Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm not heartless, just busy

I love this picture. In many ways it reminds me of my life in the form of a dike with a huge, craggy hole in the middle that I'm constantly stuffing with just-completed and half-completed and must-get-done activities so the dike won't burst if left on its own, creating utter chaos.

Here's my point: I'm having the worst time juggling and prioritizing and making everyone happy these days, especially with my husband away and traveling so much.

That said, last week I received a manuscript in my mailbox, which isn't unusual on its own. I often get unsolicited manuscripts, as other authors do. However, this one belonged to someone I've met a few times, but only vaguely know.

Attached was a card and a gift certificate for dinner. The note said, "This may be presumptive but would you mind reading my novel and giving some feedback? Any at all would be great. No hurry, no pressure. ie., if it were to take you a month, I'd understand. P.S. Either way, enjoy the dinner."

I flipped through the 512 page manuscript and took a long, slow breath. He's being naive, I thought. Naive and sadly misinformed about how little disposable time I have.

Careful not to hurt his feelings, I took the time to respond with a letter. In it, I politely explained that I really would like to help, but I don't have time to read his novel, not this month or next or even into the new year. I explained that I'm a month behind on my own novel. Then I gave him some general advice and a handful of pointers (2 paqes worth), suggested some books that might help him move his novel to a higher level, and attached a sample query letter for when it came time to look for an agent. I also returned the gift certificate.

Yesterday I ran into this guy at the dry cleaners. He was with his wife and after I smiled and said hello, he hurled this comment over his shoulder as they exited: "That's the author I told you about. The one who's too good to help anyone else out now that she's published!"

Words fail me, you know? They honestly do.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Poor guy. He has much to learn.

Hang in there, Holly. No one can ask more of you than your best.

Mystery Robin said...


ian in hamburg said...

Presumes you've got time to read half of War and Peace, tries to bribe you with a meal, and then gets passive-aggressive in the way he throws the comment at you while leaving? Good thing you didn't waste any time helping him.

Victoria said...

Words fail me too.
But it does go to show that there are all kinds out there, huh? If you don't have time, you don't have time, and he hardly knows you so asking at all was beyond presumptive.

wordman17 said...

Ballsy guy.
With A LOT to learn.
And in need of some manners.
I feel sorry for his wife!

Adam said...

Takes all kinds, doesn't it?
Don't lose any sleep over it.
Hopefully, years from now, he'll look back at this and cringe at his own behavior.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Well, really, what words would help such an ignoramous?

Ramona said...

I don't think it matters
what you do for a living, you run into individuals with class and those who operate on a whole other level. What he did was wrong, plain and simple.

Kim Stagliano said...

Oh dear. I'm sorry that happened to you, Holly. Because I have four books on my bookshelf that scream "Holly is extremely generous!!!" If only Miss Snark were still blogging - I'd send him right there and ask him to ask HER if she'd read his MS. Hee hee hee...


Kim Stagliano said...

Oh and as an aside, I had an email from someone who reads my autism blog - and she asked me if I'd write about abortion. Now, there's a tenuous link between abortion and autism in that genetics research seems to be pointing toward a pre-natal test. However, I have no intention of opening that can of words on Age of Autism - like we don't have enough shit to deal with already? (THough I have written about it on Huffpo, I'm very sensitive to the topic.) Anyway, I suggested that she start he own blog where she can focus on the topic of her choice. A nice way to say "No" yes? And she emails me, "Thanks! Can you tell me how do I do a blog?" ARGH! I suggested she try blogger....


ORION said...

Thank GOLLY my agent won't allow me to read unagented manuscripts- but I still am occasionally put in this same position

it is inevitable when I relent and look at only a page or two and give critical feedback- they go off in a huff. Annoyed that I can't see their genius.
Ya cant win.
(I would have taken the gift certificate...lol!)

Janet said...

He is spectacularly poorly informed. I would be tempted to do something similar (the request, not the reaction) except that I now know how unacceptable it really is. But I could totally see myself doing something similar a number of years back, before there were a gazillion author/agent/editor blogs out there that gave me a clue on how things really work.

But there truly is little excuse for his reacion.

Therese said...

I understand naivete, and I understand optimism, but this guy's presumptiveness and response after seeing you prove how clueless he is, to say the least.

Dawn Anon said...


I can understand asking a published writer if they'd be able or willing to read something... but that's the extent of his action/reaction that I understand.

People feel so entitled to other people's time anymore. It's crazy.

Holly, I thought your response was very kind, honest, and frankly... you spent way more time with your response than you needed to.

Bookfool said...

I used to edit and read over things for just about anyone. And, I'm only vaguely published (one short story and 3 years of a humor column). There comes a point that you have no choice but to say, "I'm sorry, I just can't do that." Try not to take that jab personally. It just means he doesn't get it.

Holly Kennedy said...

To clarify, I often help other writers/individuals who want to become published. I have in the past and will again in the future, in any way I'm able and when I'm able.

I find doing so very rewarding.

I've been burned a few times, though, where I've spent tons and tons of time helping someone and then essentially they've waved "ta-ta" over their shoulder and I've never heard from them again.

In those cases, the lack of appreciation taught me a lot about who to help and to what degree. After all no one likes to feel stepped on.

I'd liken it to donating disposable income to a good cause. You can't give to every cause that comes along or you'd go broke, so instead you choose a handful and say no to the rest.

i.e, I've taught creative writing at no charge and will do so again. I've donated countless copies of my books to seniors centers, drop-in centers for displaced youth, abused women's shelters, etc. I've helped write/draft dozens of query letters, and have read my fair share of both good and bad manuscripts.

I once flew to Chicago for two days (on my own dime) to help a fellow writer hash through story ideas because he was having trouble selling his "first novel". He'd already written four and was down about all the rejection he was getting. We were friends and I'd just landed my 1st publishing contract. Today he's published and I'd like to think I helped in some small way.

One could go insane pondering this topic so I'll move on...

I do, however, understand this man's enthusiasm and naivete. He has much to learn, though, and in some ways I feel sorry for him because reacting as he did will only serve to make the road to publication that much longer and harder -- and trust me, it's hard enough on BOTH sides of the fence (pre and post-publication) so perhaps making friends vs. enemies might be the better way to go :)

Holly Kennedy said...

P.S. Thanks for your comments, everyone!

Yes, Dawn-anon, I can also understand the asking part. It was the reaction that was completely un-cool.

Bookfool, you're very kind.
I didn't take it personally.
My thin has grown thick as a lizard's over the years. I did feel, however, this post might serve to help steer others away from inappropriate behavior.

Nadine said...

Very interesting post.
Such a quandry to want/need help from those who know more and yet how we ask and how we react to things tells a lot about a person's indivdual character, dontcha think?

What I mean is that he may never get it, this guy.

Christie said...

Wow! That's unbelievable! You were so gracious and helpful in your response and you really didn't deserve that.

kyla-dale said...

Ugh! I wonder if mega-famous authors (like Stephen King) get approached like this or if people are more respectful of their time?

Ramona said...

Something's really been buggin me so I have to ask... I DID thank you for helping me fine tune my query letter six months ago didn't I? You were great and I love the suggestions you made.

Thank U. Thank U.
You are a sweet lady.

Wendy Roberts said...

Nothing can prepare you for that kind of rudeness. You handled it beautifully. I prolly would've just returned it without any note.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Oh, that's so sad. At least when aspiring writers send me stuff, they ask first, then only send a sample.

That was a freakin' big manuscript!

Kudos for sticking to your guns, kiddo.

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