My lovely friend Sophie Blackall, ace illustrator and keen observer of the arts scene, sent me a link to a most interesting article recently published in NYC. It’s called, “I will not read your @£%&*!?**@$ script,” only it does not use coy symbols to express, in unequivocal terms, how the author feels about being sent unsolicited manuscripts, or being asked to read someone’s screenplay treatment.
The author explains that no matter what you say in response (even if a “brutally honest” evaluation has been specifically requested) you will be hated and damned forever. That is, unless your reader’s report cites better dialogue than Shakespeare and better stories than the Bible. It also helps if you mention that you’ve forwarded this undiscovered masterpiece to your good friend, Steven Spielberg for his urgent consideration.
Personally, I don’t much like being hated and damned forever, so I try to offer encouragement — which is easy. If I hate something, there’s a better than decent chance it’s destined to be a best-seller.
What astonishes me, however, are the number of people who send letters swearing I am their favourite writer of all time (a quick glance at their website reveals that it is, in fact, Someone Who Is Not Me, followed by 47 people who are Also Not Me), or who send notes saying they don’t really like my work, but would I use my hard-won connections to help them get an agent/publisher?
Perhaps a few pointers are required.
1. As with a job interview, it is mere politeness to familiarize yourself with the work of the person of whom you are asking a favour.
2. I do not, by any means, expect everyone to like or admire my books. But if you don’t like them, ask someone whose books you do admire for help getting published. Or lie.
3. Flattery, contrary to popular belief, will get you far. I’ve turned down school or festival events due to lack of time, only to receive an e-mail telling me how truly, genuinely disappointed the writer is. And I nearly always think, “Gosh, really? Truly disappointed? OK, then.”
4. Thank the person who reads your work, no matter what the response is. If there’s one thing that drives me mad, it’s a warm and friendly correspondence before I look at someone’s work, and then total silence when I’ve gone to the trouble to read it, think hard about how it might be better, and communicate the advice at length.
Having said all this, I am not averse to reading unpublished work. Someone read mine once, and I’ll never forget it.