12.13.2005

Yes, this is THE stupidest thing I've heard all damn day

Do you think it's beneficial to write to published authors about one's unpublished novel--sending sample pages/asking for feedback? A recent book on getting published suggested this approach as opposed to querying agents cold.

I think this is the stupidest damn thing I've heard all day--and that's saying something cause today the papers are full of the upcoming subway strike.

Why anyone would think this is a good idea is beyond me. Do they think published novelists moonlight as editors? Or that perhaps published authors consider offering feedback a light novelty, a break from more onerous tasks like...writing, having wild passionate sex or reading Miss Snark's blog?

It's wretched enough when people you're connected to ask you for favors. Total strangers asking is beyond the pale.

Don't do it.

What nitwit advised this anyway?

41 comments:

Desperate Writer said...

NO! A lot of published authors won't grant requests such as these anyway. It's full of landmines. Most authors are very helpful, don't get me wrong. They like to help fledgling authors, remembering when it was them, and all that. But unless it's a personal relationship such as a critique group or some other, it's not a wise decision to take on another's work for perusal. At least, that's what I hear from some authors I know. Besides, working authors are usually swamped themselves with their own deadlines, and if they accepted every request like this that came their way, it would pinch their own deadlines.

Anonymous said...

...writing, having wild passionate sex or reading Miss Snark's blog

I'm confused here. Just why can't a writer do all three at the same time?

Did I miss something in snarky school for the published writers?

Miss Snark said...

No, you cannot read Miss Snark's blog AND have wild passionate sex at the exact same moment in time. This is covered in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle ...and also Sister Mary Katherine's sex ed class.

Amra Pajalic said...

People who think this sort of a request is reasonable obviously don't know the first thing about critiquing. To do a good job in critiquing someone's writing is hard work and not something you should ask anyone who is not known to you. And even then you have to beware and not stretch the friendship.

Besides, how can people ask for feedback from people they don't know and respect. While these are authors whose work they obviously admire-they don't know them on a personal level. If you get the wrong sort of feedback it can be incredibly damaging to your work but a lot of times beginning writers are deluded as to their writing ability and how interesting a read they are providing.

They seem to think it's a privilege for anyone to read their work when in fact they should feel privileged to have someone who can provide feedback.

Brady Westwater said...

Miss Snark exhibits a rare understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and its corollary; if a lost thing is found, something else must disappear.

Two Crapometers appearing simultaneously in... Prescott Arizona... and the resultant tragedy.... shows why sex and Miss Snark's blog can never co-exist.

Plus it would seriously piss off Sister Mary Katherine.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much money someone could make writing a book gathering together all the worst writing advice he/she could find. Think it would sell? I'd buy one, just for the laugh factor.

But I bet even if you called it something as obvious as "The Worlds Worst Writing Advice" more than one clueless nitwit would faithfully obey every word as if it were gospel.

Shadow said...

"No, you cannot read Miss Snark's blog AND have wild passionate sex at the exact same moment in time."

But one can recite from Miss Snark's blog -- the spirit behind key excerpts, at least -- while amorously occupied. As in, "Oh, George! How I've longed for you. I love you, George. Let me see that big rock of yours again."

Shadow said...

Hey, Anon: Go ahead and compile that book ("World's Worst Writing Advice"), then send it here. Maybe we can make a few hundred bucks for you.

Perhaps we can even get Miss Snark to contribute a chapter on "World's Worst Query Letters."

Come to think of it, Miss Snark, I'd be willing to work with you on a "Best of Miss Snark" volume from the blog. No work on your part. We (your devoted Snarklings) will collate the MS for your approval, register the copyright to you, send you royalties, and give you full control over cover art. (I suggest commissioning Kitty.)

Linda Adams said...

The author of the book that gave the advice also doesn't understand networking very well. Sending an unpublished manuscript blindly to a writer you don't know isn't going to get your foot in the door--no matter how good you think the story is. Referrals come when the writer asks you because he knows you and is impressed with you.

If you need feedback on your novel, join a critique group--and make sure you give lots of critiques back. The best way to improve your own work is not to receive the critique, but to give it. That's where the real learning comes from.

Anonymous said...

I hate to admit this, but I did this - sort of. I chose a mid-list author I liked. She regularly teaches writing courses in her city. I live on the other side of the country. So I wrote to her and proposed that she teach me a private online writing course by critiquing my finished manuscript, and I offered to pay her for the course. I figured she could charge me about what she gets from one of her usual writing courses. Well, this was obviously a stupid idea, because she never even wrote back. Yes, I'm a nitwit. Oh well, live and learn and increase in snarkiness.

Jeff said...

That being said, there are some professional writers who offer a sort of consulting service to aspiring novelists. Said writers do this for a fee though, not out of the goodness of their own hearts.

Christine said...

I know Tamora Pierce actually has this listed as a question in her FAQ's. Now, she writes for YA, so I suppose it's direceted at teens who want to be writers. She cites her lawyer as the reason. "If I read something and accidentally use it later, thinking I thought of it."

That's a really good reason. :)

kitty said...

A recent book on getting published suggested this

Was this Pat Walch's book, 78 Reasons? The reason I ask is because this is the one book on the subject I've read, and it sounds vaguely familiar.

E.E. Knight said...

Reading Miss Snark's blog is a great way to cool off after wild passionate sex. Kind of like a cigarette, only more addictive and less carcinogenic.

I would like to find the person who suggested this stratagem and issue a purple nurple or two. Unsolicited writing samples pop into my inbox now and then. Complete with follow-ups querying why I didn't respond.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Hey, the World's Worst Writing Advice is already given out for free at PA's web site. How is anyone going to compete with that?

Anonymous said...

Hi Miss Snark!

I'm starting to assemble a list of agents to query.

Sometimes I run across an agent that sounds good (eg I see their name in an interview, they have a website, are a member of AAR). But when I run thier name thru the deals database on Publisher's Marketplace no deals appear, or only one or two. Does this mean that they haven't sold anything, or that they don't send deals info to Publishers Marketplace?

How many deals per year does a good solid agent make?

Thanks, your snarky highness.

otto said...

Oh...so maybe that's why J.K. Rowling never replied.
susan

Shana said...

I was going to mention the same point Christine did. I've seen on several writers' websites a note that says on advice from their lawyers, they can't read someone's unpublished work to protect themselves from being sued later should a book they write have a similar idea or character to the unpublished manuscript.

Anonymous said...

Don't ever expect some poor unsuspecting author you've picked off the best-seller list -- or off your favorite shelf -- to be delighted to read your work. I mean, we're drowning in our own work, family stuff, wild passionate sex -- I've even been known to tell my dear spouse, "Not tonight dear, I've got a deadline." -- and if I have to do that, well the unknown manuscript hasn't a chance.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to finally see this myth busted. I have read advice similiar to this many times, and it has always seemed tacky in the extreme. Comparable to asking a friend who cleans houses to come polish your toilet, and expecting her to be pleased to have access to your excrement.

Anon, I'll buy a copy of your worst advice book when it's out. It'd be a cute Christmas gift for my critique group.

Kate said...

Argggh. I get several requests like this every month week via my website - and I've only had two novels published, so I fear it can only get worse the more books I write.

I went out of my way to put a lot of useful resources for unpublished authors on my site, because I'd benefited so much from similar advice when I was attempting to break out of the slushpile... but I draw the line at reading work. First, I still have a day job, so writing time is in short supply. Second, my subjective opinion is not going to help anyone get published: it's editors who lay claim to that particular magic wand. I generally suggest to anyone who asks that they join a critique group OR use a reputable critique service, so long as the readers have the right credentials.

In future I might just direct them to Miss Snark's post... MUCH quicker.

Kate x

Sandra Ruttan said...

Jeff is right, some authors do this for a fee.

I know many authors in my genre and would still never ask them to read my work unless there was some contractual arrangement that did involve me paying money for a service.

Here's why.

1. I respect their time.
2. I would never ask the opinion of an author I didn't have some respect for, which means I would also want to preserve my opinion of them. Not every person, author or not, is a good person t critique your work. I've had a few critiques done. There's a big difference between someone telling you "this is amateur and sloppy" and "this needs to follow the rules of police procedure more closely". One is just insulting, the other is actually constructive.

One really big reason for authors not to read other people's work: copyright protection. A distant cousin of mine is a country music singer and songwriter, and one thing he said about people trying to shove tapes at you is that you can't touch them because if someone comes out with a song that's even remotely similar, you could end up in a lawsuit.

And it is possible for more than one person to end up with the same idea. Or for two novels to have striking similarities.

And, hey, if the author is passing up on wild, passionate sex and reading Miss Snark's blog, then I think they deserve to get paid for their time!

Miss Snark said...

Kitty, if Pat Walsh suggested that, I'll eat my hat, strip nekkid, dance in Times Square, let Killer Yapp pose for the repaint of Dogs Playing Poker, and eat my hat again..including feather.

Anonymous said...

Cynthia writes:

The ONLY exception I can think of this is when pubbed authors and editors do a critique auction to benefit some worthy cause. In that case, usually they just critique your first 20-25 pp or so.

RWA authors do this on a regular basis. One that I participated in was a benefit raising $$ for a multi-pubbed category romance author with cancer and no insurance. I bought two flat-rate critiques from authors who had been edited by the editor I was targeting. It is a great way of helping someone or some cause out, and getting extra benefit from it. If I'm ever asked to volunteer my services in something similar, I will do so in a flash.

Unless an author is offering critiques, I agree. It's tacky and insensitive to think a working writer has time (or inclination) to do something a critique group would be better suited to. Lots of pubbed writers no longer have the time even to participate in their long-standing critique groups ... so why on earth would a complete stranger think she deserves a shot?

Miss Snark said...

Auctions for good causes, offering paid classes, offering to PAY for the critique are all not covered by this post. In the first two, the author has volunteered his /her time/expertise for love or money ie is a willing participant.

Offering to pay for one on one help is NOT nitwittery. It recognizes the value of the author's time. It may not have been effective, but it wasn't the guache stupidity of sending pages and expecting the author to critique it.

I've seen this kind of request first hand. I've seen it at readings, at seminars, at parties. It's wretchedly uncomfortable for the author or agent who's asked.

I'd screech "Don't Do It" again, but I know the people reading this blog don't need to be told.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, put some hot sauce on that feather to make it more palatable, or soak it in the gin pail. I remembered that from Walsh's book too, because it seemed so odd (I found the book very educational nonetheless.)

Under Reason #54, page 126: "Another useful paractice underutilized by writers is to send a sample of your writing to an author you admire. Excepting some best-selling heavyweights, many successful authors are appreciative of their situation and are willing to give advice and, sometimes, referrals."

Can be found in context using the search inside feature on Amazon.

Susanne said...

I can't wait to become famous enough to receive and ignore stupid requests by nitwits who might do this.

Miss Snark said...

good god, I'm going to faint dead away.
I think Pat Walsh is the cat's pajamas, and I love that book but clearly I'm going to have to X out Reason #54 when I give it as a gift.

Geeze, and I called him a nitwit too.

Well, KY is heading out for his portrait sitting and I'm headed out for Times Square.

Trust the Snarklings to find all sorts of devastating info.

Audiate said...

It was the one, strange, nitwitty thing he said in the book. It was strange to find it hidden in amongst other very good advice.

Maybe it's a hidden code, everyone! Let's all send 20 pages of our ms's to Pat Walsh... ;)

Stacy said...

Although what an author does in their personal life is none of their editor's business in theory, I can't begin to tell you how upset I'd be if I found out that Unnamed Author who has thrown my production schedule out by two months because they haven't finished necessary revisions still has time to provide friendly critiques of strangers' work. I would definitely be less understanding and patient when I call/email to find out What's up, yo?

Anonymous said...

Note that I am not a lawyer.

That being said, to the best of my knowledge, you cannot copyright an idea or a plot or a plot point. The reason authors don't want to see pages from unpublished writers isn't so much because they'd be in legal trouble if the pages contained ideas the author was already using in a yet-unpublished MS, or ones the author had plans to use later, but because unpublished writers who don't understand that ideas can't be copyrighted cause problems when they get indignant and try to sue.

KLCtheBookWorm said...

Okay I have Pat Walsh's book in front of me. What are the odds that I actually packed it in my needs-to-go-to-work-with-me bag?

Not only is it in #54, it is the whole point of #58 "You Did Not Go to Publish Authors."

Many people in publishing will not like my saying this, but I think submitting a short bit of your writing directly to a published author is an effective way to gain access to agents. Clients who refer writers to their agents feel good about nuturing a new talent; if it works out, they have done the agent a favor.

Except for the big names, most authors get less mail than you might expect. I would estimate that an author receives one piece of mail, including fan mail, hate mail, blurb requests,a nd writing samples, per two thousand copies of his book sold per month. ...

A few tips: just as a matter of course, handwrite the envelope at least. Being professional with an agent or editor is fine, but what you are doing when approaching an author is asking for a personal favor and script is more personal than a laser printer. ...
Quoted from pages 136-137

So--based on other remarks to this post--should we send our samples to Pat Walsh until he gets sick of them?

Anonymous said...

My first book was published last year. Since then I've gotten 3 requests from strangers asking me to look at their work and 1 full manuscript with no return address or contact information. I responded to the ones I could, but my letter was far from helpful. You see, I'm a terrible editor. I have enough trouble trying to get my own work into a readable state, and I'd have no idea what to do with someone else's work. The mystery manuscript is still sitting on my kitchen table. I still haven't read more than a page. Sooner or later I suppose it'll get cereal spilled on it and have to be thrown away, but until then I don't know what to do with it.

harridan said...

It boggles the mind that Pat Walsh is giving out this type of advice.

Sure, we small time authors don't have our inboxes loaded with fan mail (mostly we get the same mass emailings for Viagra, body part enhancers, and cheap rolexes as does everyone else.)

But getting a request for a read is absolutely painful.

Why? Because it's basically a no-win situation for an author.

No matter how politely you decline the request--or even ignore it--you've now become a creep in the requestor's eyes. On the surface that person may tell themselves that they will be gracious about a "no" answer, but deep down they will still hold that to his/her heart.

Whether that morphs into never buying another book by that author, telling friends "well, that book's okay, but..." or just snubbing said author at writer functions once the querier is published, who knows.

It's a damn minefield.

Worse yet is if the author actually crits the work. One wrong comment and you've become a diva. An egocentric boor who knows nothing about the talent of said querier. GACK!

I'm not an editor, nor an agent, and have never claimed to be. We authors/soon-to-be authors are all paddling on the same piece of driftwood, trying to stay afloat. And the currents change every day.

Sigh

kathie said...

You really hit on something with this post/repsonse.

imp (Iva-Marie Palmer) said...

Maybe this advice would work, if you approached attention-starved POD authors. Of course, they might try to unload unsold copies of their masterwork on you in exchange for their gifted caress of your manuscript.

Debby G. said...

I'm much more willing to help writers who say they bought my book, or at least read my book. If they took the ten minutes to post a nice review of it on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com, that's an added bonus.

That said, I have posted nice reviews of other writers' books and never even thought to ask them for favors.

A writer wrote to tell me my editor had talked up my book at a conference she'd attended and that she'd just ordered my book. I was so happy she took the time to tell me I spontaneously offered to critique a chapter of her work for her. (She didn't take me up on my offer.)

But the majority of writers who ask for my help haven't even read my novel. About a month ago, I got an unsigned e-mail which stated in ful, "Do I need an agent?" The person couldn't even bother to sign his name, let alone describe what kind of book he'd written, etc.

I'm already in a critique group. I read other people's manuscripts in exchange for them reading mine. Why would I critique someone's work who has done nothing for me, who hasn't even taken the time to read my book?

Harry Connolly said...

I think aspiring authors should definitely write to authors they admire. The letters and emails, however, should not have sample pages inside, or requests for a referral, or whatever.

You should write to those folks and tell them how much you enjoy their work, You should express your gratitude, if you feel it. You can, I guess, ask a simple question about the book. No, you won't get anything out of it, but so what?

Sal said...

Coinkadinkly, Miss Snark's favorite online bookstore, Powell's has an interview with Pat Walsh on the site.

Anonymous said...

I hate to play Mme. Except-shee-ohn, but getting in touch with authors I respect and whose work I find pretty similar to mine was one of the first items on my list of shameless self-promoting.

In my opinion, the worst any author can do is say no or not answer, and I left plenty of beg-out room in my emails (oh yes, EMAILS) for these writers to do so without breaking my fragile ego. So far, I haven't recieved any "sorry, I just can't" responses. I've sent out eight of these letters, and five authors have agreed to at least have a look. Two writers have had their look and requested to look at the whole darn thing. Three writers haven't answered, and I'm not taking it personally.

I know those who have answered are basically donating their time to an unproven cause, and they deserve fine wine and chocolates for their good deed this holiday season.

The key is to write to authors you actually admire and have read, so you're sincere. The other keys are to never forget to be grateful and to believe in yourself enough to go for what you want. If it sounds pretty Hallmark Original, it is. But whatever gets the job done, yanno?

And PS- if Miss Snark recieved a query letter saying, "Mrs. Bigshot Best Seller says my book is teeee-rific!" is she going to turn up her nose, or is she going to figure out how to work that into her own cover letter to the big dogs?

THRILL said...

"Kitty, if Pat Walsh suggested that, I'll eat my hat, strip nekkid, dance in Times Square, let Killer Yapp pose for the repaint of Dogs Playing Poker, and eat my hat again..including feather."

When do we get to ready Kitty's story covering this event?

Miss Snark, Kitty, fellow Snarklings...you all add so much joy and laughter to my day.

And I haven't even read the book. Will add Pat Walsh to my Christmas list.