On The Asking of Favors From Established Writers

It looks like it’s time to do a little more head-knocking regarding the life of a writer, so let’s just start knocking heads, shall we.

Dear currently unpublished/newbie writers who spend their time bitching about how published/established writers are mean because they won’t read your work/introduce you to their agent/give your manuscript to their editor/get you a job on their television show/whatever other thing it is you want them to do for you:

A few things you should know.

1. The job of a writer is to write. So, I’m looking at one of my book contracts. It says that I need to write a certain type of book (science fiction) of a certain length (100,000 words) by a certain time (er… Hmmm). In return, I get paid a certain amount of money. So that’s the gig.

Here’s what’s not in the contract:

1. That I critique the novels of other people;
2. That I offer any advice to people on how to get published;
3. That I arrange introductions to my agent, editor or publisher;
4. That I do any damn thing, in fact, other than write the book I’ve agreed to write.

The job of a writer is to write.

To which you may say, “Yes, but –” To which I say, you’ve gone one word too far in that sentence. There is no ‘but’ involved. Once again: The job of a writer is to write. Anything else a writer does is entirely on his or her free time and subject to his or her own whim.

Commensurate to this:

2. A writer’s obligations are not to you. Here is the list of the people and things to which I am obliged, in roughly descending order:

1. My wife and child.
2. My work.
3. My friends and the rest of my family.
4. My editors and producers.

Now, you might notice that you are probably not in that list. You know why? Because you and I don’t share a life bond/genetic consanguinity/mutually beneficial business relationship.

Now, as it happens, I also feel an obligation to my various “communities” — the spread-out groups of people who share common interests with me — and one community I think about quite a bit is the community of writers. However, two things here. First, my sense of obligation to the community of writers is both voluntary and rather significantly less compelling to me than the obligations I feel to those enumerated above, and also does not mean I feel obliged to any particular member of that community (i.e., you). Second, there are lots of other writers who may not feel a similar communal obligation.

You may or may not feel this is proper on their part or mine, but so what? It’s not up to you. Which brings us to:

3. The person who determines what a writer should do for others is the writer, not you. Why? Well, quite obviously, because it’s not your life, and you don’t get a say. And if you’re somehow under the impression that well, yeah, actually you do have a say in that writer’s life, take the following quiz:

Think of your favorite writer. Now, are you:
1. That writer?
2. That writer’s spouse (or spousal equivalent)?
3. Rather below that, a member of that writer’s immediate family?
4. Rather below that, the writer’s editor or boss?

If the answer is “no” to the above, then guess what? You don’t get a vote. And if you still assume you do, that writer is perfectly justified in being dreadfully rude to you. I certainly would be. I certainly have been, when someone has made such assertions or assumptions. And if necessary, I will be happy to be so again.

Beyond this, you don’t know the circumstances of the writer’s life, so you don’t know what his capacity is for doing extra-curricular good deeds for random strangers, or his interest, or his ability. The writer may simply not have the time. He may not have the connections. He may not feel competent to evaluate your work. Or he may just not want to, because after everything else he does, he’s tired and just wants to kill zombies on his computer.

Again, you may object to this, or feel your favorite writer should make a special exception for you and your work. But again: So what? It’s not your life.

4. Writers are not dicks for not helping you. Let’s say you ask me to read your work and I tell you “no.” What happens then?

a) You perish in a burning house.
b) You starve to death.
c) You die due to sepsis of the blood because both your kidneys have failed.
d) You are smothered by adorable kittens and fluffy bunnies.
e) Nothing.

The correct answer is “e”. Because you know what, my refusal to read your work has not damaged you or your work in any way. This is not a life or death situation, and all the normal ways of intake into the world of professional writing — the various query and submission processes, the workshops and writers circles — remain as open to you as they ever were.

Let’s review. When you ask me (or any writer) to read your work, you are asking for a favor. A favor is generally understood to be something that someone is not obliged to do and is indeed an imposition, to a greater or lesser degree, on the person being asked by the person asking. People are not dicks for refusing to grant a favor, and someone who believes them so either doesn’t understand the nature of a favor, or is a bit of a dick themselves for thinking that favors must or even should be granted.

Along this line:

5. People asking for favors from writers often don’t understand the consequences of that favor. You know, right after I announced that I was hired as the Creative Consultant for Stargate: Universe, people I didn’t know came out of the woodwork asking me if I could hook them up with gigs or send along their scripts or if I give them the e-mail of the producers so they could talk to them about this great idea they had. You know what would have happened if I had done any of that? If you say “oh, you’d probably have gotten fired,” you’d be absolutely correct. It would have been frankly insane for me to jeopardize my gig that way. I ended up putting up a note telling people to stop asking, but I still to this day get people who think that it’s somehow logical to ask a complete stranger who knows nothing about them (and who they know nothing about) to carry water for them.

When you ask a favor of a writer, you’re asking her to take time from her own work and/or her own life. You are asking her to assume you’re not crazy or won’t turn spiteful or angry when she can’t give you 100% of what you want. You are asking her to assume that 10 years from now you won’t sue her because something she’s written is somewhat tangentially related to something you asked her to read. You’re asking her to assume that continually pestering her own contacts on behalf of people she doesn’t know at all won’t jeopardize her own relationships with those contacts. And so on.

6. People asking favors from writers are often crazy in some undiagnosed way. Yes, I know. You’re not crazy, and you won’t become an asshole to the author, and you won’t sue them even though that story is exactly like yours was, sorta. But there are two things here.

First, the people who ask a writer to do things for them underestimate the number of times authors get asked for these sorts of favors. People: you’re not special when you ask us for our time/effort/connections. Personally, I started getting asked for hook-ups by strangers when I was still in college (I was freelancing for the Sun-Times then), so that’s two decades of being solicited, and no, not even posting a “why I won’t read your unpublished work” post here stops it, because lots of people believe, oh, that doesn’t apply to them.

Second, ask a writer and they will tell you a horror story of trying to help out someone by critiquing their novel or some other nice thing they tried to do in their capacity as a writer, only to have that person go completely nuts on them, for whatever reason. The specifics will vary, because crazy is a multi-headed hydra of abject terror, but just about every writer I know has a story. Some, who still believed in the fundamental sanity of people after such an experience, have two. Almost none have three.

The point is, you may be a nice, sane, rational person who will be grateful for any help you get from a writer. The problem is, other people out there are flat-out bugshit nutbags, and they are asking for the same things you are. It only takes one of them to ruin it for the rest of you, and the problem is that from the outside, you all look pretty much the same. Sorry.

7. Writers are not mystical door openers. At least not in a professional sense. If I read your novel and critiqued it, the critique will tell you how to make to novel more like something I want to read. But you know what? I’m not an acquiring editor at a publisher, and what I consider readable and what that editor were to consider saleable are likely not in parallel. Likewise, I could introduce you to my agent or editor, but I guarantee you that neither of them are going to suspend their judgment to rely on mine; they will happily reject your work if it doesn’t suit their needs, even if I love it insensibly.

The most I or almost any other writer can get you, professionally speaking, is a small jump ahead in a line. But if your writing doesn’t work, you’re still going to get rejected. And if I spend all my time touting people who my agent and editor end up rejecting, in a very short period of time I’m going to become someone you definitely don’t want on your side.

What it comes down to is that the belief that selling work really comes down to who you know is magical thinking, or at the very least it’s wildly overrated in terms of what actually sells work. Yes, there are authors for whom their assurance of a blurb on your cover might convince a publisher to buy your novel, sight (and quality) unseen. Currently, they are called “Stephenie Meyer” and “Dan Brown.”

As for every other writer in the land, well, it’s nice you imagine us with such mighty powers. But you really are better off simply submitting your work the regular way.

Finally, there’s this:

8. Writers remember: If you ask for a favor and I say no and your response is to throw a fit about how elitist writing assholes such as myself are pulling up the ladder after us and we all suck, I will remember that. If you ask for a favor and I say yes and you don’t end up getting what you want and you throw a fit about it, I will remember that too. If you ask for a favor and I say no and your response is gracious, I will also remember that. And if you ask for a favor and I say yes, and you do end up getting what you want, I will remember how you respond to that as well. As will any writer in my position.

What will it mean that we remember these things about you? On one hand, it might not matter much. On the other hand, writers, like all professionals, talk shop. We talk shop with other writers, with editors, with publishers and with everyone else in our little industry. Occasionally we are in a position to help people. Occasionally we’re in a position to influence the selection of a writer for an assignment. Occasionally there’ll be work we’ve been offered and can’t take, but will be in a position to suggest someone who can. Occasionally we’ll switch hats and become editors or producers and be in a position to buy work. And then, of course, remembering will, in fact, matter.

It doesn’t mean I or anyone else will take the opportunity to be a dick, mind you. We will simply remember who we think is worth helping or considering, and who is not.

And that’s something for you to remember.

And now we’re done.

348 thoughts on “On The Asking of Favors From Established Writers

  1. Bravo! You should write more stuff like this.

    *collapses in sheer recursive shock*

    Just kidding. Seriously, I can’t believe you have to keep saying this. When people write to you and ask you to read something they’ve written, why don’t you just respond with a link to this or any of the earlier essays, and nothing else?

  2. You know, Mr. Scalzi, this reminds me of the one time when a professional writer/editor offered to critique some of my stuff. I didn’t ask, mind you–he offered, and his one condition for my accepting that offer was: “Please don’t tell anyone that I did this.” Oh. Took me a while to figure out why he was worried about that . . .

    (For those who are interested: no, I never did tell anyone about it. Except every time the author’s name came in up in conversation, I mentioned that Algis J. Budrys–now, unfortunately, deceased–was a thoroughly decent human being and a terrific editor, and that I admired him and his work tremendously.)

  3. Xopher:

    This is a slightly different take, and thus worth addressing.

    That said, sooner or later I do expect to tun out of new ways of saying thing stuff. AND THEN THE INTERNET WILL END.

  4. An addendum to that should be, “And when a writer does read your stuff, make a referral, put in a good word with an editor or producer, BE FRAKKING GRATEFUL!”

    I’ve seen a few writers get such favors, then say it wasn’t enough because they weren’t magically catapulted onto the bestseller list. Incidentally, there’s a word to describe their careers.

    I believe that word is “over.”

  5. On the issue of helping your community. I think as a whole you have offered plenty of help to aspiring writers. You have outlined strategies for getting work done. You have highlighted writing contests and websites where work can be submitted. These are just the two that come to mind but just with your blog you offer insight that can be a great help. So I’ll say thank you in advance for all your help in making me a published author. Now I just have to follow the first rule and sit down and write.

  6. “flat-out bugshit nutbags”

    As a slightly curved nutshit bugbag, I find your remark offensive.

    Where’s the love John, where’s the love?

  7. Scalzi

    Here is the list of the people and things to which I am obliged, in roughly descending order:

    Hmmm. I don’t see God and Country on that list…

  8. Oh dear. I didn’t mean I can’t believe you keep saying it, I mean I can’t believe it keeps being necessary—as in, I can’t believe people don’t get it, and can’t generalize from your other statements on these matters, and drive you to reiterate it in a new way so many times.

    This IS a new take, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. My apologies for being less than clear.

  9. Additionally: the job of a writer is to write. Not to do your research for you. Not to do your homework for you. Not to save you time. If the writer knows a lot about a certain subject, don’t assume that s/he will drop everything to tell you what you can find out on your own.

  10. Ummm – I would have thought that was all pretty obvious.

    But then, John needed to write that, which means that to some it wasn’t obvious.

    Yhis goes for any profession surely.

    Professional writers write for a living, just like I do stuff with computers for a living. I’ll happily answer (short) questions about computers, I’ll suggest fixes for your bust database if asked, but ask me to spend a day fixing your PC unpaid (=reading and critiquing your manuscript) or ask for an introduction to the head of IT for my current employer and you’ll be shown the door.

    I suppose writing is one of those professions where people tend to forget it is actually a job…..

  11. Damnit, Scalzi, is this your way of offerring to read my stuff again? Quit begging, it’s getting unseemly.

    Snark aside, what kills me here is that I don’t want your opinion of my work. Or any writer’s. I don’t want to write like John Scalzi, or Bob Heinlein, or Fred Pohl, or Larry Niven – I want to write like me. Now, I have taken advice from Orson Scott Card – I bought his book on how to write Scifi – and if other writers were to offer such advice in similar format I just might seek it out – just as I pay close attention to Scalzi’s advice when offerred here on the Whatever. But, if I really wanted another writer’s advice, I’d sign up for Clarion or other such similar workshops.

    Upon occassion I’ve been asked to read stuff by other writers, I’m happy to do so if I have the time, and I may ask such a boon in return – but we know each other and I don’t mind doing favors for friends.

    I will say this, Scalzi, while you may take some heat for this post – just as Josh Olson did – you also are the guy who routinely helps new writers with The Big Idea. I know you’ve personally sold books for fellow writers – because I’ve bought them and will continue to do so. So, thanks.

  12. But, Jess, you are the King of the Über-Geeks! The go-to guy when we can’t figure out that obscure piece of geek lore.

    We bow to your superior knowledge!

  13. In no way do I consider it part of your “contract” that you are writing to satisfy an obligation to the readers.

    At the same time, there is no one forcing me to buy your books, or any author’s books.

    So I believe that you, and several others, have now completely made the “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch” argument.

    We get it. You write, we read, neither is obligated to do either.

    Move on.

  14. Screw you. I’m your owner, bring me tuna. And if I want you to blurb the label, you’ll do it, or the bunny slippers die.

    Oh, and potential nutjobs: Death threats to his baldness only work when you’re cute and fuzzy. And being a fuzzy human isn’t cute.

  15. God it sucks that you have to write this again. I both feel for you and am entertained by the notion that there are daft nutbags out there who think that this doesn’t apply to them. (If you think this posting of John’s doesn’t apply, ask not for whom the cluephone rings, it rings for thee.)

    My new venture away from writing is learning to craft steel bicycle frames. A pretty obscure trade, to be sure, but rather than slap something half-assed together and then demand that a local framebuilder tell me what I did wrong, I did some research and found a local builder who will teach me to build frames.

    And it’s not some magic foo-foo good-karma free love bullshit either. It’s going to cost me. About $2000, plus my materials and tools.

    The point that people seem to miss is that becoming a published writer is not something you do by joining some dark conspiracy — it’s a craft, and it involves a ton of hard work to get to that point. It’s just that most people want the recognition and perceived accolades of being a published author without the work.

    Life takes work. Success takes hard work. If people would pick up the cluephone and give it a good hard listen, they’d know that.

  16. Ya know, I just can’t fathom asking an established writer for a favor. Hell, I can barely pitch to an agent without sounding like an idiot.

    I will note this for future reference. On the off chance I ever, you know, get popular. :D

  17. First: wow, this sounds like a repeat from this week and last week and the week before that.

    Next: still entertaining. I love the snark.

    Then: wow, he actually sounds kinda pissed this time.

    Finally: People must be complete asses. I can’t imagine asking someone I don’t know for a favor. And even people I DO know, it takes a very special relationship to be able to ask for a favor without sounding whiny or feel like you’re using the person.

  18. You sure used a lot of words to say the same thing. No. Someone must have really pissed you off. I am one of those newbie/unpublished writers that have never, ever asked a published writer for critiques (unless in a critique group) or advice on how to get gigs. I have more respect for their time than that. Just because that writer made it through the “published” door, doesn’t make them required to hold that door open for the crowd. They’ve earned their entrance and now they must move on to the task of writing.

  19. Geez, what is it with people? OK, I know that it seems like a good idea to have someone who knows what they’re doing (not necessarily in the looking, but in the writing stage) have a look at what one has written, but…

    John, I hope this helps taking some of the query load off your back. It really can’t be pleasant. I can’t even begin to think what would constitute clever (and ideally applicable) advice, so, well, um…

  20. Let me just start off saying I am in total agreement with this whole article. Reading my stuff = not your job. Totally with you there.

    At some point in the future, though, would you mind offering your thoughts on how to get the opinion of some people whose thoughts and insights might be really valuable to forwarding your work? How to find the right people to talk to, and how not to be THAT GUY when you do ask them for the favor of reading what you’ve written?

    I’m all on board with “don’t be a dick” but could I’d love to hear what you have to say on the right way to go about getting feedback. Let’s assume that none of your friends are writers or good editors and that this also applies to your family. Where should you go for advice and criticism?

  21. Xopher, the reason why it does no good to link to those previous essays was handled in this essay, in a way. Namely, these dolts have already read them, and think that they don’t apply to their pwecious snowflake selves. I know of two surefire ways to get a screaming bugfuck insane screaming match out of a Cat Piss Man: one is for a writer to answer a question with a previously written response to some other clueless git, and the other is for an editor of a science fiction magazine to include a subscription form for said magazine with a manuscript returned from the slush pile.

  22. “Someone must have really pissed you off.”

    No one in particular; I’ve just noticed the general entitlement gestalt since the Josh Olsen thing across various threads I’ve seen on a number of blogs and sites, and thought it worth addressing. These points have been made before, scattered in various places, but I think it’s worth putting them all into one document that’s easily pointable to.

    That said, sometimes after I point people to my “I won’t read your work” piece, I get snitty letters back; now I’ll have this to point them to when it happens.

    Note that this is a discussion independent of people reacting to the tone of the Olsen piece, which is a discussion I don’t think we need to repeat in this thread; there are other threads on the site that discussion is more appropriate for. Hint, hint.

  23. 4. Writers are not dicks for not helping you.

    Most certainly agreed. And people who can’t take “no” without throwing a fit are being dickish about it too.

    It doesn’t mean I or anyone else will take the opportunity to be a dick

    I don’t think you can speak for all author’s past and future behaviours. Not all authors are gracious and diplomatic all the time under all circumstances. No one is.

    [Josh Olsen rant snipped because I don’t want to have it here — JS]

  24. One thing the intertubes has done for me, that I really didn’t need, was alert me to the continued existence of Completely Clueless People.

    I cannot imagine the mind-set that thinks professional writers have any obligation to be someone’s mentor/editor/agent just because said writers have a blog. The accessibility is illusory, kids! Commenting on a blog doesn’t make the blog proprietor your buddy! No, not even if said proprietor responds to your comment!

    (Actually, I can’t imagine thinking a writer has any professional obligations of any kind, at all, other than what’s in the executed contract.)

  25. Let me get this straight.

    If I walked into Johns Hopkins, walked into an operating room and asked the surgeon currently operating on someone to take a look at my highschool Biology paper and see if he could get me a job as a Doctor, you mean there’s people out there that think the guy might say

    “Well, usually I’d continue this life-saving operation but you, you look more important, lets go to my office”.

  26. This is all well and good, but what about asking for your help moving furniture?

    I’ve got a couch that needs to go upstairs, and there’s a really tight corner just before my bedroom. There’s no way I’m going to be able to do it by myself.

  27. I cannot imagine the mind-set that thinks professional writers have any obligation to be someone’s mentor/editor/agent just because said writers have a blog. The accessibility is illusory, kids! Commenting on a blog doesn’t make the blog proprietor your buddy! No, not even if said proprietor responds to your comment!

    It’s such a weird space, this area where we’re not really friends but lots of us kind of ‘know’ each other. Having said that, this attitude existed before blogging and will no doubt continue. I have trouble asking my friends for critique, much less ‘someone I know on a blog.’

  28. I think this calls for summoning forth the power of “RANT-CAT”

    OMG

    Make it so!

    ;)

    Completely understandable though.

    Carries over into more mainstream jobs as well *cough* I.T. *cough*

  29. As far as I’m concerned, any activity that does not either

    1. Directly result in more writing by you for me to read or

    2. Materially improve said writing, is a waste of your time and mine.

    The only reason I allow you to waste your time with “family” and “life” and “zombies” is because I am dimly aware that forcing you to write 24/7 will eventually have a deleterious effect on your work. As would reading any of the 27 first chapters that I have produced in the last two years, any one of which would result in a novel which would totally knock you off the bestseller lists, if I were bothered to finish them, but I don’t, and for that fact, you owe me big time, so you better get back to work, man!

  30. I posted about this on my blog, along with my one single story I have of someone going batshit after I did the favor of reading his work. At comment #11 I got the “don’t you think you should be more understanding to that poor author whose work you trashed?” Gah.

    Then I get asked, “Well, what about all the help YOU got when YOU were unpublished?” To which I say, “I PAID to take classes and go to workshops. I asked for help from other unpublished authors. I never asked for favors.”

    Why is this so hard?

  31. Writer, n. – The one person who cannot help you get published, knows none of publishing’s secrets, and is privy to no one’s secret list of wishes and needs; a scribbler of no talent or integrity whom you are mad at for not looking at your genius manuscript; a mysterious type who refuses to share his esoteric brotherhood’s secrets with you.
    –Revised Devil’s Dictionary, the Stewart Edition

  32. ToddM @ 23: I’m not absolutely sure, but I don’t think that a writer’s obligation to his readers (whatever that might or might not be) is really all that relevant to this post. I think that what’s being discussed in this post/thread is a published writer’s possible relationship to fellow writers, especially to unpublished fellow writers asking for personal favors. Slightly different issue . . .

  33. Well obviously.

    One shouldn’t expect someone else to do favors for them just because they happen to know of them from posts on a website, regardless of their occupation.

    Of course, people don’t generally want the opinions of some random shmoe vs. someone with notoriety…

  34. Ironically. If you’re really looking for advice from Scalzi on how to get published, it’s out there. He did a talk at google where explained exactly how he sold his first few books.

    What the hell are you waiting for?

  35. Some related thoughts from Harlan Ellison:
    “No one bothers to tell you, when you’re poor and hungry to make it, that fame – of even the smallest sort – brings with it a disconcordant hire of moochers, self-seekers, time-wasters, dynamiting hype artists, emotionally starved groupies and just plain clipsters. One tries to be polite, but after a few years, after a few million incursions, after a ceasless barrage of requests, demands, hard-luck stories and assorted annoyances that in and of themselves are minor but taken in sum drive you bugfuck, one looks up with flaccid onion hanging out of one’s mouth and says as sweetly as possible. “Get the hell out of my face, you spittoon; can’t you see I’m trying to eat? Have a little common courtesy and a little respect for someone’s privacy.”
    You wouldn’t have the temerity to walk up to a total stranger and do it, why do you thing you have the right to shoehorn yourself into the presence of an _equally_ total stranger, just because you caught him or her on the Late Show?

    The warped concept we’re dealing with here, beyond bad taste and lousy manners, is the concomitant of the Cult of Personality. It is the sense that one is entitled to anything beyond the _work_ the artist proffers. It is all _Johnny Carson Show_ time. An actor performs in a screenplay, and what he or she does in that film is the gift. Beyond that, the audience is entitled to nothing. A writer commits a book, and it is published. _That_ is the outer limit of what the reader is entitled to.”

  36. Taylor: how to get the opinion of some people whose thoughts and insights might be really valuable to forwarding your work?

    Work with other struggling writers. Take lots of writing classes, writing workshops, find writers groups. Find lots of different writers who are learning the craft like you are.

    Odds are that not everyone of them will all be bad at the same thign you are. One of them might be bad at characters, decent with plot, and really good with worldbuilding. If you are good at characters and bad at worldbuilding, you both could both swap short stories and learn something from each other’s feedback.

    If you work with enough struggling writers, you’ll find the ones who can teach you and maybe you can return the favor.

    As for asking the pros, the one non-negotiable problem is the legal issues that come from having an unknown writer send you a manuscript and then sue you for using their idea.

    You generally don’t have to worry about struggling writers suing other struggling writers. Once you start writing for a living, everyone else thinks you’re making a bajillion dollars a day. Writers don’t make that kind of money. (Well, Scalzi does, but the rest don’t). So that non-existent money starts to draw the attention of certain troublesome people. And there’s no way to sort the good from the bad when they’re all people you don’t know.

    Where one problem seems to occur is the strugglign writer who underestimates the value he could get from all the other struggling authors he knows, who thinks his manuscript is so much better that he’s ready for a pro’s feedback. They ask a pro for a reading, and view “no” as putting them back in the “struggling writer” category. And they get pissed about that.

    You’ll get a lot better feedback from people you’ve dealt with in a class than some guy you don’t know but you liked his published novel.

    When you’ve read someone’s first draft of a story, you see what they’re good at and what they need to work on. When you read someone’s published novel, you’re seeing what the author plus an editor plus a bunch of beta readers resulting in a bunch of rewrites will produce, and you have no idea what came directly from the author.

  37. Well said.

    Oh, by the way, would you mind reading my book and maybe sell it to your agent/editor?

    (just kidding)

  38. But, the world revolves around *meeeeee*, right? No? Well, shoot. *pout*

    [please note, my tongue is shoved so far into my cheek that it’s deforming the shape of my face]

  39. Scalzi,

    re: 4. Writers are not dicks for not helping you.

    There’s a guy with a gun to my head. He tells me that if I am unable to convince you to read *my* novel, he will smother me with adorable bunnies and kittens, and then shoot me for good measure.

    So you see, your refusal *will* have an undesirable effect on me.

    The really sucky thing is that I don’t have the novel yet in polished form, but in order to save my life I need to get you to read a first draft of an unpublished author.

    I wish the situation was different.

    ;)

  40. Taylor: Generally, the answer for that is “find a writers’ group and join it”. There are a number of online ones these days, with more or less focus on critiques (and, of course, more or less quality and goodness-of-fit to a given writer’s needs and personality). The one at http://www.critters.org/ is one of the larger ones that I know about, and I’ve heard good things about it for years.

    There are also online communities of writers, which can be good for making friends. Time was, I’d recommend the rec.arts.sf.composition newsgroup, but I think that time is fast passing if not already past.

  41. So that’s a “No” to reading my 1.5 million word unsorted, unnumbered pentology first draft manuscript, hand written on yellow legal sheets with a crayola ‘blueberry’ crayon?

  42. “… nice thing they tried to do in their capacity as a writer, only to have that person go completely nuts on them, for whatever reason.”

    Am I the only one who wants to hear a few of those stories? No names, of course, but just the stories …

  43. *Standing ovation*

    I’m just sorry that you had to take the time to get into this. Adults, and most children, should know all of it already.

  44. These people don’t really want your opinion of their writing; they want you to take them in to your super-sekrit society of Freewritermasons, teach them the secret handshakes, passwords and other arcane rituals. (Note to such people: Quit watching so many History Channel documentaries about the Masons and Knights Templar.)

    Of course, they should just get out of the house once in a while and go live life, and then maybe they’d have something interesting to write about. Alas, I don’t expect that they will. Their cherished fantasies about the writer’s life are too dear to them.

  45. That’s good to know. I am constantly being asked, by writers, to review, or to tell my friends if I liked the book, or to talk to my local indy bookseller, or to share my Hollywood contacts, or, or consider this project for my film fund…

    I’m willing to bet that I get those questions at least as much as you get the ones you listed. Stupid me, I’d been trying to help where I could. I’d been saying yes when I could, no when I had to.

    I’d even been dumb enough to think that networking is such a natural thing in a society. Hey, do you know anyone who can program my …? Hey, can you pass my résumé on to … ? Does anyone close carry my brand of coffee …?

    Glad to know that such quaint customs have been relegated to the past. It’s quite a relief, actually. Thanks again.

  46. John: Heed my words.

    OK. I didn’t know it was off limits until after I submitted it. You must have posted #33 while I was working on #34.

    Words now heeded.

  47. johnadcox, our first thread prize finalist for Person Possibly Intentionally Missing the Point of the Entry for the Purposes of Snark.

    I expect the other finalists will be along presently.

    Update: Hah! Missed the follow up post. That’s very funny.

    GregLondon:

    Thanks and no worries.

  48. I mean…I mean…I MEAN…. I’m just sitting here on the bench … I mean I’m sittin here on the favor-askin bench. And you tell me not to ask a favorcuz you’re a writer and not my best friend?

    Durn, I’ll ask someone else for a cup o’bacon for my cat.

    (With apologies to Arlo Guthrie for the taking of part of the Massacree in vain.)

  49. You are trying to tell people who feel entitled that they are not. Do you really think anyone so immature as too believe that they are entitled to anything of yours is going to take to heart your logical argument? Or even read past the first few paragraphs?

    My suggestion is that, rather than explaining, you make them put the shoe on the other foot. Ask what favor they intend to do in return. Favors are two-way streets or they are enslavement.

  50. Petra:

    As with many of these sorts of entries, the goal is not to convince those who cannot be convinced; the goal is to educate those who will listen, so they will not the mistake in the first place.

  51. Well, now I feel like a complete scumbag. A pro writer was nice enough recently to offer to read my stuff, and I was so blown away I told other people he’d done it (in very, very flattering terms, but I think at least once i used his name).

    I hope like hell I didn’t get more nutbags coming to him, when he was nice enough to do me that favor! (and YES! I totally get that that’s a big favor).

    What makes this phenomenon so appalling is that there are a lot of other ways to get pro feedback if you want it. Heck, most cons (and mainstream writing conventions) have read and critiques sessions with pros for nominal fees (usually the cost of the copying and so forth). And then they’ve signed up for it!

  52. I enjoyed your post and I think you made a very good point about remembering. Of course, everyone who isn’t a completely self-centered jerk remembers how they are treated and responds accordingly. (The completely self-centered jerks treat everybody the same way – badly.) I am an accountant by profession and I am astonished at how many people think it’s just fine and dandy to abuse any service provider one day and call up the next asking to be jumped to the head of the line for this or get extra-quick service for that. It just doesn’t work that way.

  53. “If you ask for a favor and I say no and your response is gracious, I will also remember that.”

    So I should ask you now if you could critique chapters 6, 14, and 27 of the first novel in a sci-historico-military-romantic-horror fiction trilogy I’m writing, accept your ‘cold day in hell’ response graciously, and earn brownie points? :)

  54. Gosh. I’m still so wowed by authors that I find it hard to speak to them at conventions, much less ask them to read my stuff. (Although I admit that I’ve approached several by email and asked for copies of their books for review — thinking that that at least qualified as a matter of mutual benefit. I never, ever take offense if they say no, though, because, after all, there is a public library in my town.)

    I hope authors, as a rule, start out with a polite rejection, however. Of course, if a requester is feeling really entitled, I can understand how things would progress to not polite, to say the least, rather rapidly.

  55. I hope you saw this, a righteous rant along the same lines:

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

    …I had the recent experience of composing a very long thoughtful email to a friend I met in India, who wanted me to tell her what I thought about her poetry. It was awful–and it was clear she’d read very little poetry–but I didn’t say that; I gave her very concrete and compassionate ideas for how to go forward if she was serious about poetry.

    Of course, she never replied.

  56. I honestly think there is a difference between feeling entitled and asking a favor. The tone of the article, honestly, seems to be, don’t dare ask a favor. Ever. Don’t dare. Just don’t. Not of anyone, but especially not a writer.

    I don’t think it’s about entitlement at all. If someone with an armload of packages asks me to hold the door, I don’t think it’s because they think they’re entitled to enter before me. If someone asks me to consider a script or manuscript, I can’t imagine that they think placing it directly in my hands is going to make it more likely to pass our vetting criteria; it’s just (somewhat) less likely to get lost in the shuffle. If a neighbor asks for a ride when their car breaks down ….

    I can’t help everyone who asks. Pretty often, I can’t help anyone. But I _DO_ try to do as much as I can as often as I can. I think that’s a part of what living in a community is about. And yes, some of those favors involve my professional skills.

    They also involve my personal brand, and the way I present myself to my audience/customers. Every encounter with a brand is an experience, either positive or negative. Positive experiences help you prefer that brand; negative ones diminish its value. A person in a business is a brand, pure and simple. Maybe it shouldn’t be so. Maybe the brand should begin and end with the words on the page. It’s just not so.

    Sometimes, hell, usually, you have to say no. And mean it. But there’s a difference between, “oh, gee, I’d like to, but I just can’t,” and, “I will not read your fucking script.” The former, I’m likely to do business with. The latter? I won’t read page 2. For the record, I don’t think that’s a good think. I wish I were a good enough person to judge purely on the work, and not the associations I have with the name. But all of us tend to make decisions emotionally, probably far more than we realize. That’s why the best marketing is a service, something done for the customer, rather than to the customer, and why experience matters.

    It’s also why I have three other general partners making final decisions with me.

  57. Happening by:

    Not for every writer at all, but one thing that has mostly solved this problem for me is my regular work as a book doctor. (A term I greatly prefer to silly things like “consulting editor” or “private development editor” or whatever. I help books that aren’t well get better. Period). When I encounter someone who wants me to just look at their work or just help them a little or whatever, I smile and evince no interest in anything other than whether they are a suitable client and whether they are prepared to pay my rates. This results in the great majority fleeing and a small minority becoming clients. (Some of this may be that, as I explain regularly, I specialize in the gap between “almost publishable” and “better than publishable,” and prefer to look at works that have been decreed “almost publishable” by an agent or editor — and I do check the reference. )

    The wise old formula that money talks and bs walks turns out to be true and effective in this realm too.

    I’ve always figured that if I ever hit the point where I don’t want to do book doctoring anymore, rather than officially leave, I’ll just set the rates too high to get any clients.

    Very occasionally — as in twice — I’ve done book doctoring in barter arrangements, both highly satisfactory.

    Again, if you don’t want to be a book doctor, I guess you have to Just Say No, but more of the pros should probably consider book doctoring as a supplemental income, and because it gets you out of so many awkward conversations. (Incidentally, a martial arts buddy of mine has a small moving company — and he tells me that a very large number of people who meet him at parties want him to drop by and help them move. This, he says, is curable by giving them a card and a rate sheet. Some analogies really are close to perfect.)

  58. I’ve been lucky to have some pro eyeballs on my work, although it’s not just luck. Some of it has been finding workshops and crit groups with a high calibre and contributing back and reading other people’s works and generally, there’s a lot more going on than me going up to Mr/Ms. Pro and going, “Hey, will you take a look at my work.”

    Incidentally, many writers offer workshops or will give you heads-up about workshops and courses on their blogs. I know Scalzi and Bear talk about Viable Paradise, and David Farland has a newsletter where he discusses the workshops he’s going to. Nick Mamatas used to teach a genre writing course for Boston’s Grub Street. (You can google it–he doesn’t teach there anymore, being on the west coast now, but I think he recommended his successor.) OSC has a writing bootcamp. Honestly, there’s a lot of opportunities to get pro eyeballs on your stuff (or a portion of your stuff) and hone your work even further.

  59. johnadcox:

    “The tone of the article, honestly, seems to be, don’t dare ask a favor. Ever. Don’t dare. Just don’t. Not of anyone, but especially not a writer.”

    Nah. Just don’t be either surprised or offended if the writer says “sorry, no.”

  60. Dear John, (hhehehehe, Dear John)

    Please review this comment, as I’m considering posting to a well known site where it will get peer reviewed by many viewers. I want a professional opinion on its content, and I know you have an in with the proprietor.

    And by proprietor, I of course mean your cat.

    (Yes yes, I know pretending to leave a comment with the precise tone you’re saying not to contact you with was so 23 comments ago — but I’m working here, and got to the game late)

  61. Humanity, as a group, is wonderful. I love humanity.

    Individual humans, however, suck donkey balls.

    Because of this, I am unsurprised that people still don’t get it and will continue to not get it even after John’s very understandable rant. Too many people think they’re just the most special-est of the special.

    I honestly think that every person is special and exceptional – just not as special and exceptional as they think they are. And no one is so special and exceptional that common sense and courtesy doesn’t apply to him/her. I don’t care who it is.

  62. I’m not a writer, but I think a lot of what you said rings true for favor-asking in general. People don’t expect to be told no, and they don’t like it if the favor-doing doesn’t go *exactly* like *they* wanted it. IMO the favor-doer is the one who decides how it gets done, and if the asker doesn’t like it… maybe they shouldn’t have asked.

  63. This is a trivial observation, but I think it’s the old non-symmetrical relationship thing. See, John, I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while, and I’ve read several of your books. I feel like I know you. So obviously you must know me as well. Therefore it wouldn’t be crazy for me to ask you to get together for beer and a short read of my new novella, now would it? I mean, we’re buds, right?

    But you don’t actually know me at all. Huh.

  64. Even though it’s not related to writing, this fairly well summarizes why I’ve stopped doing computer support “on the side” for co-workers.

  65. Now I’m curious to know if articles like this only serve to concentrate the crazy, as the more socially clueful will read articles like this and not ask for favors, leaving only the annoying ones to ask.

    Clearly it’s time for an experiment. Who wants to be the control?

  66. You know, I’ve always thought of a favour as something one asks a family member, friend or co-worker. I know that’s not the definition but it’s always how I perceived it.

    Asking someone you don’t know to do something like this seems like a huge willful imposition. Favours are returned, impositions aren’t.

  67. @ johnadcox #74: I would hazard to guess there is a huge difference from the few seconds a person is inconvenienced from doing something like holding a door open and the amount of time that it would take to give an honest critique on something a person wrote. The time sink alone isn’t on the same level.

    Asking for a favor may not seem like a big deal because for the person asking, it’s only once. For the person on the receiving end of it who others perceive to have a “foot in the door”…I can’t imagine how many times they get asked for “just a favor”…or a pat on the head.

  68. I like the “If you ask for a favor and I say no and your response is gracious, I will also remember that” part. It is very encouraging. It makes me want to ask for favors, just so that I can be rejected. At least the people that I admire will have a positive opinion of me and that can’t hurt.

    Yes, I know that there are limits. Too many requests or bad timing can be really annoying, no matter how gracious the requester is. I know, I have family.

  69. @Shawn Powers #79

    Perhaps you should run the comment past a proofreader before submitting to Scalzi, as I have counted at least two punctuation errors. It is possible that a professional proofreader would find more. I have it on good authority that Scalzi and Ghlaghghee are intolerant of punctuation errors.

    HTH.

    Sincerely,
    Self-Important Trollop

  70. Yep. Just…yep. And neither will I go to your website to read your work, nor give you a blurb for something you haven’t sold yet, etc., etc., etc..

    I offer writing advice on my site, and on some of my blogs, and that’s the best/most I can do.

  71. Can we amend your list to say that even family members have to agree to play nice on this one?

    Such fun–being browbeaten into reading your own father’s work, trying very nicely and gently to help him out, then getting the you’re-wrong-crazy-mean-what-do-you-know-anyway? treatment.

    I’m half-afraid to read my kids Christmas lists anymore.

  72. Leslie:

    At this point the only family member who asks is Athena, and she writes better at her age than I did, so I don’t find it difficult to chat with her about it.

    But, yeah. I do say to friends when they ask, “Now, you know that I’m not actually going to be nice to you when I give you notes, right?” That way, when they get notes they can’t say they weren’t warned. So far most of them have taken it well.

    David Goldfarb:

    Who?

  73. I very much want Scalzi (and everyone else) to read my work. When it’s (a) finished (b) published and (c) he’s heard enough good things about it to want to buy it himself or it gets sent to him by a thoughtful publisher.

  74. Tam: I seem to recall reading something about Seinfeld — it may have been here on one of our hosts’ previous comments about this problem — that he had become reclusive since hitting it big because everyone sort of assumed that since they knew him, he knew them. And otherwise perfectly professional lawyers, accountants, whatever, would start casually inquiring into business relationships as if they already knew him. That’s obviously a massively, massively scaled up problem that Scalzi has, but it’s part of that same asymmetry here.

  75. greymonk:

    It seems to be part of human nature. That is why I have a bumper sticker on my puckup that reads: “Yes, its my pickup. No, I won’t help you move.”

  76. Geez you ask a guy one time if he can spare some hair for the hair doll I’m making of him.

    -or-

    do you know how many books of yours I had to buy to write my manuscript in the snipped out letters of your book covers?

    -or-

    no, I can’t go on taunting the deranged. I also can’t tell if this the other side of the line or not. Sometimes I get a little wacko with the line. Hey buddy? Huh, buddy? Huh? Remember all those awkward times we haven’t shared or bonded over?

    Snip as you please Scalzi.

  77. I’m just mystified at the thought process that goes through their heads. I mean, honestly, how is this supposed to work? Are you supposed to go to your editor and say, “Someone calling him- or herself ‘NiteBrite85′ has a manuscript they’d like you to read.” ?

  78. I did the ‘you know I’m not going to be nice’ thing for a close friend a couple of years ago, and I think he was just so convinced that his work was brilliant that he couldn’t believe there would be anything negative to say. He insisted that he really wanted my critique. He then spent an hour telling me why I was wrong on *every single point,* that it was good enough for his purposes as it was, and that all of his other friends had loved it. Lesson learned: I will never read anything by anyone who a) I don’t know is serious about *learning to write,* (they _all_ think they’re ‘serious about writing’ and b) doesn’t have critique experience under their belt already.

  79. To be honest I would have prefered option d) to e) on that last quiz, but at least it was so much fun getting the answers right.

    Otherwise, I agree. But I think that you forgot to mention that once you make a favor it needs to be returned. It’s how the world goes.

    PS: I would suggest writers really do acquire some sort of godly powers, but reality sucks that way.

  80. >you know that I’m not actually going to be nice to you when I give you notes, right<

    Sounds good. Except for the "Now, Dad…" part that comes at the front of it.

    Still a bit of the obedient daughter lurking in my soul, I'm afraid.

  81. My crankiness is mollified by an assessment of where the asker is on the favor vs. entitlement line, and on the novice vs. expert line. I’m an editor, and I get requests to get somebody started in the biz–“I, too, would like to be paid to read books!” My reception of the request is eased if someone shows they recognize it’s a favor and that I’ve accumulated a body of knowledge–I haven’t just lucked into this position.

    One item in that knowledge: how long it takes to read a piece that you’re editing. And this is, after all, my job–in my off time I might want to do something else, not to mention that I’ve never read Proust, or Cather, or …

    And to my beleaguered IT pals, my new phrasing to fish for computer help: “how difficult would it be to figure out what’s causing — ?”

  82. @Dave Hall #100:

    It seems to be part of human nature. That is why I have a bumper sticker on my puckup that reads: “Yes, its my pickup. No, I won’t help you move.”

    Not even if I pay for gas and get you pizza and beer?

    Aw, man…

  83. @annmariegamble #108
    And to my beleaguered IT pals, my new phrasing to fish for computer help: “how difficult would it be to figure out what’s causing — ?”

    I usually start with telling them my inflated hourly rate, specifically telling them that I might not be able to fix their particular problem. That’s actually for my friends. Strangers get a far worse proposition.

  84. Dave 103: I was wondering how you could possibly have a bumper sticker on your puckup. I think that would be terribly uncomfortable.

  85. Wow !
    Well I’ve read some of your books (haven’t got “God Engines yet, soon…) and I like them.
    I’ve read your blog for the past two years, I like it too…
    So could I ask you for a favor, that you keep writing? Thank You.

  86. Same as per above:

    # fellow-ohioanon 15 Sep 2009 at 3:34 pm

    John I only want you to read one sentence. “Keep on writing so I will have something to read”

    except I am not from Ohio, altho my great-great-grandfather was from Ohio, but he left in the 1840s.

    John, I will gladly buy copies of any more books you write that are either SF or SF related. If you write about calculus, I will probably pass on it…sorry…

    cheers

    Michael

  87. Mr Scalzi,
    I was wondering if you could do me a major favour and continue being just as awesome as already are… I suspect there are many more people that needed to see this post than actually did see it.

  88. Also, you left out the part where it’s also not the job of an established writer to “help” with school papers (which usually means to write the damn thing for them).

  89. You know, I am a ‘computer guy’ and I have the EXACT same problem all the time. I almost cringe when a new neighbor ask, “Hey, what do you do for a living?” The next thing out of his mouth is going to be, “Hey, I’ve got this problem with my computer. Maybe you could take a look at it?”

    I get paid to work with computers and spending three hours at my neighbor’s house fixing whatever is not a great way to spend an evening.

    I completely understand Mr. Scalzi and feel like it applies to all professions. I wouldn’t dream of asking my lawyer neighbor to have a look at my will, my landscaper neighbor to come mow my lawn, or my accountant neighbor to look over my taxes.

    It just seems there are a few professions that are extremely vulnerable to this kind of thing: writers, computer people, mechanics. . . I’m sure there are more.

  90. John Scalzi said, “Occasionally we are in a position to help people. Occasionally we’re in a position to influence the selection of a writer for an assignment.”

    Hey, this means he CAN help me! And, if he CAN, I’m sure he WILL!!! Hurray! I think I’ll drop him a line RIGHT NOW and ask him to read my amazing story about zombie Zoe and the planet of doom!

  91. dear John:

    Point taken, but since I have no interest in writing / you doing favors for me etc. when will your next book be ready? I’m out of your stuff to read, see I read it all and if you could pretty please get some more published that would be great – I think Bill Schafer prints book – maybe you two could get together and….. (wow that whole thing sounded so much more funny in my head than when I wrote it down – maybe there is something to this whole writing well/funny is a ‘talent’ thing after all … now if I could find someone who does that well and could give me some pointers…. hey John – you’re good at that, maybe I could come over and we could have a couple of beers and you could help me ‘find my voice’)

    did I really just use the same joke that John said he’d be keeping a tally of? I guess I am not creative AT ALL.

    P.S. Dave Goldfarb? from Veritas? (back in the day) we actually have something in common?

  92. Jim Wright @120:

    Individual humans, however, suck donkey balls.

    I know a place in Thailand where you can see that exact show, twice nightly.

    What?

    It doesn’t surprise me that you possess this knowledge. What does surprise me is that it’s in Thailand and not in Tijuana.

  93. When you ask for a favor, you should expect nothing and accept everything.

    If you ask for a favor, you have no leverage (otherwise it wouldn’t really be asking for a favor). Act accordingly.

  94. What? You were the Creative Consultant for Stargate: Universe???

    Could you hook me up with the producers contact info?

  95. Carol Elaine @ 110.

    Well — If a goddess offers gas money, pizza and beer — OK.

    If my wife will let me . . .

  96. Rather than ever ask you to read something I wrote (even as my earlier comment gets added to your tally), I’d just settle for having the waiter send over a nice cold bottle of Coke Zero upon seeing you in a restaurant…

  97. Jesus Christ, the wingnuts are even barging in on a conversation like this! Tell us John, why the fuck did you not include god and country in your list of priority people!

  98. This made me laugh. I have offered to help a novice writer — and had to back out because the person sobbed on my couch during a critique. Never again.

    Another possible answer is, “I only critique when I am a faculty member at a conference.” In certain genres, we are lucky, because we have lots of conference and lots of help that we gladly pay for. And it teaches us to hire editing assistance – it’s not a favor.

  99. Wonderful stuff. I’ve been very fortunate to have been granted some very generous favours by some wonderful writers, for which I am eternally grateful.

    I would like to add to my fellow unpublished writers that you bear in mind that daft actions damage all of us.

    And I’d like to add to the published writers out there that 90% of the time when people talk to you on forums, or @reply you on twitter they are being friendly to a kindred spirit and WANT nothing

    I’d also like to mention that from where I stand, there’s one biggie obligation you’ve missed that’s just above your editor/pub – and that’s your reader. every writer should remember that when they set pen to paper and then decide they want those words in the public domain, they ARE entering a relationship. But NOT with other writers. With readers.

    Finally, as a newbie writer I, like you, remember (I hope I’d never fall into the discourteous let alone the wobbly fit camp!). I am the same person now as I will be if I ever “make it”. And I write the same stuff now as I’d write then. So, to the generic people who have made it: if you don’t want to know my work now, I sure as heck won’t want to know you then when you DO want me to give a talk or endorse you. Sure, 99.9% chance is, that’s meaningless drivel, but I want to encourage newbies – you are as entitled to have your standards and your principles as the established folks out there.

  100. John McKee:

    Frank’s a long-time commenter, and while generally conservative, not really what I’d call wacko. I’m pretty sure his comment was for humorous effect. At the very least I took it to be so, so I think you should too.

  101. Can I PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE write an article that is very similar to this but basically substitues the word ‘programmer’ for ‘writer’.

    I promise it won’t be total plagiarism… and provide suitable reference. but the word has to be spread.

    I was seriously considering writing something very similar till I saw this and had that hallelujah moment!

    I like what you said about ‘not trying to convince those who cannot be convinced’ it’s so true!

  102. while it did occur to me to write to Producers of a show…Like Please DON’T Cancel CHARM! they did anyway…I didn’t. Too lazy I guess.

    I wouldn’t write to a writer and ask them to take a Look at my stuff….I’d ask for autograph book…or if they had time to write on their website some tips on how they got started, spoilers on next novel.

    I’d prefer to ask an editor to read my manuscripts…cause I know its not perfect, even though i feel there isn’t something more i can do to it, i know that someone else can find things that i have missed.
    I guess i’ve had too many writing classes.
    yet no bachelor degree as I owe money before I can take final course which includes a thesis…

  103. Dave Hallon @ 125:

    Well — If a goddess offers gas money, pizza and beer — OK.

    If my wife will let me . . .

    Score! Can you be in Los Angeles in November or December? Don’t worry, I’ll talk to your wife.

    Jim Wright @ 128:

    Tell us John, why the fuck did you not include god and country in your list of priority people!

    Or donkey balls?

    Note to self: Jim Wright has an unnatural obsession with donkey balls. Find way to use this as leverage in future dealings…

  104. The REAL answer is d, I will be surrounded by adorable fluffy things, so, I’d appreciate getting the opportunity to ask and be politely declined.

    Seriously, though, I group my work life into two categories:

    1) Things I will get paid for doing or otherwise advance my career / humanity in general.

    2) Things that prevent me from spending more time with my family

    If category = 2, then speak: “No, thank you.”

  105. Thanks John – the possibility it was a piss-take did cross my mind, but I’ve been overexposed to Beckian ravings lately (yes, I am a borderline masochist). Unconscious humour seems to be the best the angry nitwit class can manage these days.

    Excellent post Frank – made this fella L out L!

  106. Carol @ 134: I sense UCF trollopy mischief afoot yet again. Mmmmm.

    Personally, I was just trying to see how many times I could get away with saying Donkey Balls before Scalzi shut me down.

    Yes, this has been a particularly long and painful afternoon. Damned Infopath and other assorted Microsoft Office 2007 products.

    Say, would any of you mind reviewing my VBA code? No? Hello?

  107. You are and were all newbs at one time. I laugh at the absurdity of some of your comments.

    What have you really done that is so great????

  108. BoingBoing calls it “a scalding and funny diatribe”. I must admit, it’s not quite as forgiving as your other “i can’t read your work” thread.

  109. I have made such mistakes in the past. Not because I felt entitled, I just thought it couldn’t hurt to ask. I never asked a professional writer to read my work, but I’ve asked about stupid things that I probably could’ve found the answer to if I’d just put some effort into it.

  110. Love the article. Couldn’t help thinking of this extended Robert Heinlein quote from TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE:

    ‘Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.
    But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad than it is with the leech who wants “just a few minutes of your time, please — this won’t take long.” Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time — and squawk for more!
    So learn to say No — and to be rude about it when necessary.
    Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.
    (This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is “expected” of you.)’

    Regards

    p.s. If you won’t read my story, can I have a pony?

  111. Jim @ 137:

    Of course there’s UCF trollopy mischief afoot again. That’s the best kind!

    Why keep mentioning Donkey Balls when you can link to them?

    Now, back to the topic at hand:

    There are times when I ask for a favor from friends where I am denied and I get a little on the huffy side, especially when I’m really counting on the favor. In those times it is I who is being the dick, not my friends. I usually realize that after I calm down and think over the exchange, after which I will apologize for my dickish behavior.

    We’re all dicks at one point or another. The key is whether we realize it.

  112. … just about every writer I know has a [crazy favour-seeker] story. Some, who still believed in the fundamental sanity of people after such an experience, have two. Almost none have three.

    I would buy and relish such an anthology.

  113. #134, By saying that Jim’s obsession with donkey balls is unnatural, you imply that there might be such thing as a natural obsession with donkey balls. I hope to God that’s not true.

    #137, I don’t need to see your VBA code to review it. It’s written in VBA, therefore it is crap (just as you don’t need to read my Hobbit/Harry otter slash fanfic to know that, hoooo boy, it’s crap).

  114. I think a nuance that some people are missing is that not everyone who gets mad when you refuse a favor feels entitled.

    They know, deep down, that you don’t owe them anything and that you’re not a dick for saying no, but after they mustered up the gumption to ask for the favor, they were counting on you to say yes. So when you say no, you’ve kicked the stool out from under their plans and leave it swinging in the breeze. It’s not your fault they started counting on something they had no right to expect, but they’re mad about it.

    I would imagine that 75% of the people who get mad about it in the moment cool down the next day and realize they were out of line. It’s only the other 25% who are the true bugshit nutbars

  115. This was inspiring. I shall, at the least, know the depths of the favor I am asking should I ever ask it (of any writer), and be appropriately respectful.
    I would say you did your community a tremendous favor today.

  116. JOHN:

    You have masterfully channeled my voice and passion-slathered position. I now batten on the
    insensate “common knowledge” that I am a rude and monstrous personage because I have been saying JUST what you said for, oh, about forty years now. Only difference: I’m not as polite as you.

    As someone far more cogent than I—-Schiller or Ben Franklin or Brother Theodore, whomever—-once observed, “You cannot win an argument with an ignorant person.” And now that amateurism has been crowned king via the egalitarianism of the internet (the greatest hand-maiden ever birthed to gull wannabes and manques and poseurs into believing they have star-quality abilities) you will find, as you’ve found already with the comments preceding mine, that there are those who “get it,” who “hear the music,” and there are those—-such as your poster #2, a person clearly so impenetrable that the best s/he can summon up is snarky umbrage—-as I was saying, on the other hand there are those on whom you could visit the joys of a ball-peen hammer to the forehead, repeatedly, endlessly, who will remain as one with a stone, a post or a fistful of auk-vomit, and NEVER get any closer to understanding the disrespect and casual intrusiveness anent the “do me a small favor” bleat. Not only are they tone-deaf, not only are they (at best) barely functionally literate, they are arrogant in their misconception that the universe revolves around THEM. I’m being polite here.

    But, aw shucks, John, I’ve said more than I intended. Merely wanted to stop by and say, “good onya, mate.” Those who get it…get it. Those who won’t or can’t…well, they deserve about as much mollifying or further advisement as does a Typhoid Mary needing to be told to cover her cough.

    Boy, am I glad IIIIII don’t have e.mail.

    Yr. Pal, Harlan

  117. A world champion bridge player I know gets asked frequently for her advice on hands. Her response is “Give me a dollar”. One of two things then happen, A) the person leaves. or B) the person ponies up a dollar and describes the hand. When this chanpion then says what she would have done, if the person says “thanks” or “I never thought of that” she gives them their dollar back. If the person wants to argue about her opinion, which was solicted, she keeps the dollar.

  118. Fair enough. You do seem slightly tense, though. Could I suggest a light massage and maybe a nice little glass of port?

    Alas, let us hope that you never suffer a downturn of fortune that (horror) leads you to ask for assistance from the currently-employed. Besides, you got where you are using your own bootstraps, exclusively.

    And, yes, but… my editor would probably have said, “cut this to four sentences, and you could have spilled a little less time into this jeremiad and a little more time responding to that ever-growing pile of letters, questions and comments.”

  119. This goes for technical writers/editors as well. Yes, we write for a living and we’re good at it. Yes, you may want us to review your resume and cover letter or business proposal or website content or whatever. No, we aren’t obligated to help you (unless you’re a spouse or immediate blood relative or close friend or a higher-up at work asking for help with a work-related project)–especially if it’s for free. Sorry. That’s why there is this thing called “consulting/freelancing.”(Tip: consulting/freelancing involves the exchange of goods/services/money.)

  120. If I read your novel and critiqued it, the critique will tell you how to make to novel more like something I want to read.

    You’ve brought up a really powerful point that I think gets lost at times in the course of a critique from a pro.

    The feedback a critiquer gives is feedback along the lines of: is the work is something the critiquer would like to read and why. Which, if I don’t have the same tastes as the person critiquing my work, might not help me very much.

    Of course if, in their own work, pro writers like John Scalzi are writing something they would want to read, and you like reading their work, then their feedback could be valuable to you. Or not.

    As I was told a while back, here’s how you act when receiving a critique of your work from a pro: Be quiet (ie, don’t “defend” your work). Take notes. Smile. Say “thank you”. Retain the parts of the feedback that worked for you and toss the rest. Say “thank you” again.

    I think this was talked about at VP the year I was there (Elevensies! Woot!), but it’s always a point worth repeating…

    – yeff

  121. HARLAN 148: I now batten on the insensate “common knowledge” that I am a rude and monstrous personage because I have been saying JUST what you said for, oh, about forty years now.

    That isn’t why at all.

  122. PJ @146 — Definitely. I made a pouty remark on my LJ about how I hadn’t heard back from anybody about the novel yet and got called on it by one of the people I sent it to. The worst part was that I fully KNEW I was being a brat so I got shame and frustration in one sticky package. Fortunately, the person who was smacking me upside the head was someone I’ve known for many, many years, who I can trust to tell things to me straight even if I don’t want to hear them. I feel sorry for anybody who would end up in that state of mind around someone they didn’t have that kind of bond with.

    I took a deep breath, calmed down, modified the entry into something a little less passive-aggressive and reminded myself that anything I get from anybody is a gift. I’ve decided to take the while-I’m-waiting time and devote it to some initial rewrites and some other projects instead of just hanging on the edge of my seat, which is what I should have done in the first place.

  123. Johnandcox, at 74: The tone of the article, honestly, seems to be, don’t dare ask a favor. Ever. Don’t dare.

    I think that’s taking the point too far; ISTM that the tone is more don’t dare ask a favor of people who are not your friends and with whom you do not have an established business relationship.

    I’ve got a friend who is a published author in the field. Were I currently an aspiring writer, I would no doubt ask him for the favor of reviewing/reading my shit. It might be awkward, and I think there’d be some uncertainty on his part about how serious I was about taking real feedback, but it would be reasonable, and I don’t think I’d be a jerk to do it. However, I would never in a million years ask that of Mr. Scalzi – because he and I are not friends; we have never met; we’ve merely passed comments in a discussion forum. Asking him if I could impose on him would be being a jerk.

    The point, I think, is that it’s about the relationship and whether or not asking for a favor is reasonable given the nature of your relationship with the person you are asking.

  124. @78, Scalzi

    I think you’re up to about thirty but I lost track.

    Also, I am suddenly very intimidated by Harlan Ellison. Well done, sir.

  125. A good approach to these sorts of things is to first ask, “May I make what may be an unreasonable request?”

    You’ve signaled that you’re already mentally prepared for rejection. This signal sometimes increases the chances of acceptance.

    Also, by prefacing it in this fashion, it really draws the attention.

    Lastly, you should only say it once. Otherwise you’re wasting their time.

  126. John,

    A brilliant post…funny, honest and true. I’m saving it to send to all the strangers who ask me to read their work, listen to their pitches, etc.

    You managed to lay out all the reasons it’s a rude imposition without the angry undertone that, intentionally or not, has underscored similar posts from others on the same topic (and I plead guilty to being one of those others).

    Lee

  127. wow interesting comments. Am I revealing my age when I say I have never heard of the phrase “donkey balls” and I do not know what it means, unless it means bull…
    in which case bull would be better stated and less typing than donkey balls, which insult donkeys as some of them get ‘fixed’…
    Ok i’m showing my weird sense of humor but in these times its strongly necessary to be able to laugh at self.
    For those with paying jobs, congrats, having been out of work since June 2004 and still looking even for part time, I’d take almost any paycheck…a penny check wouldn’t work, cause the paper costs more. Neither would an IOU just look at California handing out all those IOU’s to those still able to collect unemployment benefits.
    having been homeless twice since 2004 I can honestly say it is a Experince that I’d Rather Not experience again.
    So to keep sane, I write…I write romance, young adult, general fiction…heck I have about four manuscripts going. Right now I am going over two of them for the 3rd or is that 35th time… I just pray that I am not making a total mess out of it.
    So question to you writers/agents/publishers.
    Do you keep an original when you start, then open new document, paste there, and edit so that if you do mess it up you still have the original to go back over?
    Or is that using the brain too much right now…
    Have a great day by the way…

  128. Out of curiosity, do you ever get hit much with the “but we’re your fans! We buy your books! You work for us!” schtick? The likelihood seems to go up the longer a given series of books get…usually up to the point of fans writing in to say, “but, but, Edward would never say that!*” As if to suggest they know better than the author.

    I like this post, I shall likely keep in my memory next to Neil Gaiman’s blog post about fans demands to George R. R. Martin. I’m afraid, John, Neil was a smidge more blunt than you.

    *favorite t-shirt at ComicCon: “…and then Buffy staked Edward, the end.”

  129. AlanM @ 145:

    #134, By saying that Jim’s obsession with donkey balls is unnatural, you imply that there might be such thing as a natural obsession with donkey balls. I hope to God that’s not true.

    A donkey breeder or a veterinarian who specializes in donkey reproduction might very well have a healthy obsession regarding donkey balls, especially since it seems that it’s not easy to breed donkeys.

    I had better stop responding to all DB posts before John graces my head with the Loving Mallet of Correction.

  130. When I was an editor at a large (Big 10) university daily, I did a little writing (book and film reviews, a few feature stories and an opinion piece) and learned that I was happier to remain an editor – not because I was unhappy to be critiqued; I was simply better suited to editing others’ work. I mention this because (1) writing for one’s college paper – having someone edit your work for publication at an early age, repeatedly – is a good way to learn about your strengths and deal with your weaknesses as a writer, and (2) opportunities to make the leap into professional print journalism, as our host himself did after being on staff at his university paper, have been disappearing for the past several years and are now very few. (At a medium- to large-size daily paper 10 years ago, a writer’s work would have received much more attention, and from editors with more expertise, than at the same papers today, given the multiple rounds of layoffs and buyouts – and obviously very little that appears online receives any editorial attention at all.) Fewer writers being edited for publication at an early age necessarily translates into more writers who ask virtual strangers for critiques these days.

    (Sorry for the erroneous posting of the single word “As” a few minutes ago – although that does happen to be the title of a great Stevie Wonder track from 1976.)

  131. What people who ask for these favors don’t understand is that the act of asking marks them as terminal amateurs.

    Writing is the sort of career in which you have to do your own legwork and allow the quality of your work to speak for itself.

    It is possible to grow out of the ‘asking’ phase, but some people never do, and they are usually the worst writers.

  132. Re: Item 2, in which you state “…you and I don’t share a life bond/genetic consanguinity/mutually beneficial business relationship.”

    Has it occurred to you that if you asked to read everything I’ve ever written, (OK, leave aside the stuff from Pre-K — the spelling was atrocious), we might, then have a mutually beneficial business relationship?

    This is an opportunity served up on a silver platter. You’d be insane not to take advantage. Have your assistant call my assistant. (And please warn me when the call is coming so I can get someone to play my assistant.)

  133. Lol,

    This is like the perpetually flogged horse. I’m honestly to the point where I feel bad when I see you post “stop asking me to read your shit” posts, because it means you’ve just gotten a deluge of requests in your inbox…

  134. Thefrist two times I saw a posting of this sort, my immediate thought was to go over t oyour house with some odd assortment of appers and a smile on my face… Fortunately for all involved, I realized pretty quickly I was the only one who would think it was funny.

    Now that you’ve had to say it a THIRD time?

    Even I’m getting sick of the joke.

  135. So noted, Jim. Hence my final paragraph. I am done with that.

    Pertaining in some way to the actual topic of the post:

    It’s been mentioned before, but I put forth again two words: writing group.

    Every large city will have one and many smaller ones will as well. I was part of a writing group for a couple of years and it was very helpful. To date only one of us has been published, but hearing constructive criticism was immensely helpful, as was a creative writing course that I took at Santa Monica College. I didn’t always agree with the critiques, but they were duly noted because I understood where the comments were coming from.

    As a matter of fact, it’s time for me to start taking a creative writing course again. Not because I think I need lots of help in my writing (though I probably do), but because it forces me to write on a more frequent basis than I currently do. Finding another writing group might help with that as well – the previous one disbanded due to outside pressures.

  136. You think you have it bad? I used to work with a society that dealt with feral cat Trap-Neuter-Return :)

    Not only did some people seem incredibly offended when I turned down the 250th cat I was offered, they seemed shocked/horrified that I did not want to turn up at 2 am to help get a cat out of their car. Or the people who would call to get immediate replacements of free devices we would loan them to get cats out of their gardens. The concept of office hours of course never occurred to quite a few people either.

    Let’s not even go into the verbal abuse, outright nastiness, and threats that I received. So just be thankful you only have writers :)

  137. #145

    Two possible natuaral obsessions with donkey balls occur to me

    1) You are, in fact, a donkey.

    2) You are a breeder of donkeys.

    Anybody else see a way that an obsessio nwith donkey balls could be seen as “natural?”

  138. Wow! That was awesome, and good to know as I am an aspiring (as of now, unpublished) writer. But seriously I would never do those things. Mostly I just wanted to say that post was really well written.

  139. PJ @ 146

    I would say that if it’s possible for a “no” to kick the stool out from under someone’s plans, then they are in fact feelimg entitled.

  140. Besides, surely your first obligation is to your feline overlords? “Helping” others does not provide them with tuna, grooming or warmth, and is thus useless.

  141. Author SMASH.

    Great rant. This applies to anyone in any field. (Except maybe the military, and even that is subjective.)

    Now I feel the need for a cigarette…

  142. Jim Wright@166: Stop it, Carol, you’re going to get us in trouble.

    Daaa-aaad! Jim and Carol are talking about donkey balls!

  143. @178, if it does so permanently, they’re both feeling entitled and not very committed to their professed goal.

    But in the moment of rejection, that’s what it feels like. Because, even though you know they don’t owe it to you, you expected them to say yes. You’re mad at them for not living up to your expectations, and it’s not till the initial frustration fades that you recognize that you’re being ridiculous.

  144. I get a sample of this kind of thing as well, being a foreigner in Japan. People will occasionally approach me on the train, on the street, in cafes, because they want to practice their English. I’ve had people follow me down the street, yelling “Where are you from!” as I speed by.

    They (and this is by no means everyone, just a few who have a skewed vision of who owes whom what) seem to think that I exist as a teacher at all times, and that by virtue of residing in their country, I am somehow obliged to help them improve their English. Which I’m not.

    I’ve been teaching my own students how to recognize when someone doesn’t want to talk to you, and how not to take it personally, so I’m doing my part.

    It’s weird when you have to choose whether a basic social interaction – conversation – is “my job” or “not my job.” More often than not these days, I choose the latter. I am obligated to spend a great deal of attention and energy on paying customers, so if you’re not one of them then you had better have a very compelling reason for me to talk to you. I realize how very sad and anti-social that looks, but that’s what it’s come down to.

    And then, people like me get lambasted as giving foreigners in Japan a “bad image” for being rude and unfriendly. So yeah, not exactly the same thing, but I can relate.

    As an afterthought, this kind of assumption of obligation is what’s made me physically averse to networking, which is probably why I’m still working in a conversation mill eight hours a day….

    tl;dr version: John Scalzi is right!

  145. I will grant that if you are capable of realizing you’re being ridiculous in a timely fashion that you don’t believe you are entitle. Hopefully the rejectee doesn’t do anything that screams “I feel entitled” while it sinks in.

    On a related note – I caught 7 typos in the above while re-reading it. Can anyone do me a favor and check all my typing for me?

  146. Me: “I’m so sorry, but my agent has forbidden me to read any work outside of my critique partners’.”

    She: “Just don’t tell your agent.”

    Me: “She’ll know. She always knows.”

    She: “I won’t tell her.”

    Me: “I will. I have a guilt complex that way.”

    Since I first sold thanks to a writing contest, I still judge those, feeling like paying it forward. And I don’t mind giving advice as to where to look for help, but I DO mind being asked to read strangers’ works. So thank you, John. If you’ve reached even a couple of searching for help wannabes, you’ve done a great service.

    And, btw, my agent has never forbidden me to read unpublished work. But she DID agree to be the mean, nasty, snarky scapegoat, which is just one reason I love her.

  147. I think I see one problem with this overall approach that folks allude to about getting the numbskulls to stop asking: you’ll never get them all. There are too many heads that would need knocking. Which means people will still have to learn how to say no.

    Oh, and just because everyone else is doing it: donkey balls.

  148. There’s one other thing to consider, too. Say J. Newb Writer happens to approach John in just the right way on a really, really good day (say, with just the right blend of Coke Zero and bacon in his system) and John agrees to read the MS for J. Newb’s short story.

    Okay. Now say John goes over it finds a couple of deal-breakers and points them out to J. Newb along with a few suggestions to correct them. J. Newb is appropriately grateful (OHTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU!!!) and resolves that, if he’s ever at the same con as John, John will never be seen with an empty glass of Coke Zero, ever.

    Fine and dandy.

    Now here’s the problem. J. Newb’s MS could very well be rejected by every single editor he sends it to. Why? Because John’s suggestions, which would have turned a John Scalzi story into award-winning gold, may not help J. Newb Writer’s story in the least. They may even, on some fundamental level only editors can sense, hurt the story in the process. What works for John Scalzi may not work at all for J. Newb Writer (Kind of like how “She Bangs” was a big hit for Ricky Martin, but, for William Hung… not so much)

    So, even getting a favor from an established author is no guarantee of success.

  149. Hey, Mr. Center of the Universe, when I asked “Will you please read this?” in the elevator the other day, I just needed to know the dosage on my antibiotic prescription bottle…I left my glasses at home. A bit touchy, aren’t we? ;-)

  150. Let’s not just pigpile on the newbies, rude, and clueless, though. Agents, editors, and marketing people have not only encouraged this nonsense, but seem to think that book sales are built on blurbs that pad manuscripts like incremental VATaxes. They’re no longer satisfied with pre-pub blurbs, but also demand pre-submission blurbs. Next: the pre-pitch blurb!

    And you’re right–politeness goes a long, long way.

    Thanks for the post.

  151. I hope you follow-up with some indication of the effectiveness of this tutorial. I believe the intersection of the two sets: a) “people who need to hear this rant” and b) “people who will learn from it and not impose on you or who will cease to impose on you” may be the null set.

    However I imagine it would be very satisfying to write and post regardless…

  152. Well said, but I took the liberty of mapping the first letter of each word in your post into a word-matrix derived from the Book of Revelations and then running it through a special algorithm, only to discover that you’re madly in love with me. Which is great, because I have this 400,000 word space opera manuscript – and the trick is, it’s actually an opera! You’ll love it.

  153. I greatly enjoyed this post, in part because my husband is a children’s book author/illustrator, who gets his own version of this: “I have a great idea for a children’s book. You should write a book about…” For some reason people feel that Children’s Authors shouldn’t be dicks. Odd, that.

    I am, however, troubled that I will be now be wondering all the time which of these people in the subway/waiting room/airplane with me is a flat-out bugshit nutbag. Because you can’t tell from the outside, you know, who is a flat-out bugshit nutbag.

    It’s what’s inside that counts.

  154. Oh, you’ll be giving a bunch of aspiring writers valuable advice, and what’s more you’ll do it in less than a month. I know your game, your big dirty secret. These people just knew what buttons to press…

    That being the “send” button on the email client of their choice after they had drafted an application to Viable Paradise.

    So if you hate all of us so much, why do you give up a week of your time every year in order to help aspiring writers at a workshop? Explain that! You can’t, you bloody hypocrite. Your type makes me sick.

    If you writers aren’t willing to read the work of people who politely approach you on the street, at parties, in the waiting room of doctor’s offices, or in restaurants when you’re trying to have dinner with your family, then why would you bother to read the work of the timid sheeple who line up at these workshops? They obviously don’t have the balls needed to deal with your critiques. It’s all a giant conspiracy to keep assholes who don’t do any research out of the business, and that’s discrimination of the worst kind. I see right through you, Mr. Scalzi.

  155. If I send you a subscription to the Bacon Of The Month club will you feel obliged to write reviews of at least the “Got free bacon. Ate it. It was tasty.” level?

  156. You tell your people. Then you have to tell them again, because some of them weren’t listening when you told them the first time. Then you have to tell them a third time, because they’ve forgotten since you told them the first time. If they still don’t get it … ignore them until you can get rid of them. — never mind, I promised not to tell.

    Some people just are not ever, ever, going to get it. At least you have a good sense of humor about it.

  157. John,

    On the theory that often there’s a way to make lemonade from lemons, maybe there’s a way to have some good come out of this by collecting the worst examples of asking for favors and publishing them? Heck, doing that might even discourage future requests.

  158. Yes, what Scalzi said.

    The only thing I will ask a author to do is autograph the nice new book at a autographing session, or possibly at a con if they are hanging out rather than rushing to get to their next panel.

    And I ask them to keep writing, which I why I don’t ask anything else of them.

  159. I understand perfectly!

    However, I have a less clueful friend who keeps pestering you, and didn’t understand what the essay was all about. Maybe, if you talked to him directly, you could straighten him out some… I’m sure he’d appreciate it!

    (ducks)

  160. Now that I’m home and have had time to think about this:

    This entire subject hits me about the same way as those people who show up on my porch at odd hours and expect me to waste a half hour of precious time so they can tell me all about their special Jesus. They just don’t seem to understand that they are trespassing, that they are intruding unsolicited on my privacy and personal space and home, that it is they who are being rude and obnoxious in the worst damned way.

    I owe these people nothing other than basic civility, once.

    I’ve made the mistake of being polite and listening in the past – and lost time I cannot get back – i.e. these people robbed me of my most precious asset and they smugly and selfishly thought nothing of doing so. Now, I’m minimally polite, once, if they don’t leave I immediately become much less polite.

    Sometimes I dispense with basic civility altogether and I’m just damned nasty the minute I see them standing there with their literature out thrust towards me – because they interrupted me in the middle of something, usually writing or working on the lathe (I’ve actually turned around in the shop and found them standing behind me, thinking nothing of just walking into my studio while I’m working), breaking my concentration – in the one place I should be free of these damned dolts – and what really sets my blood to boiling and makes me feel the need to reach for the shotgun and unslip the hounds is when they have the effrontery to act offended. Bitch, you’re on my porch, you’re in my shop acting like your bullshit is more important than what I’m doing, you don’t get the option of being offended.

    If you don’t like my attitude, then leave me the fuck alone.

    Harlen Ellison I think I understand, I wonder if he’d read my book?

  161. This definitely applies to all fields. I’m a web developer and I agree totally. If I would help everyone that ask me about looking at this or that web application or site I would work full-time for free and would’ve given all my clients to my friends long ago.

  162. I keep thinking “every profession gets this”, but then realized that is, surprisingly, not true.

    Maybe you can pretend that you have malpractice insurance. That’s always a conversation-stopper for people who want free extensive legal help. (I say ‘extensive’ because I’m happy to give people a this-is-not-legal-advice explanation of why their landlord has to send them back their security deposit, or to ask my Shadowy Legal Network for the name of a good attorney who can help them. That’s way different than “can you please review these documents for purchasing my home”.)

  163. The sense of entitlement these author types have that makes them think that people shouldn’t have a sense of entitlement to the authors’ own time makes me sick.

    No wait, I think it’s recursion that makes me sick.

  164. Scalzi, have you even had someone’s debut novel pulled from a slush pile and “recycled”? Have you ever had editors pull a manuscript from a debut novel contest, because of things they may have said, or done for that matter, on your site? I highly doubt that you have, but I had to ask .

  165. I’ve read lots of comments (not all) on this thread, from the bOINGbOING connection and from the original Josh Olden article on VV, and it seems to me that the negative comments follow these veins:

    1. Because you’re successful in [insert profession here], you have a moral imperative to those help aspirants to that profession. If you choose not to do so means you’re a dick.

    Um, no. If you are so lacking in taking responsibility for your own career that you feel the need to shift that responsibility to another, you won’t ever have a career regardless of what someone does or does not do at your request. Yes, there are some who are willing to spend their time to mentor aspirants, but that is up the the specific professional’s choosing. To expect such generosity from all [in said profession] is utter fail on the part of the requester. That’s the point here: it is up the the professional in question to offer, not the requester to expect. That the professional in question chooses not to do what the requester wants does not make him/her a dick. That the requester was disappointed in his/her expectations is entirely the fault of the requester’s unfounded expectations. If you, aspirant, cannot produce a product that captures the eye of those who have actual influence and power to produce and promote your product, the REAL problem may be with your product, and not with the choice of those are associated in said industry to decide whether or not they will pay attention to you.

    2. I don’t know who this person is / his/her shit ain’t all that / how dare this person who isn’t at the TOP of their chosen profession tell me that I’M NOT WORTHY OF THEIR ATTENTION AND TIME.

    The “I’d never ask you anyway, you suck” is so VERY lame. Seriously, you folks who have posted this sort of comment on various forums, you don’t think this response makes you a dick? Really? Sure, in this particular writerly-case, Mr. Scalzi doesn’t sell on the level of, say Stephen King, but does THAT statistic truly justify that level of disrespect? Because I’m pretty sure that Mr. Scalzi values his time and effort at about the same rate that Mr. King does. Simply because you negative comment poster does not see that fact does NOT make your comment a valid point of view.

  166. Would you mind endorsing my new book – it’s called “Arrogant knobcheeses with no sense of noblesse oblige?”

  167. The nice thing about writers is that a) most of them like reading and b) they’re not the only ones that can tell good writing from bad. You don’t really have to get the ear of a writer friend in order to get a good critique, and most friends haven’t had the experience of dealing with a batshit insane person who is convinced their writing is impeccable. If a writer has time to read your stuff, they’ll probably offer, because who knows? It might be good.

    Poor computer people. They’ve got the same problems, but they don’t have anyone else they can foist computer problems onto.

  168. Given that you’ve felt the need to write variations on this post a few times (and you do it well, I hope it helps some people, including both informing aspiring writers and also you yourself, by assuaging your desire to vent a bit), and given that the message apparently isn’t taking, I have a couple suggestions, at least one of which is serious:

    1) You might want to summarize, or even just link to, some of these posts on your “Contact Information” page, which currently doesn’t address the topic, although it does strongly suggest that your correspondents should be limited in their expectations.

    2) If some particular supplicant is provoking you with their sense of entitlement, you could always respond by posting the more aggravating, and (importantly) less identifiable, portions of their correspondence, as a lesson in what not to do. If you selected even a few of only the more egregious candidates, even the threat of this private embarrassment might lead other potential haranguers to decide they didn’t want to imitate the offender’s transgressions.

  169. If I didn’t know better, I would think that we writers are a rude and selfish lot, never willing or eager to help others. The truth of the matter, based on my own experience, is that we are remarkably supportive of one another. I wouldn’t have had my first book contract were it not my nephew, Lee Goldberg, reading what was then a proposal for a magazine feature, and submitting it on my behalf as a book proposal. The book put an Edgar Award on my shelf, and a career in motion.

    Of course, I wasn’t a stranger sliding a ms. under the bathroom stall door, and Lee didn’t have any influence over the book winning the Edgar. He’s powerful, looks like Pierce Brosnen, and has more smarts than SeaQuest’s Darwin and Flipper put together, but his influence only extends so far.

    The late Jack Olsen was both a dear friend and professional mentor. His “blurbs” grace the cover of all my true crime books, despite him having only read one of them. “I don’t have time to read ‘em, pal,” he said, “and I don’t have to read ‘em. You already proved yourself. Just send me an autographed copy for my book shelf.”

    I could provide a list of authors who have impressed me with their kindness and generosity, and their names are all recognizable. Their relative fame, if not fortune, has not intervened between them and their fellows.

    Yes, I have suffered the embarrassment of agreeing to read someone’s stuff, and then not getting to it because I was busing writing. When I told them why I hadn’t read it yet, they understood completely because they write on deadline too.

    Perhaps that is difference between those who get mad at us for not making their work a higher priority than our own, and those who graciously appreciate any effort put forth on their behalf.

    Requests for my assistance and/or advice in the last month have dramatically increased. Hence, I have used the following statement more than once this week:

    “I am always supportive of other authors, do my best to promote their work and careers. As you know, the two most powerful motivators for any writer are a deadline and a check. Right now, I must meet my deadline. Perhaps in the future, should the opportunity arise, we can sit down together and talk shop.”

    Burl Barer
    FATAL BEAUTY coming soon ….honest, from Pinnacle True Crime.

  170. The things I’d want to know from John, he’s already told me. On this site. In the “coffee shop” book.

    The special thing is, he had no obligation to share his experience, or even this site. But he does. That made me a fan way before I’d read one of his books.

  171. Here’s a “me, too” from the lands of webmastering, copy editing, classical singing and photography. (I’m a Renaissance woman. What can I say?)

    Also, I admit it would never occur to me to submit my work to a published author for a critique. I already know I’m a good writer (albeit a far better procrastinator.) Thus the only pros whose opinions on my work matter are those agents and pubishers to whom I would submit my work (upon request) in the hopes of establishing an ongoing business relationship.

    If one doesn’t even know one’s skill in a given field, the appropriate first step is formal education, not random advice from strangers.

  172. I’d like to heartily second the technical/commercial writer addendum on this.

    Why yes, I am a writer by trade.

    Why yes, I can put a name to your face … I think. Oh, you’re a friend of someone whose face I can put a name to? Close enough.

    Well, obviously that entitles you to have the work of your choice written by me, gratis. Because, after all, it’s only writing. (Yes, I have had that rather inexplicable argument made. And yes, I did answer “since you find writing so easy, you’d best do it yourself.”)

    *grumbles* when I wanted advice on my writing, I took classes and started a writers’ group. It’s not rocket surgery.

  173. First post!

    Um. Anyway. A rejection letter is a better measure of success than a critique from Scalzi or any other writer. Besides the fact that most writers don’t get paid to wade through slush piles, a rejection letter means you’re doing SOMETHING right at least.

    Also, it’s the Twenty-first century, and we have the Internet (serious business), and writers have posted blogs full of writing and publishing advice during all those hours of noveling dysfunction and if you’re writing to ask for writing advice you’re a moron who doesn’t even deserve punctuation in this sentence because I won’t cast periods before swine you got that huh you got that

  174. So a sandwich is out of the question then? I know the begging joke is tired, but dammit I wanted to get my cheap line in and nobody can stop me! Except that Delete button on Scalzi’s dashboard thingy.

  175. I read the title of the post and thought it was going to be about you asking established writers for favours. If that had been the case, I was going to say, “Any time.”

  176. Great article. I have a slightly different take on it though. I would never dream of asking you for a writing / critiquing /introduction type of favour. I figure these are the things an aspiring writer needs to work through himself. No – my biggest problem is finding time to write.

    So I was wondering when you were free to either do some baby-sitting, or fill in for me in the office for a few days? I think it would really help.

    Let me know what’s good for you, timing-wise. Thanks in advance!

  177. You know what is not in my contract? Buying and reading your book(s).

    I feel sorry for you if your life evolves all around what is in your contracts.

  178. Scalzi thinks he is “sufficiently groovy”

    HA HA HA

    I was drinking coffee when I read that. Do you know how hard it is to clean coffee off a computer screen.

    Best post ever. Can’t wait to read what’s next.

  179. Ok, John, I’m not condoning rude behavior from favor-askers, but it’s interesting to consider why they feel empowered to ask.

    I think it’s because reading a book is an intimate experience. And once a reader has lived through the lives of our characters with us, they feel that they know us personally. And in many ways, they do.

    If they loved our book, they also feel warm fuzzies toward us. Which leads them to believe it’s reciprocal. A relationship of sorts is created each time a reader turns a page.

    Time is the most precious commodity on earth. It’s all we really have. We invested time to create the book. Our readers have invested time to read it. At this point, the scales are level, IMO.

    It all comes down to having only 24 hours a day. If we respect each other’s time, this problem will fix itself.

    See you at RT!
    Emily

  180. I suspect thinking some kind of help from a “real writer” will catapult you over the edge is diagnostic of the whole “magical” approach to getting published; so the people who think it’s extremely important they get your help are already self-selected for being on the crazy side of the spectrum.

    It’s the beginning of the problems of being a celebrity, I guess. From what I read, people seem to demand a lot from their celebrities. Not very many people, but it only takes a few to make a big difference.

  181. Have you considered writing a self help book on how NOT to be an idiot. I think that you could write something that is pretty much just a rant and any idiot that reads it will instantly just become normal once again. Or at least a book that takes a perfectly happy individual with a problem target that problem and make them depressed. Technically you could still pass it as self help being that they continued to read the book and helped themselves become depressed..

    Nice work! (I mean that I am not being sarcastic)

  182. Scalzi,
    have you ever heard of a best-selling author going out of their way to prevent their publisher from signing a particular author, or perhaps their friends on the panel of some writing contest like, say, Tor’s War of the Words. It’s just that ten sf writers made the short list this year. There were only supposed to be five. Were manuscripts six through ten favors passed down through the ranks of social networking.
    PS Why didn’t a Whatever writer make the list. There must be 100s of aspiring sf writers on this site?
    Wil

  183. I got a Lovecraftian vibe from “crazy is a multi-headed hydra of abject terror”. Well and funnily put, sir.

  184. Going backward through the thread:

    Bill:

    I have no idea what “War of the Words” is, so I have no clue what its selection process was.

    David Dyer-Bennet:

    I think there’s something to what you’re saying, yes. I do think that there’s a fair amount of people who ask because they don’t know there’s a more useful process to getting started, though, so some of those requests come from that angle as well.

    Björn:

    “I feel sorry for you if your life evolves all around what is in your contracts.”

    That’s all right, Björn. I feel sorry for you that this was your conclusion on the matter. So we’re even.

  185. Upon all of the people who think it’s a complete dick move to reserve the right to refuse to grant favors to strangers, I summon the power of Anonymous to pester them day and night with inane requests.

  186. The way I see it:

    1. You already give would-be writers a heap of invaluable advice — FOR FREE — on this blog. No other writer has ever produced anything remotely as helpful as “The Money Entry.” (Thank you very much for that, by the way.)

    2. You sometimes do workshops like “Viable Paradise” at which you ARE, in fact, paid to teach and work with would-be writers. Any would-be writers that crave your time and attention should ante-up both their cash and commitment and go through what could be considered the “proper channel”.

  187. PJ the Barbarian, David Carrington Jr:

    Heh. I do find it interesting that one of the conclusions people appear to come to is that I am saying writers should never help newer writers. I’m not, of course. This article is to help them understand why a writer might say “no” when they ask for something, and why “no” does not equal that writer being a dick.

  188. I just want to say how proud I am that the phrase donkey balls has taken on a life of its own in this thread (with help from Jim Wright) and has led to Detachable Donkey Dicks. It brings a tear to my eye.

    Carry on.

  189. Hey Mark of comment #213…great idea, perhaps John can give us all the material. And then, after we compile it all into a book, we can ask him to read it for a blurb?

  190. Last year at VP, you took an hour out of your schedule to give me a one-on-one crit, even though I wasn’t on your official dance card for the week. Not only did your advice make total sense, you also served me a Coke Zero out of your personal stash. All without contractual obligations, or prospect of personal benefit.

    Utter, selfish bastard.

  191. So let me get this straight, if I want Scalzi to read my manuscript, I need to tattoo it on a detachable donkey penis?

    I left my house 175 comments ago to get myself a pair of donkey balls to barter with. I doubt the donkey will be happy to see me coming to detach his penis.

    Screw it, I’m self publishing.

  192. I don’t think Mr. Scalzi is even saying “Never ask a favor of a writer.” Just that it IS a favor, a favor IS an imposition, the writer has complete discretion as to whether and how to respond, and the person asking the favor should damn well understand all of this and not act as though he/she has a right to any response at all, let alone exactly the response he/she imagined.

    I used to be a writer. Then I lost the ability not to write run-on sentences. Oh well.

  193. An excellent post, sir. I get this same thing from the other side – I review books as a hobby, and apparently I do this well enough to attract the attention of the self-published crowd of writers who seem to think that emailing me the name of their book and where I can obtain it for only $37.95 is enough to make me rush out to get, read, and review (and obviously, laud it to the skies) their opus. I get one or two of these requests daily. These get one of two responses: NO, and IGNORE.

    Then there is the occasional one who offers to send me a copy of their work for free (published from a real publishing house), has done enough research to have some idea of what works I like to read, explains why their book should interest me, and politely asks me to read and review said item if the desire should strike me. Some of these I take up on, after carefully stating that any review from me will be my opinion, good or bad, and they’ll have to take their lumps if that’s what my final opinion is. Most such encounters end well; several authors have thanked me for writing the desired review (even if it was negative!). These seem to be the same type who understand if I tell then no, the work doesn’t interest me, or I simply don’t have the time right now.

    Unfortunately, there have been a few, upon seeing the review, have proceeded to write nasty public comments about it or have managed to get the posting agency where the review appeared to remove said item. A waste of both their time and mine.

    And that’s really what you’re pointing out: any request from someone unknown to someone else that involves either time, money, or work that preys upon the second person’s supposed expertise in whatever area is a FAVOR, and they are real dick-heads if they can’t understand what NO means.

  194. Well, this is still just awesome John. I tried to take that couch upstairs last night when I got home from work, and because I didn’t have any help I woke up everyone in the house.

    I hope you’re happy with what is obviously your “no favors ever policy.”

    I hope you go to a cold hell where you will be forced to try to push washing machines through doors that are just a half inch too small. Forever.

  195. I have to agree with all of the above. It’s similar to be an IT professional. Family and friends (but thankfully not every aspiring computer user on the Internet) expect free computer/network/web/IM help.

    It’s one thing to be asked once, but continually? I can only imagine the hell you go through.

  196. Most such encounters end well; several authors have thanked me for writing the desired review (even if it was negative!). These seem to be the same type who understand if I tell then no, the work doesn’t interest me, or I simply don’t have the time right now.

    Unfortunately, there have been a few, upon seeing the review, have proceeded to write nasty public comments about it or have managed to get the posting agency where the review appeared to remove said item.

    I have this experience myself at times. I think this is because said writers are not familiar with how book reviews actually work, and are instead familiar with “book review services” to whom you pays your money and you gets your positive reviews.

    I wish I were joking about that, but I am not.

  197. I came to the same conclusions, if not articulated in such a clear and structured way, many years ago. There are only so many hours in the day and only so much creative juice in the gas tank, and it’s easy to expend them on things that feel like work without actually being work. (Which is also why I’ve played exactly two role-playing games in my life. It uses up storytelling energy I need to actually write stories, and in a spectacularly slow and dull way.)

    That said, I cracked last year when one of my wife’s friends asked me to look at his SF novel-in-progress. He asked me for a brutally honest assessment of whether he was wasting his time, because he had other important things on his agenda and couldn’t afford to spin his wheels if what he was writing wasn’t, in theory, publishable.

    As soon as I made the commitment I was sure I’d made a huge blunder. I just knew I’d get 100 pages of the usual “His name was Adam, her name was Eve…” drivel, and (even though I forewarned him that I’d take him at his “brutal” word) I knew I’d waste days trying to break it to him gently, and that he’d probably take it badly anyhow.

    And then read several pages of a truly spectacular piece of historical SF. I forgot I was reading an unpublished manuscript within a couple of lines. I was able to send him a quick “This is fantastic! Don’t quit! Finish it!” note, and I was done. And I was glad I had done it, because it would have been a dirty shame if he’d become discouraged and abandoned his novel.

    Miracles do happen. But I’m not sure I would do it again, because lightning can’t strike twice in the same place, can it?

  198. Oh, and those things that feel like work without actually being work.

    Let’s add, “posting comments on blogs” to that list, shall we?

    Gotta go!

  199. What have you done to deserve a pony?

    Wait, I thought the whole point of ponies was that you don’t have to deserve them.

  200. Luckily in my day job, if someone asks a ‘favor’ on how to help design and build a plane, I can be very nice and report them to security, who, oh so nicely, reports them to the federal government. The government then begins a polite, helpful investigation into either a.) industrial espionage or b.) plain, old fashioned, regular espionage.

    At night, I’m an M.F.A. student working on creative writing. I do critique the other students works because they critique mine and I get a grade for it. Wait…is that a favor or quid pro quo? (Seriously, the M.F.A. has been a great help in becoming a better writer. I highly recommend it for those who have the time.)

  201. There are quite a few people who apparently can help you with various donkey parts. Drop them a note.

    Ew. Not unless they come with some really great recipes, and probably not even then.

  202. @Mark S — great story! Of course it is probably totally encouraging to all the nutjobs, but it’s nice to hear your instincts on the guy were right.

    That’s one outcome the computer guys here have no good analog for — equivalent success for them I guess is “fixing” things using a quick preference pane setting. But the outcome doesn’t enrich the world with new art.

  203. I think you’ve touched upon a universal truth that extends beyond writers, any “expert”/successful person in any field are looked upon as a public resource to be used and abused. As an engineer, this became evident the first time i received a 3:00 AM call from halfway around the world asking a question that was in Italic Bold and underlined in the manual. Over the years I have been asked to look at TV’s, sound systems, computers, washers and air conditioners, each person assumed i would be eager to help “them”. As a hobbyist writer, (I write for me not for publication) I appreciate the time, energy and devotion, not to mention the “luck” involved to be successful at your craft. Keep on plugging i enjoy your style and even when i don’t agree with your point, it stimulates my own thoughts.

  204. Now, if the pony had Donkey Balls, or detachable donkey dicks, well then we could sell them on eBay for a fortune.

    (nah, I got nothing, but wanted to show solidarity with my fellow UCFers and get Jim Wright in trouble).

  205. This sounds a lot like the scolding that runs through my head whenever someone asks me to illustrate their “great comic book idea”.
    But that only happens once or twice a year. If it happened more often it would endanger my sunny disposition.

    I envy your notoriety, John. But I don’t envy this.

  206. Rick @ 163 (Did I do that right?)

    I have now posted that on the door to my dorm room.

    More on topic: Another funny post about doing idiots favors. Keep it up, Mr. Scalzi.

  207. If Josh Olsen would have written something like this, I wouldn’t have called him a cowardly bastard.

    The follow-up question that begs to be asked: Why would any writer wish to offer up their work for criticism to someone that isn’t in a position to buy it?

    The exception being, of course, close friends that are also writers or editors. And even then, I can see it getting ugly.

  208. I recently joined Critters, an online workshop — this might be a good place to send anyone asking for ridiculous favors like this, John. Doing so would quickly do them two favors that they *actually* need:

    First, it would actually give them a reasonable way to find willing authors (including some pros) to read their work and give feedback. Hundreds of authors who have practice giving criticism.
    Second, it would oblige them to first critique the work of at least three other people, giving them valuable practice reading critically, and teaching them exactly why the favor they were asking for was unreasonable.

    It would also do me a favor, since I’ve got a manuscript working its way through the queue right now that could use some feedback.

    However, you don’t owe any of the people involved any of these favors.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some critiques to go write so I can earn that feedback. (Actually, I should probably go write code so I can earn that paycheck. Whatever.)

  209. I don’t know who you are, but I stumbled upon this site by accident from some blog link. Apparently you are a writer… must be fairly successful because it seems lots of people want you to read their work. Then it hit me – WOW, what are the chances I would end up on this page, the page of an incredible writer, when I indeed do some writing myself…. so I thought I ‘d just ask a tiny favor- maybe you could visit my website and read some of my articles and tell me what you think? That would be wonderful….

    … just kidding. I did stumble upon the article and I just wanted to say that although it was a little bitter, for whatever reason, it was fun to read. :)

  210. David Alton Todd:

    “Why would any writer wish to offer up their work for criticism to someone that isn’t in a position to buy it?”

    Often it’s because they don’t know there are other ways it should be done. Sometimes it’s because people think doing it that way is a shortcut, rather than the opposite.

  211. John, maybe you should have a page that says “click here to submit your manuscript”, and then it takes the person to critters.org.

  212. I can’t stay away.

    “although it was a little bitter”

    You know…sometimes I’m not even sure it’s worth the effort to explain. But it’s comments like this that are symptomatic of -why- Mr. Scalzi has to write this type of blog entry.

    Several times.

    If what he describes happened once, twice and that was it, yeah, he might be overboard bitter. Talk to other authors, dude, before you start making calls like that. You’ll discover something startling.

    …Mr. Scalzi’s response was tame to what some people actually deserve when they presume upon people (authors) they don’t know and get viciously UGLY about it when they are told POLITELY no.

  213. Bravo!

    As a copyeditor, I have frequently heard “oh, you can just proofread this for me” — in fact, once I joined a local writers’ group, and the leader said, “Oh, you can proofread all our manuscripts, then!” (I usually give the “here are my professional rates” response.)

    What surprised me, though, was when I took up knitting, I had complete or near-strangers asking me to KNIT things for them. I can’t imagine demanding a handmade item from someone I barely know.

  214. Darice Moore – oh, I don’t know, sometimes my free copyediting work is less bothersome (in retrospect) than when my copyediting job involved the work of a PAID writer who didn’t do her research and let me find and fix things out of sheer, possibly alcoholic, laziness. (This was at a Midwest alt-weekly nearly 20 years ago and 1100 miles away, so I am less reticent to write this sort of thing than I normally am, given the topic.)

  215. @ Brian Boostra (#267): Thanks for the kind words. I hope my story does not encourage the nutjobs, because this circumstance was special. My wife knew the guy professionally, and I was fairly confident about his intellectual capacity and his relative sanity.

    Moreoever, he wasn’t looking for magical egoboo, he was trying to make a rational decision about the use of HIS OWN time. That gave me a certain reassurance that he wasn’t about to show up on the doorstep with a meat cleaver if he didn’t get the feedback he was looking for.

    By the way, speaking of nutjobs, while I don’t think we should be wasting our lives critiquing fanfic written in read crayon, given the specific circumstances of our field, let’s be a little forgiving. Robert Charles Wilson calls science fiction the “national literature of high-functioning autistics” for a reason (see http://www.robertcharleswilson.com/articles.php?id=1) And not all of them are so high-functioning, I’m sad to say, so at least some of the behaviour we’ve been talking about can be laid at the door of Asperger’s Syndrome. People with Asperger’s are not mean, they’re not psychopaths, they’re not stupid, they simply have a learning disorder which makes them insensitive to social cues and conventions.

    Again, I know it doesn’t describe every rude wannabe writer, but I’ll bet it’s a big factor.

  216. Greg @ 279 John, maybe you should have a page that says “click here to submit your manuscript” …

    Which takes you to a page that says:

    But FIRST you must complete the quest I have set before you.

    Bring me:

    1. Dick Cheney’s black mechanical heart

    2. Two cases of Coke Zero, chilled to the precise temperature of Harlen Ellison’s scorn filled revenge on the Producers of The Starlost and garnished with the dust of fairy wings.

    3. One pair of Donkey Balls, suitably mounted for hanging from the rearview mirror of my new red convertible Ford Mustang, which you will also provide.

    Good luck.

  217. Jim @ 273:

    Yeah? And? Is this where I’m supposed to tremble in fear?

    Please. I did battle with a JPL treadmill this morning and lived to tell the tale. I ain’t afraid of you.

    Don’t forget, I know where you live too.

  218. Jim @ 273 & Carol @ 272

    I don’t know where you live but I am not frightened either.

    All right that’s a lie. I am frightened but that’s because I have a disorder & because Mr. Ellison made me wet myself a little.

    I am going to now go into Scalzi’s new blog post & blame this all on him.

    Then it’s off to the shrink.

  219. Carol @ 287

    Don’t forget, I know where you live too.

    Oh noes! Please, please don’t send me any garlic ice cream from the Stinking Rose. No, anything but that. Or chocolate. Or beer.

    Chris @ 288, it’s OK. Carol is really a charming and wonderful person, she almost never rips the balls off of donkeys while they scream in fear. Almost never. She also has a wonderful voice, ask to her to read your novel for the audiobook, just remember to cover your privates when you do so.

  220. This must have been how aristocracies began, a bunch of people simply started asking favors from people they looked up to as authority figures. Mr. Scalzi, next time someone wants your patronage, demand an oath of fealty out of them and to fight in your name if called upon or swear they and their progeny will work your land for all time. Eventually, you will be known as Scalzimagne and your power will match that of the imperiums of John Campbell and Damon Knight of old.

  221. There’s a term in the IT industry (besides “I don’t do Windows”): the Friends and Family Rate.

    150-200% of standard consulting rate. Applies to any problem that can’t be solved by a one-sentence answer away from the keybeard. Anyone who insists after this is made clear gets quoted the rate even for the one-sentence answer.

    I so understand. I do, however, do favours for people if I think the game’s understood on all sides (luckily I don’t have the “J00 STOLE My 1d334!” problem). I’ve been burned occasionally. They don’t get a second chance.

  222. Jim @ 289:

    Aww, thanks. Right back atcha, you cuddly curmudgeon you.

    It is true that I almost never rip the balls off of donkeys while they scream in fear. I make sure their vocal chords are humanely removed first.

    What?

    Chris @ 288, you have nothing to fear from Jim either. He talks a good game, but is a sweetheart. Unless you seriously cross him by threatening lawsuits or getting in his way by camping out at Barnes and Noble. If that happens, I will pray for you.

    Also, Chris, your privates have nothing to fear from me should I read your novel for the audiobook. Unless, of course, you’re a donkey. Then all bets are off.

    You’re not a donkey, are you?

  223. And on the David Olson bit (sorry John for the double-post, forgot that his article was the trigger):

    I don’t see anything wrong with “I won’t read your fucking script, and I won’t ask you to <do your job for me for fucking free>”. It’s a bit strident, but it gets the point across, no?

    If he does ask for professional favours from others, then he’s a dick. If not, it’s a bargain. One you may not like, but he’s not holding you to any standard he’s not willing to meet.

    I’ve seen in other cases an element of “but <what I do> is work!” with an implication that reading, playing around with a broken computer, or other non-physical labour is not. Those people can GFT. A wonderful example of that is this story.

    On the other hand, I’m socially maladjusted and take people at their word, rather than tone or other non-verbal behaviour.

  224. 256, Are You an Idiot? For Dummies. I suspect it would sell well, but sadly not to the people who need to read it. Except when they buy it as a gift for someone else and hilarity ensues.

  225. From the other side of the fence — I’m an editor, and I salute you for writing this. I’m perfectly willing to offer editorial advice to my friends and family, but jeez. I’ve gotten people I don’t know emailing me to ask if I could take a look at their publishing contracts (you know, for another publisher), if I could recommend a publisher for their children’s book/memoir/poetry (I work in scholarly nonfiction), and, my personal favorite, if I could recommend their book to another editor after I’ve rejected it. Really? Really?

    Don’t even get me started on the people who call me to ask if I can help them locate a long out of print book that they JUST HAVE TO HAVE. There’s a special level in hell for those people.

  226. I’m an English teacher and a writer, which is the double whammy for being approached in this fashion. I’m sorry to destroy anyone’s conception of teachers as nurturing. It’s their writing or mine. My choice is clear.

    Since I’ve come out of the closet as an author, I tell other writers I talk to that I can’t read their work, before they ask me to. Before I started doing this, people assumed I wouldn’t mind, because I read other people’s essays for a living anyway.

    Of course, there’s nothing I’d rather do on my day off or in my spare time than what I do while I’m working. I’d much rather work on someone else’s stuff rather than mine. You betcha. As Sarah Palin said about teachers, our reward is in heaven. I exist only to be used by others. My own creativity is secondary to your needs. It’s a giving profession

    Let me deactivate the sarcasm. If you want my expertise, take my class. I’m all about giving you what you want then. You’ll get more opinion and scrutiny than you probably want. Otherwise, I have to work on my own stuff. Because I spend enough time revising the work of others as it is.

    I will never, ever check another student essay when I retire, but I digress.

    By the way, thank you, John, for spending time teaching us at Viable Paradise. I look forward to your valuable and remunerated (yes?) comments about our writing.

    Catherine

  227. I think the question here is not how justified this blog post is, but whether or not the aspiring writer needs to know any of this. Sure every point in the post is technically true, but does everyone who asks for help deserve to be so thoroughly smacked down? Perhaps we should ask not whether they deserve to be coddled, but instead whether they deserve to be courteously and gently turned down.

    This blog post is more of an internal matter, the author attempting to justify his outrage at the continual guilt trips he perceives as coming from less fortunate or less talented writers. But in truth, no such justification is needed. Simply shrug and say no, I’m sorry, but no. And then be firm. Politely so, but in such a manner that the message is recieved and understood.

    No guilt or justification is necessary at all. It’s not unreasonable.

    Or, of course, offer an hourly rate for said services, something reasonable with respect to your yearly income.

  228. Coherent:

    “but does everyone who asks for help deserve to be so thoroughly smacked down?”

    They’re not. Perhaps you like a number of others need to go back and read to whom this rant was addressed. It’s not to people who ask for help or for favors; it’s to people who who ask for help, are told “no,” and then bitch about how the writer is an asshole because s/he refused.

    I’m not sure why there’s been such a problem with this, frankly. To whom this rant is addressed is really unambiguously spelled out at the beginning of the rant. I’m not at all sure why people want to expand the expressed audience to include people to whom it was not addressed.

  229. Scalzi,

    I know you don’t need me to say it but I have always felt that you have been courteous and helpful.

    Your website is great & the collection of essays wonderful and fun to read. I have asked a few questions over the years and you have always answered them.

    I have poked fun and you have poked back. Rude people get what they get. It is that way everywhere in life, not just publishing.

  230. I am a published author and I now have the perfect answer for people who are outraged when I politely decline to read their work. Thank you!

    For me, the worst part about being asked for these favors is that usually the people who ask them:

    a) don’t know the magnitude of what they’re asking (my editor doesn’t even read MY work promptly! I’m going to ask her to read the ms. from some nutcase who can’t write???)

    b) would never dream of helping anyone else

    c) even knowing a) and b), I always feel horrible when I say no.

    Thank you John! I will feel a little better about it now.

  231. “Why would any writer wish to offer up their work for criticism to someone that isn’t in a position to buy it?”

    My theory is that they’ve seen too many movies in which the writer’s best friend is his agent or editor, with whom he talks over all his personal problems and whose home or office he constantly hangs in… and at some point in the story, he reads an aspiring writer’s MS in a 30-second montage, thinks it’s brilliant, and hands it to his best friend and personal Confessor (i.e. his agent or his editor) with glowing praise–and this praise is all it takes for the editor or agent to decide they MUST SIGN THIS AUTHOR.

    None of which bears even the faintest, most remote resemblance to how the publishing world actually works or what the writing life is actually like or how someone actually sells a first book.

    But if someone has seen enough such movies to believe that this is how professional writing careers are born… then I guess it’s easy to understand why such people get so ANGRY at us for not giving so much as a 30-second-montage to read their MSs before turning the MS over to our closest personal friend (i.e. editor or agent), who’ll instantly want and buy/represent the book on that basis.

    Laura,
    who blames Hollywood

  232. Oh, my goodness. Let me first say that I’m not a writer. And I totally understand the legal rammifications, etc. of not reading someone else’s work. But to spend all that time writing a letter complaining??? Scalzi comes across as quite the whiner. Boo hoo, so you get a couple of annoying emails. You got a boss job, dude. Chill out! Didn’t your momma, ever tell you: if you don’t got anything nice to say, just keep your mouth shut? LOL.

  233. Michael,

    ‘Rammifications’? I’m glad you clarified that you are not a writer.

    You also didn’t have very nice things to say yourself, so perhaps you can take your own advices as well.

  234. Scalzi @ 303 I’m not sure why there’s been such a problem with this, frankly. To whom this rant is addressed is really unambiguously spelled out at the beginning of the rant. I’m not at all sure why people want to expand the expressed audience to include people to whom it was not addressed.

    If I had to guess, I’d say this problem is probably endemic to the same goddamned dolts who can’t take no gracefully for an answer and who were addressed by the original post.

    If I had to guess.

    Michael @ 309: Thanks for making it clear that you’re not a writer. Otherwise we might have confused you with a real one, what with that masterful paragraph you yakked up like a fistful of Auk vomit.

    (Again, thank you, Mr. Ellison).

  235. re: Gennita Low

    >>”Can you also add one more? The part where the person offers to tell you his great plot and you write it for him and he’s willing to split the money with you. ;-)”<<

    Can I just say, I'm barely published and I've had this happen to me more times than I can count…and for years now. I'm always struck dumb by these kinds of requests. After a stunned silence where I'm thinking something along the lines of &$*#@…I usually try to laugh it off and say something like, "Are you kidding me? I don't have the time to write all of my own ideas. I can't possibly start collecting other people's." But I've had people get batshit on me for that, too, either telling me "I don't have any ideas as good as this one" (and wow…I *really* want to write your zombie cowboy in space LoTR's pastiche now), or "I don't really get their idea or I couldn't possibly be passing it up"…after which they proceed to explain it to me again. And again. And again.

    When they get to the part where they're doing their own shitty dialogue in the character's voice is when I start spraying the lighter fluid over my head and struggling to get the crappy flint on my zippo to cough up a spark.

    The only thing worse: "I've had a life so crazy (interesting, sad, unusual, whatever) it's got to be made into a book by someone." (meaningful pause) "You could write it if you want to." (longer meaningful pause)

    Aughhh.

  236. I’m posting under what is usually my LJ handle right now because I’m giving somewhat sensitive information.

    John, I love you forever for this.* I wish it would make a dent if I sent it to my brother but it won’t.

    It gets Really Really tedious to be asked Every. Time. There. Is. A. Family. Get-together. if one can help get ‘this wonderful prose published.’

    a) he writes really great poetry but he has a hard time writing a coherent sentence otherwise (as in, if he thinks about it).

    b) he thinks that one doesn’t work at learning to write, it just falls out of the sky as a miracle. And that is how he thinks his novel is. It is not.

    I read a chapter as a favor and I’m afraid to critique it honestly because we have never had a good relationship. AND he has not always been mentally stable. Right now he’s in a good place, and I don’t want that to slip away.

    Except for a very small circle of folks in the wonderful writing group I’ve found, I’m not reading anyone else’s material, ever.

    *we met at ConQuest. I ran the ConSuite AND I’m married to the guy who made and presented the bacon explosion to you at opening.

  237. Awesome! I wish I could just link to this as a disclaimer on my blog. Even though I am a writer and have been for almost 20 years now, all of my writing is generally focused in the tech industry. It is nice to know that it isn’t any different in the fiction writing field.

    But it seems to be universal that people that are working at the job that they love will always get bothered and asked for favors by those that are not currently working or are working but would rather be doing your type of work.

    It is the main reason that I no longer attend conferences, conventions, product launches, the ‘camps’ (i.e. democamp), seminars and industry presentations unless I can do it online or I am being paid to attend/speak at the event to justify putting up with the exact same issues you have discussed.

    About five years ago I started writing (almost exclusively) for toolbox.com to provide some lead blog content to their technology community. Four years ago I decided to take a different tack on the blog scene and turned it into more of a teaching blog to discuss better IT processes, tasks and activities to make IT operations better.

    My globally projected expertise on the Internet has now pushed this to the extreme that I now have to field blog comments, direct messages and e-mail requests for me to perform functions of peoples jobs or do/complete projects for university students. Last I checked, I am not getting their pay or being awarded the bachelors degree for this effort and I have the same wife/daughter, work, family & friends obligations as you highlighted.

    So, thanks for this post – it was totally therapeutic for me just to read it and know that I am not the only one dealing with these issues. While I have respected your work from your books and this blog, this particular post has multiplied that respect 10 fold. Thanks again and keep creating!

  238. Reminds me of the old joke about the doctor and lawyer at a party.

    They’re hanging out and chatting, but people keep coming up to the doctor, telling him about all their medical issues, and asking him for advice.

    Finally he gets fed up, and says to the lawyer, “This must happen to you all the time. How do you stop people asking you for free legal advice?”

    “Oh, I give them the advice,” says the lawyer, “and then I send them a bill.”

    The doctor thinks this is brilliant. So the next day, he writes out bills for all the people he gave advice to at the party.

    He goes out to the mailbox to send the bills–and finds a bill from the lawyer.

  239. Here’s a list of creative people I’ve asked wisdom from in the correct context, with varying results:

    Germaine Greer: Talented feminist writer but she neglected to answer my question about why there isn’t a male version of The Female Eunuch to help men understand themselves. A legitimate question about the nature of gender perception in our times, but she proceeded to make fun of my young age and male gender. She was one of my heroes, and still is, for what she’s already done for women’s studies. I just don’t like her as a person because she humiliated me at a public event when I didn’t make any sexist jokes or made fun of her body of work/legacy.

    VERDICT: I will never bother that woman again. For my sake and hers.

    Simone Legno: He’s an awesome guy who designs that Tokidoki designer toys and stationery. I emailed him asking him the most important things a young designer has to keep in mind when starting out. What I got was a long and helpful email which added the reason why he had taken so long to reply: he was busy at a trade show and had been swamped with emails, but was happy to answer my question.

    VERDICT: Since I don’t know him but he seems like a nice guy, I’ll buy his Captain Coco Tokidoki urban vinyl figure he put out this year, but… I will never bother him again.

    Neil Gaiman: This is an odd one because instead of asking him advice on writing, I joked with him that since he was the Dream King he could cure my insomnia. Instead he gave me (very helpful) advice on how to use those unbearable awake-at-3am hours creatively, which was more effective advice for me than asking about writing straight up.

    VERDICT: Never bothering him again, but will buy his The Graveyard Book and pay to see the Coraline movie.

    I have a policy with dealing with famous people, for me just being able to talk about ANYTHING with them at all is a privilege and they are giving me valuable time they normally don’t have. I never send published writers manuscripts because it’s far easier and more effective to acquire minions who will work with you on your manuscript to polish it up. It helps if your mother works with somebody who works in Publishing like my situation is like. School makes such things difficult, but writing activity will go back to normal after my HSC.

    John Scalzi, I thoroughly enjoy not only your writer advice you give on this blog, but also the critiques of modern society science fiction writers are meant to deliver as part of their jobs.

  240. First, Michael, obviously your mama didn’t drum that message quite hard enough.

    Second, Scalzi, never, ever respond to a message while I’m eating my slathered-with-hot-pepper Ramen noodles.

  241. @syrimne (#313)

    Depending on mood and time, one way I deal with this is to whip out my handy-dandy black book with 200 names and adding his name at #201 and promise to call him as soon as I finish the first 200. Sometimes they “get” it. Sometimes.

    When I’m desperate (as in, they won’t stop insisting I write their story for them), I tell them to shoot an email to John Scalzi, a bigger author who even consults for a TV show, and I just know Scalzi will take care of him because he’s that kind of guy.

  242. I would actually take this a step further – Even if you offer to pay me, I am in no way obligated to accept. I’m a computer professional, and I’ve turned down paying work because of the way I was asked, or the nature of what they wanted. My day job keeps me busy enough, and what time is left is for my family, and the stack of books I’m slowly working through.

  243. My favorite”

    “Oh — you’re a writer! You should talk to me — I have some great ideas for stories, and you could write them.”

    Sigh.

  244. John?
    I *can* call you, “John,” can’t I?

    I mean, I’m a fan of your work, I follow you on Twitter, I enjoy your blog, that’s almost like, blood brothers, right? Closer than family. Almost like—dare I say it?—NODDING ACQUAINTANCES?

    Plus, In addition to being talented, I’m a *real* nice guy, so, I’m sure your little diatribe doesn’t apply to *me*. Here’s my screenplay. It’s on the back of this paper placemat from Denny’s. . .

    *Sigh* it’s not just writers, BTW, I’m an artist, a graphic designer by trade. And people think nothing of asking you to “knock something out.” I’d love to see them ask a carpenter to put up some cabinets. Or, “correct my crown molding.”

  245. Yup, I had a recent experience while chatting with someone in a store.

    I should stop being chatty in stores. Really, I should.

    This nice lady wanted me to phone her elderly mom to tell her that she was going about getting her novels published in the wrong way.

    The lady couldn’t see that having a total stranger leaving a message on the old woman’s machine (she screens calls) would be quite useless. She doesn’t know me, would never have heard of my books, and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

    I felt like a mean person for saying no, though the lady was nice about it.

    I didn’t feel mean for very long. I’ve been through this more than once. I’ll send them to writer boards, to the library’s 808 section, give them the name of my agent, but that’s the limit. I’m not an acquisitions editor.

    The one time I stuck my neck out and did a basic critique, the guy went batshit insane afterward, accused me of all kinds of batshit insane things, THEN wanted to know if I was open to editing his (seriously flawed) book.

    Not in this life.

  246. I knew this huge asshole in high school, okay, maybe I dated him. He and his friends would always talk about what an asshole Tom Hanks was. Apparently a group of them stood in front of Hanks at a basketball game and kept asking for his autograph. When Hanks politely declined, these guys (all around 200+ lbs., six foot, and some change) stood around Hanks screaming at him what an uppity dick he was.
    I bet the next fifty or so kinder,gentler people who interrupted his game with a friendly wave, sweet comment, and polite autograph requests made up for it.
    But don’t worry, they probably don’t read. I’m sure nobody that does will bother you now that you’ve put the word out. On the off chance that they do–if you can’t be happy that you’re successful enough to be wrongfully harassed, perhaps you can just be glad you’re not Tom Hanks. Either way I love what you wrote and hope it checks people’s expectations of public figures.

  247. “The only thing worse: “I’ve had a life so crazy (interesting, sad, unusual, whatever) it’s got to be made into a book by someone.” (meaningful pause) “You could write it if you want to.” (longer meaningful pause)”

    Syrimne, aahhhhhhh, yes. THAT one.

    This is among the reasons that I’ve always instructed people in my personal life NOT to volunteer the information that I’m a writer when we’re at parties, meeting strangers, trapped in an airport lounge, whatever.

    Laura

  248. Gennita – thanks for the advice! I’ll have to get me one of those black books…that cracked me up.

    Laura – I’m glad I’m not the only one! Well, no…come to think of it…I’m really not. :)

  249. This blog post, John, is proof that you worry way too much about how the internet* reacts to you. Just because people CAN send you messages doesn’t mean you MUST acknowledge them, even in your private moments.

    *internet: random people who think that electronic ease-of-communication equates to relationships-worthy-of-concern.

  250. Hear, hear!

    Many thanks for this. Since Olsten’s satirical piece (and the Seussification of it), “writers” have been coming out of the woodwork, wailing and moaning what a “dick” Joel was for writing his piece.

    I suppose that makes me a dick, too.

    It is the writer’s job to write. It is the writer’s right to place his/her own work in a higher level of commitment than the work of others.

    An average script read, if I am going to take notes, etc, takes 2 – 3 days of my time, about 3-4 hours each day. This is work away from my work.

    In addition, most people do not want honesty. They want cheerleading and support, not professional script notes. If they wanted professional script notes, they would pay for it, wouldn’t they?

    ~ HRH

  251. gottacook @ 282 – OH yes. I’ve been there, too — both in corporate (I used to edit for a consulting firm) and freelance. One guy stuck me with an unorganized and nonstandardized bibliography, which was supposed to be arranged in order to correlate to the citations in the text, but was not. It ran to something like 50 pages of 10-point type. Many of the listings were incorrect or incomplete, too, just to put icing on the cake.

    It’s a hazard of the profession. It’s just, all things being equal, I need to pay the mortgage. ;)

    (Often, though, I think the hidden perk of copyediting is in finding the gems of truly amusing awfulness. There’s one that sticks with me to this day: The hospital has designed rooms for vaginal deliveries that are pleasantly decorated.)

  252. Darice, every week on Car Talk they announce that support for the show comes in part from “Purolator Oil Filters; they trap contaminants that can harm your engine and are covered in textured grip-control.”

    I bet not many contaminants are covered in textured grip-control.

  253. Excellent piece.
    The same is true for visual artists: the person is generally not going to listen; nor is the one asking willing to take advice. The first words out of the person’s mouth are usually defensive; also, why should I give you, for free, what it took me twenty years to dig up and understand?

  254. Am I the only person who has a new found respect for agents and editors who actually have to trawl the slush pile of the crazy and entitled to make a living?

    Meanwhile, screw everyone else. I’m hanging out for ‘The High Castle’ and if you’d haul arse on that, you will have my eternal and strings-free gratitude. Not that I’m entitled or anything… :)

  255. … also wrote a novel, a novella, several short stories, a weekly film column, and consulted a television show on their scripts, all since the beginning of the year.

    Oh, and also pointed out the complete dipshittery of a fly-by commenter who hasn’t the slightest idea what he’s talking about. Of course, that took just a second.

  256. The win goes to Mr. Scalzi. Game, match, and multiple points.

    Zero to Marky48, who is well known on other venues for excess fly-by dipshittery and little else.

  257. Amazing piece. New York Times best-selling author, David Farland, has provided my books with cover quotes (books 2 and 3) and both times I told him that if he was unable to read the manuscript and provide the quote due to time demands on him, I completely understood. I still thanked him for his time in simply CONSIDERING the gesture. Fortunately, it worked out, but just to be given the chance at help made me realize that it was a rarity and a GIFT!

    Folks, we’re writers…supposedly aspiring professionals in a field not unlike the myriad careers we choose for day jobs. I’m horrified that there are “bugshit nutbags” (great adjectives!) out there who ruin it for those of us who know how to handle ourselves and are nothing but gracious for simply being among the rare group of published authors. John, you nailed it, fantastic article, couldn’t have said it better by a long shot.

  258. Hey, all right already. You had me at “suck off and die”

    You made 8 points, which was about 7.5 too many.

    Now you can go back to your “paid job” and stop talking to all the losers you think are looking to you for advice.

    Cheers

  259. Gosh, Marky, I have 20+ novels sold, half a dozen anthologies edited, some of them hitting the NYT bestseller list, 20+ short stories sold, audio book deals, overseas sales of most of my books to half a dozen European countries…

    For a loser I’m doing pretty damned good!

    Totally going to keep checking in here. So educational.

  260. John – you think? I mean, you’re not just pulling my leg, are you? Because, I’m thinking about doing those Calvin ads again, but you know… getting a little older so I wasnt sure. Abs still there, so… (checks mirror for confirmation)

    PN Elrod – way to go! But, dude, I wasn’t talking to you, so M.Y.O.Beeswax. I was referring to the Losers – and you, my friend, do not appear to have an L on your forehead
    cheers

  261. P.N.
    I stand corrected. I meant to say “I wasn’t talking ABOUT you”. My bad.

    “Bored”? ha ha. That form of blog response is sooooo last decade. Why not use (yawn) while you’re at it.

    You shouldn’t take offense (for I meant none) – Girls are referred to as dude also these days. Like, “dude, that lipstick is so sick”.

    Come on over to 2009, it’s not so bad here.

    (feel free to use dude in your next vampire romance novel)

    Cheers

  262. The danger is slightly decreased because Jane Yolen linked to this thread on Facebook.

    But the danger has not passed. Because “bugshit nutbags” crossbreed and produce progeny such as “nutshit bugbags.” Some have hybrid vigor, and make mutated demands on our writing time…

  263. The next time this comes up, you might send the person to:

    http://hollylisle.com/fm/

    and tell them to read her free “Mugging the Muse.” And then take her workshops. And then rewrite. And then submit a query to Holly’s agent, whom she’s volunteered for them. (But they’d best make damn sure their mss. fits his market.)

    Holly is patient, she’s kind, she writes professionally, she got help from the best and is paying it forward. That said, she does NOT read mss. What’s more, she won’t feed anyone crap or take it from anyone.

    Obligatory disclaimer: I am not Holly. Holly does not know me. I’m just one of her students who’s profited from her lessons.

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