I WILL Read Your F@#*ing Script…If You Leave Cookies and Milk

In addition to the now-famous rant by the guy who won’t read your effing script, Jason Sanford and John Scalzi have both weighed in on the subject, one satirically the other with practical advice.

I want to state without disclaimers: I WILL read your script, novel, poem, short story, or other scribblings, IF you will just leave it on your kitchen table. Put out some cookies (preferably oatmeal raisin, so I can feel like I’m eating healthy) and milk. Make sure the back door is unlocked. Go to sleep. I will creep in during the night, read your work, critique it, and slip back out again. I promise not to steal anything, unless your cookies suck.

Seriously, though, I agree with both Sanford and Scalzi. But I’d like to add a few points, re-emphasize a couple of others, about sending requests to writers.

– Some writers supplement their income with critique or teaching services, so it’s unreasonable to expect them to read your work for free. My own policy is, with a few exceptions, to expect payment for services rendered, when those services are going to take more than 15 to 30 minutes of my time. It’s different in situations where I’m just skimming in order to offer advice about agents and the like. (But in these cases, it certainly helps if you come with a referral from someone I know, rather than just out of the blue.)

– The chance a writer will respond to you depends not just on workload but on how much email they receive from readers already. Not including professional correspondence with people I already know (probably 700 to 1,000 emails a week), I get probably about 10 to 15 emails from readers a week, plus another 10 to 12 requests for something, plus another dozen queries from editors, interviewers, and then another 20 or so emails via Facebook, etc. That’s a lot to deal with. Imagine being Neil Gaiman and getting, probably 200 emails a day of that nature, plus all of his normal daily correspondence. So, pick your spots.

– Don’t expect me to write your research paper for you. I get a fair number of students who expect me to answer very general questions about my work so they can finish their research papers. I don’t mind a couple of specific questions, but something like “Can you explain what you were trying to do with City of Saints?” is tiresome and lazy. This pisses me off more than anything, frankly.

– Understand that silence from me, or any writer, might mean I didn’t have time or the email didn’t go through. Because I get so much email to my hotmail account, I suggest a polite follow-up in two or three weeks. Sometimes I meant to respond and just got caught up in things.

– Be as specific in your request as possible, and show that you’re a professional in your mindset. By this I mean, if you query me or any writer with something along the lines of “I’ve written 10k of a novel and I love your work and here it is, I thought you could tell me I’m on the right track,” I’m going to ignore that. If you say “I’ve finished a novel. Here’s a brief summary. I’ve researched agents and narrowed it down to X, Y, and Z” and then ask something specific, hey, I might answer that.

But there’s another point that’s not really been brought up. I respond to a high percentage of queries and requests because it’s beneficial to me. For better or worse–sometimes I think people take me for granted as a result–I don’t see the professional writer as up on a hill somewhere with the peons all down below. I see the spectrum of experience as a hierarchy, yes, and one that needs to be respected in many ways, but not in terms of the crosspollination that occurs from interacting with new and emerging writers.

In other words, I get a great deal of benefit from keeping my finger on the pulse of what’s going on out there. As I’ve remarked before, having a sense of who is coming up through the ranks, discovering an amazing manuscript, or whatever–these things are not just ways of paying back to the community, they’re ways of keeping myself plugged in to what’s relevant. And, several times, I’ve been happy to find that people have actually appreciated what I’ve done and helped me out, too. I would hate to lose that connectivity and that synergy by putting too high a wall between myself and other writers.

In short, one way of paying back and being a useful member of the community is using your leverage on other people’s behalf (something Scalzi does on a regular basis, btw). Sometimes I’m too busy to be of use. Sometimes I just need down time. But we are a community, and it’s important to remember that.

Comments

  1. says

    Very well put, Jeff. I was wondering about this exactly after reading Scalzi’s take, knowing that there are plenty of writers (and you came to mind) who do enjoy interacting with newbie writers, especially if they’re willing to actually do the legwork to present a reasonable query. It’s good to hear a slightly less scathing response, because I think in some cases, the previous posts came off as a bit scary. We talk, talk, talk about social networking, about making contacts to succeed in the business, and yet sometimes the market just doesn’t feel that friendly. I agree that it is a bit foolish for some people to consider asking favors from people who really have no obligation to them, but we all start somewhere.

  2. says

    I hadn’t realised how wide this discussion was when I criticised (not in any serious way, but a little) Scalzi’s post. That said, I still prefer Sanford’s conclusions. We all have distractions, things we’d rather not do, and people who take the piss relentlessly. Perhaps as a tech. guy I can agree that there’s common problems rather than say (as I did) that writers can sound a bit up their own arses preemptively moaning about this to the general public.

  3. says

    Yeah, I really don’t mind it. All I mind is if someone gets miffed if I just don’t have time to respond. Sometimes I don’t respond to a query because I have absolutely no idea what to say. Lately, I’ve been so busy it’s been impossible to respond to everything. And then, too, sometimes people ask questions that if they were just my facebook friend they’d know the answer to.

    I think Scalzi’s post, as some of his do, comes off as too aggressive. If you know his usual tone, that’s fine. If you don’t, it’d be a little abrasive, perhaps. But Scalzi does a lot of nice things for people.
    Jeff

  4. says

    Yup. I’ve said it elsewhere but I think I misread Scalzi’s tone regularly because of it being text on a screen, but I know enough friends who speak highly of him (and have seen him do good things for enough friends too) that I’ve come to figure that’s mostly my misunderstanding of intent!

  5. says

    I’ve come late to this argument after getting sent the original article when it first came out. My issue isn’t with the points made but the accusatory “one-size-fits-all” tone, which has all but drowned out issues at the heart of this.

    I’ve never really read Scalzi but based on his article I don’t think I will again, as it came over (at least to me) just as pretentious and condescending as the original. He might be the nicest person on the planet and be able to kung-fu my words with his but you’d think a writer of his calibre could make his point such that drive-by readers such as myself couldn’t take it out of context.

  6. says

    i sing of Olaf glad and big
    whose warmest heart recoiled at all
    his importuning email-ors

    one unwelcome correspondent (pigg-
    ish manners, and not at all well bred)
    took erring Olaf soon in hand;
    but–though an host of ALL CAPS
    emails (first calling “shithead”
    him)do through HEAVY SARCASM mock
    that helpfulness which others stroke —
    while leaving nasty comments
    elsewhere on the internet –
    Olaf (being, one must not forget
    a freelancer, frankly not equipped
    to deal with this kind of crap)
    responds while getting quite annoyed
    “I will not read your fucking script”

  7. says

    that makes it look like I side with the Authors v. the Askers For Help but I don’t particularly, it just looked like more work to do it with Olaf as the bad guy

  8. swartzfeger says

    This is just a quick ‘I’ve used Jeff’s services in the past’ post (that sounded vaguely naughty).

    The amount of feedback I received was astonishing. Jeff made copious notes in the margins. He wrote extremely detailed sentence-level and story-level critiques. He e-mailed me throughout the process so he could grok my work on a personal level. It was like a mini-Clarion, except I sat at home in my boxers. For the level of pro service I received, it was ridiculously affordable.

    Jeff has not approved this post and etc etc etc ad nauseum

  9. Lisabee says

    This post just goes to show that Jeff VanderMeer is an incredibly nice man.

    I don’t know whether Scalzi is nice or not. I rather think that’s not the point. He’s allowed to not want to spend his free time reading stuff handed to him by strangers. (If his tone is off-putting, that’s probably not an accident.)

    That said, his post seems extremely targeted: he’s talking to the people who don’t have the common sense to remember that working writers have their own lives. He’s talking to the people who feel ENTITLED to his time and effort.

    And Jeff seems to be saying something similar–don’t feel entitled, don’t act like a jerk, and I’ll do what I can. What the writer “can” do is going to differ in each case, and that’s exactly as it should be. I think it’s really nice to see writers publicly clarifying what they’re able to take on, and what they’re not.

    Fingers crossed, Jeff, that you become so insanely successful and wealthy that you can hire assistants to start answering all your extra email and Facebook messages for you…

  10. says

    I don’t really know, Hellbound Heart. The word “cookies” got my attention and then “snickers” with some snack-like suffix… I started drooling and blacked out.

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