Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Newbie Writers

There is something of a discussion going on in a writers' group to which I belong, that has spilled out into some postings on Facebook™, and I thought that newbies might find some of this discussion of use. It concerns why a lot (read: almost all) of established writers won't read unpublished manuscripts, nor introduce newbies to their agent, nor agree to take a newbie's idea and write it for him and then split the money when the book sells.

We all draw the line different places, and it depends on the newbie -- who they are, how good they are, and how much time you happen to have.

People don't know and they have some assumptions about this that are wrong.

I'm not that big a deal as a writer, but even so, I get a handful of requests every month from people who want me to send them an autograph sticker they can put into their books. I'd be happy to sign those books if these folks showed up at an autographing in a book store. And because the numbers aren't large, I usually sign a sticker and mail it off. Costs me forty-odd cents for the stamp, plus the negligible cost of a sheet of paper, an envelope, and the time to address it. I want to keep my fans happy and they did buy the book. (Okay, maybe some of them stole it, but --)

However, if I was getting a thousand such requests a month? That would be expensive, in money and time, and I couldn't afford either.

They don't know how it really is.

My phone rang once and it was a fan who had tracked me down. "Hello?"

"Uh, yeah, I'm looking for Steve Perry, the writer?"

"That's me."

There was a pause. Then came the shocked and awed comment: "You -- you answer your own phone?!"

"Yeah. I gave the sycophants the day off. What can I do for you?"

I know other writers who had similar experiences. I didn't believe them until I did.

We aren't all rich, nor famous. Most of us don't have assistants.

I won't repeat the information there. Laura Resnick's page speaks to it, and she has links to pieces by John Scalzi, Orson Scott Card, David Gerrold, and Jennifer Roberson.

If you are a newbie writer, though, I urge you to have a look at these links. It'll help you understand some things you might need to know.


Dojo Rat said...

Thanks, I bookmarked it.
Um, I have a manuscript...

Seriously, thanks for all the personal experiances of your writing, and the resources you make available.
John @ Dojo Rat

Brad said...

Make it back out here and I promise to bring all the Matador series out for signing (but only one copy of each, I don't want to seem greedy).

But seriously, sharing a beer was far better than getting a book signed.

jks9199 said...

I remember reading an editorial (I think) by Harlan Ellison (as I recall though maybe it was by Larry Niven in one of his collections...) describing some of the insane things fans have done, like show up at the door, demanding an author not only read their manuscript -- then and there! -- but provide free signed copies of all of their books, too, for "their greatest fan." Or put them up for an indefinite period in their home... And I'm sure that there was crazier stuff!

I kind of get the suspicion that Steven King was maybe being cautious in his depiction of rabid fans in Misery.

Dan Moran said...

Back in the days before I knew better, I let my address out into the world. A pair of drunk fans showed up at 11 o'clock one night.

Another time, after mentioning which COUNTY I lived in, a fan called every "Moran" in the phone book in that county, eventually catching me at Stout-Moran, the name our phone was under. (Actually not a crazy man, as it turned out, but still surprising to me.)

And then there was the time the amazing babe showed up at the book signing and wanted to talk about the sex scene in "The Last Dancer." It ain't all bad ....

Bobbe Edmonds said...

A few years ago, you were giving me some grief about a story I was writing that you had said you would look at (what eventually became "A Matter of Time"). I was late (typical) and you gave me some ribbing about it on this blog. You said something like "To the guy who's story I'm supposed to be editing, where the hell is it?"

The next paragraph was aimed at the rest of your fan base, stating that you WOULDN'T do this for anyone else, so don't ask and don't try. This was a once-off for a friend, don't bother sending in manuscripts.

I remember it well. I saw a side of you that I thought was a little...Snotty? Dismissive? I can't think of the exact word, but it put me off to hear you say that. I thought "What, does he think the world will come beating down his door or something?"

Since then, I've had people, sans invitation, directions or anything, show up at my door and want to train with me. Or just spar...or more. One guy was a black-ops wannabe, and had a car full of - no shit - ask any of my students, they remember - automatic rifles.

Lately, as I have gotten more involved in the world of writing and become more public with it, I have been inundated with requests for articles, short stories and to "just proof read this for me, willya?" Some are friends that I'm more than willing to help out a bit, others are complete fucking strangers who are, not to put too fine a point on it, out of their goddam minds.

Steve, I'm sorry - I just didn't know.

Steve Perry said...

No shame in ignorance, Kid, we all have loads of that, especially me. Why I posted the links was to help folks who didn't know understand why your favorite writer might not have the time to become a mentor.

I do a certain amount of helping out newbies -- all the writers I run with do -- because I think it's the right thing. And I read mss by pro-writer friends, though this is sometimes selfish -- because I want to see them first --and I want their books to be great, and if I can something that will help, I'm happy to do it.

But I have to draw the line, and it goes where I have to put it. I've read mss, offered critiques, advice, and more, because it's part of paying my dues. A guy I turn away because I'm up to my eyeballs in a deadline doesn't know this and sometimes takes it personally. He shouldn't. We all do what we can.

Wim Demeere said...

Ain't it the truth. One day, I'll post a bunch of the rudest/funniest emails I've gotten via my sites and blog.
Bunch of people asking me to train them for free, asking me the tel. number of famous kickboxers, asking for a full training and nutrition schedule for free, etc.

But the best one was a guy who copy/pasted entire chapters of the first book I did with Loren. Then he changed a few words here and there, probably guessing it was OK then. Next he mailed Loren "his" manuscript and asked if he could get our publisher to bring it out. Shees...