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May 27, 2010

Ungrateful People - or Writers are People Too

Too many people in this day and age expect something for nothing. In fact, not only do they expect it, they *demand* it. And they get snotty when they don't get it.

I'm a regular follower of the Writer Beware blog run by Victoria Strauss and Ann Crispin (Ann, when is the next book in "Exiles of Boq'urain Trilogy" coming out? Please??????). As an aspiring writer (not that I've been doing much about it over the last few years, but the kernel of interest is still there), I like reading the helpful information that the blog has for avoiding publishing scams and that sort of thing. These three writers (Strauss, Crispin, and Richard White) do a valuable service to up and coming writers.

Strauss recently posted about a different, though related, issue. And it's ungrateful people like the one she describes that really chap my hide, burn my butt, or whatever body-chafing metaphor you want to use.

Basically, a guy emailed her asking for some advice, the message being "from an aspiring writer who was worried that his friend's negative reaction to his work-in-progress meant the work was doomed."

She goes on to say:

"He wanted to know if I could give him some advice, since the subject of his book paralleled some of the themes I work with in my own writing.

For a variety of reasons, I never critique unpublished manuscripts.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

A week later, just as she's finally sitting down to do something about this, she gets a nasty email from him about her "wasting" his time. When she replied that she had been busy and that he was asking her for a favor, "he informed me that he wasn't going to kiss my ass just to get my help."

Can you believe this?

It's bad enough when you ask a friend to do something for you and then get mad when they don't do it fast enough. There's an aspect of friendship that carries that extra bit of responsibility to at least be honest if you can't (or won't) do something. It's still rude to treat your friend like that, even so.

But a professional who is working in the business that you're trying to get into? Whose time they are willing to volunteer despite having no obligation to do so? You are asking them to basically donate their time and energy to your problem. The least you can do is be grateful that they're doing it.

That doesn't involve "kissing ass," of course. As Strauss points out, authors (or whoever you're asking for the favour) are people too. They're not perfect, and you are totally free to ignore their advice or decide that they're not being very helpful. If that happens, it's still a good thing to be polite about it.

Yes, Strauss could have sent the guy a quick email stating that she would get to it when she was able (as she readily admits). But even if that doesn't happen, realize that you are imposing on these people's time. If you have a time limit for some reason (maybe you're on some kind of deadline), then let them know that so they can take it into consideration. It may get them to move faster, or it may make them say "I can't get to it that fast, so I'm going to have to decline." Either way, both parties are better off because everybody knows where they stand.

Not to mention the fact that, similar to that blogger who writes about the trials and tribulations of trying to get published, you really shouldn't piss off the people who may one day have the power to make or break a sale for you. If you're asking for professional advice, it's very possible that you will come across that person again when and if you are finally successful. Do you really want to have that kind of history with somebody?

Patience is a virtue. Exercise it.


  1. Hey Dave, it's been a while since I've visited your blog. (sorry about that) This was an interesting window into an experience we can probably all relate to. It doesn't necessarily have to be related to the writer/aspiring author/agent/etc. world for us to nod our heads in commiseration, as we've all been on the receiving end of someone else's unrealistic expectations.

    That being said, yep, people spend a great deal of time walking around in a selfish bubble. That trait is one that mystifies and frustrates me, if I allow myself to engage. That's become key for me; setting boundaries. I slip up, of course, but it is a lesson that I do exercise regularly. Kindness is also key! People forget that one on a regular basis too, sadly.

    Great post, my friend!

    ~ Dawn

  2. Dawn, welcome back! I've missed your presence.

    Feel guilty enough yet? :P

    Thank you for the kind thoughts and excellent words! You've hit on exactly why I wrote this up. Because while this particular case happened to an author, we all have similar issues.

    I even had one happen a few years ago, actually, though it wasn't a friend asking for advice. It was a "deadline ultimatum" type thing, though.

    Hmmmm, maybe I'll write about it.


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