate a business plan. My neighbor's in construction. Strangers don't stop by his work sites and insist that he come right over and replace their windows. I know that people in many other professions are asked for free advice--doctors and stock brokers, for example--but it would take an astonishing amount of chutpah for a stranger to ask those doctors and stockbrokers to take time off work so that they can provide free services.

CarolRose said...

Common sense and common courtesy have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Most people walk around with an overblown sense of entitlement. It astounds me how self-centered and rude people can be. Thanks for passing this on, Victoria. It's a reminder we all need.

Ben Langhinrchs said...

The entitlement issue is rampant. I work in the software industry, and people are sometimes convinced that our company should both provide the software for free, and provide 24x7 support for free. I honestly wonder sometimes if people see the "other people" on the internet are fairies, with no actual obligations of their own.

Anyway, thanks for all the support and time you put into this site, and into your job so that you have the information to make this work.

Quantum said...

Excellent post - and very well put.

I've recently had a case where a young would-be writer asked me for advice, which I gladly gave, and then passed on my e-mail address to the rest of her writing group...

Within days I received a dozen e-mails from the members of the group, all basically saying, "I've no idea who you are and I've never read any of your books (nor do I have any intention of ever doing so), but please help me write my story. I will give you exactly one day to respond and then I will tell my Mom on you and you'll get a snotty e-mail from her."

I don't mind sharing what little knowledge I've acquired over the years, but there are only so many hours in the day and quite a few of those have already been allocated for my own writing.

Mike Carroll

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...

The key for new writers who want help from working professionals is very simple. And it's true in any other apprentice-learning system.

If you want to get something, first give something of value to the person from whom you wish to get.

If you have nothing that would be of value to the one from whom you seek help -- find someone else to seek help from because the one you've chosen has nothing of value to give you.

Value exchanges are always reciprocal or they don't work at all.

If you don't understand barter economies, learn about it because barter makes dynamite plot twists.

A good way to learn this concept is to read the short story IN VALUE DECIEVED. Here's a reference:

http://authors.wizards.pro/books/titles/52236/in-value-deceived

See the list of reprints? That's because this little story teaches us a valuable principle. Take it, practice it, learn it, teach it.

I would suggest that working writers point erstwhile students to that story and get them to write a 250 word essay on why the story was reprinted so much. If their work satisfies you, then open a dialogue about their own work.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://www.simegen.com/jl/

Harold Underdown said...

I experience this from time to time at The Purple Crayon. I have to say that contrary to one commenter who said it was the "very young" (meaning 20-somethings, not toddlers, I assume) who were prone to this, the only generalization I can make is that it's men, almost always--which is particularly notable since 3/4 or more of the people who contact me are women.

D. G. Hudson said...

I'm glad there are people like you with the patience to blog about writers' pitfalls. Your message is well taken, but I'd like to point out that it's not only the young who tend to be looking for instant gratification these days.

All the social media that you mention contribute to the problem, IMO. When publishers, agents, etc encourage a twitter/facebook following - what do they expect? (it leads to other expectations of their followers such as ease of access to those professionals)

Bravo for you, Victoria for putting rudeness in its place!

Hope Clark said...

Victoria
I have the same experiences with FundsforWriters. I receive many requests to find people agents, publishers, magazine markets that fit their work - and also requests to read material. I've had to resort to sending them to a consult page of mine, where my charges are posted.

But I think I can top your experience. A woman recently unsubscribed from FundsforWriters because I had not listed a grant that fit her particular WIP. Keep in mind I had no idea what her WIP was. She said I obviously didn't appreciate her as a reader because I hadn't found someting that matched her needs.

Gosh, now I'm being discredited for being a bad mind-reader. It's the environment we live in on the Web, I'm afraid. People feel empowered to bash others in their online anonymity.

I feel your pain.

Hope Clark
FundsforWriters.com

Christy and Melanie said...

wow! you actually read things for free and people complain?! Crazy!

Louise said...

Oh my God, oh my God...this brought back a memory of me submitting a story to an on-line publisher. They said they'd get back to me next week,but that came and went. I emailed and was told another week which came and went.

I then demanded my story back and called them "time wasters". I genuinely though they were taking the pee.

It *was* a long time ago though, and now *I'm* the one receiving emails from impatient people. It is difficult to keep on top sometimes and I'm very sympathetic now.

Jacqueline Windh said...

Wow, Victoria, that attitude blows me away.

I do find it a problem in the arts (I am both a photographer and a writer, and I get a fair few requests to help people for free - some who I know, and some who are complete strangers). People would never just email other professionals, even if they were close friends, e.g. a dentist, to ask "oh would you just take a look at my teeth and see if you think I need anything done?" But somehow, in the arts, a lot of people expect it, treat the expertise as if it is "free."

I'm amazed by this person's attitude. I have emailed people I don't know out of the blue a few times - and when I do, I do it knowing that they have some busy life that I don't know about, they did not ask for my email, and they absolutely do not owe me a response or even an acknowledgement. If they do respond at all, even if it is just to say "I am sorry, I am too busy with other obligations to deal with this," it should be appreciated.

I'm sorry you got hit with this terrible attitude. Thanks for all the good work you do for the community!

motherearthseries said...

A major problem we have today lies in "instant gratification". It's too easy (and anonymous) to fire off an email to vent anger and frustration. I used to be on the Board of a recreational sports program here locally, and we made it a policy that complaints would only be addressed from a form that was filled out in the office, not via phone message or email. 99% of people won't bother to take the time to go to the office to fill out the form. If they don't, then how important was that complaint to them really? Again, it's too easy to take your anger out on your keyboard.

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of a response to a critique I gave recently via a critiquing website. I couldn't get through a certain manuscript in its entirety, but believed the person deserved to know why I had stopped and what I thought about the work so far. I got a really nasty e-mail back accusing me of laziness. I just thought, "Hey buddy, I'm doing this because I want to help."

When my pieces are up for critique I always want to know what people think, even if they can't finish it for one reason or another, so I'm grateful when they take the time to write me something. It would never cross my mind to be offended, because they’re spending free time on my work out of the kindness of their heart.

But sheesh, it's really amazing that someone could be so self involved that they take a professional's time for granted. When did people lose their sense of appreciation and respect?

Dana King said...

I asked Victoria for assistance a couple of years ago, when a friend told me of a publishing deal I thought sounded fishy. She was gracious in her advice, giving more than i ever expected to get, and was back to me in a few days. My friend had a suspicion confirmed he'd been reluctant to express publicly, and was saved what could have turned into a costly mistake.

I understand all writers have well-developed egos, or they wouldn't think what they had to say is so compelling strangers would pay to read it. That being said, ego is no excuse for arrogance or rudeness.

Frances Grimble said...

I find that self-publishers asking me for advice usually aren't too bad--although they often just don't understand the magnitude of some of what they are asking for. As in "Guide me through all the steps of producing a book from A to Z." I direct them to a helpful forum instead.

However, as a nonfiction writer I have come to almost entirely avoid giving my readers advice. A great many of them believe I should run a 24/7 consulting service. They openly argue that it is because they may, someday, just possibly buy one of my books. They feel free to ask for anything and everything. Including detailed explanations of instructions in publications that I am completely unassociated with, listening to them agitate about their personal decisions on trivial matters, and a great deal more.

Setting up a blog or forum with free advice is often advised as a route to selling books. But my experience on that subject (both long personal experience and my observations of other nonfiction writers) is that (a) you will find you have far less time to get any work done that actually pays you and (b) you will devalue the work you charge for, because people assume they can always get it for free instead. Don't go there, is my advice.

Anonymous said...

First, thank you, Victoria, for the many hours you devote to helping writers.

Second, this post reminded me of a great essay by Josh Olson in The Village Voice last year (he wrote the screenplay for "A History of Violence").

One caveat: there's a lot of strong language

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/2009/09/i_will_not_read.php

Josh is talking about screenwriting, but his point works just as well for other writers -

"This needs to be clear--when you ask a professional for their take on your material, you're not just asking them to take an hour or two out of their life, you're asking them to give you--gratis--the acquired knowledge, insight, and skill of years of work."

Touché.

Frances Grimble said...

Oh, yes--I always thought it was more women who felt entitled, because that's mostly what I see. Some of them believe I'm supposed to be like a day spa or something, constantly pampering them, waiting on them, flattering them, and providing endless freebies. People tell me I have "so much to offer," but what exactly are they offering me?

The other thing I see on e-groups is people pressuring me or another "expert" for advice, as a platform for then tearing it apart as a status game. My readers are very into status, they see writing a book as status, and they want to cut down people who do it.

By the way, I have exchanged emails with Victoria about a couple of outfits I thought were scammers and she was very helpful.

Henya said...

This writer's reaction to you not jumping fast enough is so outrageous that it took me a minute to convince myself you are not making this up.

Really!!!

So you are left with scratching your head, while the writer with the attitude is left with nothing.

Really!!!

AgentPete said...

Welcome to my world, Victoria.

This is far from unusual, sadly.
An interesting and quite recent twist is the proliferation of unsolicited *phone calls*. The level of aggression is quite high - I suspect that somewhere on the net, there's a website giving agents' phone numbers and the advice that "to get as publishing, deal you've got to get in their face, all the time!" I'm cautious about even picking up the phone now.

Ricky Bush said...

There's always that 1% that screws everything up for everybody else--regardless of the scenario.

mindmap1 said...

For the love of God - what is the problem with this person? Why should you give a 'free critique' or advice?

I run a networking group for romantic writers and recently had published authors kindly agree to do an interview. I asked the group for questions. There's always one who wants the 'secret' to publication, as if there's a holy grail, secret society or handshake. There is no shortcut to learning your craft, honing your skills and mastering your toolbox. Age is no barrier to self delusion imho.

Published writers, agents, editors and publishers owe wannabe writers nothing.

Even if you've written the next 'big' thing. If you're delusional pain in the ass, no one will touch your next book with a barge pole. Be professional, a team player and get a grip!

Phew, feel better now. Victoria, have an ice cold Pinot and decompress. I lurk and usually never post, but couldn't help myself today.

All the best.

Christine

Marian said...

When a coworker of mine found out that I was getting a book published, she said that her daughter had a manuscript too. Maybe I could read it some time?

I gaped like a goldfish, partly because I couldn't imagine her doing that in the context of my other job - "Oh, you're a laboratory technologist? So is my daughter. Could you look at and maybe evaluate her performance some time?" And partly because I didn't want to deal with a protective mom upset that her daughter's feelings were hurt.

Fortunately she seems to have forgotten about that. I decided that from now on I'll say that my editor doesn't allow me to read unsolicited manuscripts for legal reasons.

Frances Grimble said...

You want another one? Probably not . . .

A woman who was on an e-group with me, who I do not know and in which e-group I rarely participated, wrote or writes a blog for a large website where garment manufacturers network to buy enormous amounts of yardage from all over the world. This site is only peripherally related to her subject matter and has almost nothing to do with mine.

First she asked for a review copy of a book. I don't think my audience reads her blog, so I said no. She countered with statistics about how many hits the overall site gets--which says nothing about how many people read her blog, let alone who they are. I still said no, then she insisted that I was obligated to give her a copy because she'd already arranged for someone else to review the book for her blog and promised it to them as compensation--before asking me if I'd send her a review copy. I still refused and she got huffy.

However, this did not deter her from, about a year later, contacting me and announcing that she wanted me to take over writing her blog for four months or more because she was writing a book. I've only read her blog 2-3 times and have no idea whether she is paid for it, but she certainly did not offer to pay me. She stressed that the book was much more important than the blog and she was afraid she'd miss her deadline with her publisher so--implication that I had nothing better to do--she wanted me to take over writing her blog and post 1-2 times a week till she turned in her MS. She said she did not want to give up the blog entirely, so I should keep it warm for her, as it were.

I was writing a book of my own at the time and told her that I certainly could not write her blog in addition. Her attitude was amazing, it was like I was some employee she could just delegate tasks to at will.

Frances Grimble said...

Oh yeah--one of my faults as a writer on the net is the dribble effect, but it doesn't show in my books--this woman said the reason she wanted me to take over her blog is that it was very time consuming and a lot of work.

Lili said...

I wonder if some of it is down to the tendency to see strangers (writers, bloggers in general) as friends. Publishers push that - mine are big into the idea of a personal connection with readers - and it's encouraged by the amount of personal information that a lot of people reveal on the internet or in interviews. There's a real blurring of the lines: interviewers truly don't understand why I'm not going to go into any detail about my childhood, or my family, or write an article about some painful event in my past. There's an assumption that, once your name's out there, everything about you should automatically be public property.

Readers are so used to being welcomed into strangers' most intimate lives that they end up feeling like these strangers (and, by extension, any writer/blogger/whatever) are close personal friends, and then they're outraged when a stranger won't do something that surely one friend would do for another.

The reason I won't go into details of my personal life for readers is that we are not, in fact, friends. I'm overjoyed and honoured if you pick one of my books to read, and I hope from the bottom of my heart that I give you a few hours of pleasure, and if you come back for more I'll do everything in my power to make it worth your while. But that doesn't make me your friend. It doesn't give me the obligations that one friend has to another.

nauthor said...

Robin Bayne, your experience is more like what's happened to me: requests for help, often really time-consuming help such as critiquing a manuscript, followed by either no thanks at all, or a thank you said through clenched teeth.

I won't read anyone's manuscript anymore unless I know them personally.

Frances Grimble said...

Lili,

I agree with you that there is a widespread assumption that everyone else's lives and labor are somehow public property, and that this has been encouraged by the amount of personal information and free advice so many people post on the net.

And I agree that publishers push fiction writers to cultivate the appearance of friendship with readers to sell books, and they push nonfiction writers to provide free info and labor to readers to sell books.

And many writers are adopting these strategies of their own will. No one seems to be counting how many books "social networking" strategies actually sell, or whether there is a more time-effective way to do it. Personally, I think most of this time is a waste, and you can do just as well dropping into a newsgroup once a month and posting some short message on some topic currently under discussion, with your URL and a description of what you do or sell in your sig line.

Getting back to the social networking ethos: I don't think that the vast majority of people are under any illusion that everyone in their newsgroup, or who comments on their blog, is a personal friend. As is demonstrated by umpteen flame wars.

But they haul out a syrupy vocabulary whenever they have something financial to gain by it. Piracy of copyrighted works is always called "sharing" and the people asking to get the works are suddenly "friends."

Then there is another phrase that sets my teeth on edge: "Give back." I'm often told by other writers and self-publishers that I should set up a blog with regular free info to "give back" to my readers. I do my utmost to provide them with quality books at the most reasonable prices I can economically manage. They buy the books, usually discounted around 30% or more by Amazon. They get the books, I get the money, we're even.

So where is this "back" coming from? Clearly, it just means "give." I'm also now urged not to contribute money to charities, but to "give back" to them, even though they gave me nothing.

There's nothing wrong with a trade of labor or goods for money. But say that on the net and all the people who want freebies (which is most of them) go into a tizzy.

Jamie Mason said...

Just posted a link to this on AuthorScoop. This is outrageous.

Kind of you, Victoria, not to name your muse, but I hope his ears are burning with shame.

Anonymous said...

..if you send me his postal address I would be happy to smash his front room windows for you at the LOW LOW cost of £400!

Victoria Strauss said...

Wow, this post really touched a nerve! Thanks, everyone for sharing and for support.

I've been at this (the Writer Beware stuff) for long enough to be able to take the occasional unpleasant interaction in stride--and even to laugh about it, once the initial annoyance has passed. I do think, though, that there's something about email and online communication that makes it possible for people to be much more unpleasant than they would be face to face.

Bubblecow said...

This is a universal issue. I had a writer ring me with a couple of hours after sending an email with a manuscript attached. They wanted free feedback and he was upset because I had not replied as quickly as when providing 'paid' advice.

The irony was I was out of the office all afternoon and had not even seen the email. I tried to explain but it was no help!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Wow. Whoever this person is, they're in for a long hard road if they can't wait a week for free advice. His head'll explode waiting just for replies to queries. I don't want to see the fallout from waiting on all the other aspects of this business.

Marian said...

Someone should introduce him to the Rejection Queen.

Robin Bayne said...

nauthor---Exactly.

P.N. Elrod said...

Been there, did that, and blogged about it.

Learned my lesson. Never again.

My guy accused me of wanting to steal his idea (uh, no), and went batshit insane with abuse when I gently pointed out the big fat flaw in his idea. Everything in the plot hung on that flaw, and he sure didn't want to hear that.

Then, after all the insults, he asked if I still planned to edit it for him.

Huh-wha--?

Sweetie, there ain't enough cash on the planet.

Anonymous said...

unless that guy doesn't TOTALLY change his attitude, no way in the WORLD he's EVER going to be able to hold on to a literary agent -- let alone get published. Anyone want to bet? :)

Michael A. Banks said...

Over the years I've noticed that more than a few people assume that, because our work is public, we are available to the public--like an open resource.

This existed before the "everything on the Internet is free" mindset developed. (Before the Internet, for that matter.)

It's helped along by the attitude that one cannot get published without contacts, and therefore must be aided by an established pro, or all is lost. As you discussed in a 2006 post:
http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2006/02/victoria-strauss-things-new-writers.html
--Michael Banks

Frances Grimble said...

Michael,

People often state that because writers enjoy their work, they will always be thrilled to do it without pay.

As a how-to writer, I often find people exhausting. I answer one question, then they come back with six more questions, one after another. If I answer one question on an e-list, I'm supposed to be on tap for twenty more questions from other people, whether public or private. Then they argue with me about the free advice I gave them. Then someone asks to post the whole discussion on their blog so they don't have to provide original material for their blog, which they are writing to support their own paying business.

Yes, some people had this attitude before the Internet, but the Internet has made it much worse. Any feeling that if you did someone a favor they owed you one, someday, has been replaced by an attitude of Internet karma--the assumption that other people on the net must be doing you favors, so the person for whom you did one never needs to bother.

Then I sometimes run into the editors manque. Professional editors seldom troll the net looking for material to criticize--they receive quite enough of it in the course of their work. But I sometimes get things like, the time a new publisher begged me for a copy of my discount schedule/terms & conditions sheet. Which new publishers often ask for but I don't give out any more, because this person sent it back with a detailed, unasked-for, and silly critique. Which judging from its inconsistency looked like it had been done by several different people, none of whom had a clue about editing or publishing. It was full of little query notes saying, for example, that I had not stated the procedure for bookstores returning books to me that they had already sold. And requesting me to define publishing terms that are not only common, but very often used on the e-list this person belonged to.

There's an attitude that if you "put yourself out there" on the net, by writing, posting photos, or selling merchandise, everyone is free to submit you to a junior-high-girls'-room session of trashing just for the heck of it. People often value information according to what they paid for it.

Bill said...

They are sometimes called 'nastygrams' and, for me, terminate contact. I usually respond with a "Thanks for revealing yourself so quickly." and then apply the appropriate form of block against future communications. There are roughly 7,000,000 people on the earth. This means that there are enough nice people that I needn't waste time on jerks.

Bill in Detroit said...

"Ah yes, the review of your MS. Well, your MS sucks here, here, here and, let's see where I made the mark, ah yes, here. Then, over on page 2 ..."

(Why no one asks me for reviews -- free or otherwise.)