It’s possible you haven’t seen the dustup in the past few days about reading other people’s manuscripts. If you haven’t, start here with screenwriter Josh Olson’s blog “I will not read your fucking manuscript.” Yeah, the tone is a bit more obnoxious and angry than not, but I think the point is well worth making. Writers–including me–don’t have the time to read other people’s manuscript’s unless we have a really good reason to. (for me my beta readers have an automatic yes and a few others, too).
There are a plethora of reasons for this, but for me, it comes down to two–one, I don’t have time. Seriously. I have a day job, I’ve got my writing, I’ve got a family, and I barely have time to breathe. Those who are on my yes list, still have to wait for me to get caught up on my paying gigs before I can work them in. Reading a manuscript might only take a few hours ( only–I’ve got a use for every second, much less an entire hour!). But then you add in critiquing–and some people don’t want a real critique. One reason my beta readers are on my yes list is because I know they understand what they are getting in a critique–I’m going to tell them what’s wrong with the novel more than what’s right. Why? Because they don’t have to fix what’s right. Yes, I make sure I tell them, but then I have to talk in detail about the wrong so that they can understand my concerns. They may disagree and certainly are entitled to–I’m only one voice after all. But I want to feel that my advice is not falling on deaf ears. That they at least consider what I say and they are not going to get angry and start calling me the sorts of names that you see in the comments of Olson’s post. Otherwise, what’s the point?
The second reason is that I don’t want to be accused of stealing ideas, or characters, or plots or whatever. I just don’t. And that happens.
In the post above by Josh Olson, if you look at the comments, the vitriol is amazing. Astonishing. Partly people are no doubt feeling free to respond to the language and tone of the piece, but they also say that Olson got lucky. That’s the only reason he’s in the position he is. Do we say that of Michael Jordan? Of Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? Bruce Springsteen? Did they get lucky? Or did they have talent, work hard, persevere, develop their craft and dedicate themselves to their jobs? Why is it writers just “get lucky?” Maybe it’s our fault. I do consider myself very lucky to be able to do this job and to have people read my books and I’ve been known to say so. At the same time, I put a LOT of work into every book. I spend hours and hours and hours. I don’t remember the last time I had a vacation. I did it before I sold Path of Fate and I do it now. I know many of you know exactly what I’m talking about, no matter what your job.
A point frequently made is this: would an ordinary person walk up to a plumber or a lawyer or a doctor or dentist or an accountant or a machinist and ask them to do an hours and hours long job for free? Because those people got lucky? Not really. But people will do that with writers, and be tremendously offended when writers refuse. It’s astonishing to me and would no doubt be equally astonishing to anybody in any other profession.
Here is Laura Resnick’s words on the subject, as well as a collection of others from other writers. I suggest you read David Gerrold’s (writer of The Trouble With Tribbles). In Hollywood, just getting the request to read a manuscript can get your fired.
One of my problems is that I’m a teacher and I like to give back. I’m very willing to put myself out there for people, but generally I expect that we’ve had a connection of some kind before and I also expect that if I say no, it will be taken well. I simply CANNOT do all that I’m asked, much as I’d like to. If the workload didn’t kill me, my husband would. And he’s very patient with my schedule. I also by far prefer that people who ask are ready to ask. That they’ve studied, that they have some understanding of the business, that this is not the first draft or even the second. I don’t want to have to talk about the sort of things that they could learn from basic writing texts, workshops, and so forth. I want there to be a reason to be talking to me–that I will have something to contribute beyond the basics.
That’s why I like to run a question and answer time periodically on the blog. I’ll have one soon. That way all of you who have questions you have no place to ask can get an answer, and you’ll know that indeed I have time and am not only willing, but eager, to give you the benefit of what I’ve learned over the years.