Back in November, I received a proof copy of a first time novelist’s book, with the usual ecstatic letter.  I liked the first chapter, and agreed to read the whole novel.  Here’s what I emailed in response:

From: Meg Rosoff
Sent: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 3:15 AM
Thanks for sending XXXX book — I read half of it this afternoon and skimmed the rest. I think XXXX is a really interesting and original writer but the book doesn’t quite work for me. First person present can feel a bit claustrophobic — maybe that’s my problem with XXXX. In any case, I really appreciate you sending it, and please tell XXXX for me that I think she’s a very talented writer. xMeg

Having spent the better part of a day reading an author’s work and responding to an editor, neither of whom I’d ever met or had any investment in, I kind of assumed I might get a short ‘thank you’ in response.

But no.

Weeks passed, and I would have forgotten all about it, but then I noticed the proof again. And it pissed me off.  So I wrote back to the editor.

From: Meg Rosoff
Date: 3 December 2011 19:30:37 GMT

I have a bit of a thing about publishers who send books that take serious time out of my schedule to read and then never bother to write back to say thank you.  Just saying.

And this is what I got in response.

Meg – I’m very sorry I didn’t respond to you. I guess in reading your response, in which you didn’t offer a quote, I assumed it was saying what needed to be said on your part and didn’t require a response. I do understand it took you time – thank you for that.

Well, she assumed wrong. And she also assumed her way out of a genuine interest I had for her author. (If I were her author, and I got to hear about this, I’d be mightily annoyed.)

Now, it’s worth saying that I used to try to read at least a few pages of most books sent to me (I probably get ten a week). Partly because someone did it for me once (thank you, Mark Haddon). And partly because it seems like a nice and supportive thing to do for new writers.

Mostly, I no longer bother.

As I write this, I’ve just received a request from someone I know slightly, asking if I’ll read a “wonderful” first novel they’re publishing.

What would you do?



31 thoughts on “Ever wonder why it’s so hard to get people to read your unpublished proof?

  1. Antony John 7 years ago

    A very thought-provoking post, Meg. I think it’s terrific that you are prepared to read unpublished proofs, and I know first-time authors really do appreciate it; or at least, they SHOULD! I think the key is for publishers to remember that communication is vital, and you can never say thank you enough. After all, they’re soliciting hours of your time (unpaid, of course), and that’s what they should be grateful for – not just the resulting blurb (assuming you feel inspired to write one).

    If you decide to stop reading unsolicited work altogether, no one would blame you, I think. Sounds like you’ve paid your dues already!

  2. Mohammed Sajid 7 years ago

    You say that you read half a book in an afternoon & skimmed the rest. Perhaps your correspondent thought you hadn’t done it justice? Maybe they thought it was better to say nothing rather than respond with vitriol?

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      I can generally tell within about 5 pages whether I’ll like a book or not. Most people can. I continued with this one because I liked the voice enough to be interested in seeing how the author carried it through. And writing a book involves so many different elements — getting the story arc right, keeping the tautness up to the end, etc etc etc. But I don’t often find a voice I really like, and I think a lot of the rest of writing can improve book by book. A lack of a convincing voice rarely does change, however.

  3. WillatSafkhet 7 years ago

    Well, Meg, I think I might be just about as irritated as you. There is a persisting attitude people in this business tend to have that their time is more important than yours. It is sad and deplorable and (IMHO) no way to do business.

    I’d be hesitant about contributing time to the new “first novel”… that said, it is very difficult to get the “first” novel out there to be reviewed. When you are a start-up publisher and looking for some (any) support from well-read and well-known reviewers out there, you find very little empathy or sympathy from those people, mostly because they’ve been disregarded by the big guys one too often.

    I think given all that (rant), I’d want to receive the AI sheet first, so that I can decide if I really want to read the book without getting another block of potentially wasteful paper delivered to me, just to clutter up my already overflowing bookshelf, only to find out that the story is tripe and the editors are disregarding…

    Just my two cents.

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      Well, exactly, on most counts. And to be fair, of all the books I’m sent, I don’t get very far with most of them. I’m a very critical reader, which is OK too, because I’m only one opinion, and when I do like something, I usually love it to bits. And I’m actually interested in what new novels are like, and LOVE to be the one to blurb someone new. I genuinely don’t understand why publishers (and on one occasion, an author) behave in such a cavalier manner, when so few people will read proofs.

  4. Emily 7 years ago

    I’ve had the same experience with a publisher who asked me to read a debut novel and then didn’t thank me. The author, on the other hand, was grateful for my time and told me so – I’m sure your first-time author would have done the same given half a chance so it seems a shame to penalise similar first-time authors because of rude / too-busy / absent-minded publishers. But I can see how it would get very irritating given the number of books you are sent. I was chuffed to bits when two authors I hardly knew gave me a quote (and for first-person present tense too, ho ho) so I think it’s something I’d do in the future if asked. However, I won’t tell a barefaced lie for anyone (well not about books anyway) so like you I’d make polite excuses if it wasn’t my cup of tea. I know plenty of people think these quotes don’t matter anyway…but I pay attention to them as a reader.

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      I would never blame the author. In fact, I feel really cross on behalf of the author. This is a good writer, someone I’d like to watch in the future. And still will……

  5. Tiny 7 years ago

    I’d send them a link to this very blog post. If they value your honesty and have a sense of humour, and they react in a way that makes you smile, you can always reconcider 🙂

  6. Stroppy Author 7 years ago

    I think Tiny’s answer is great – reply with a link, saying that you fully support new writers but find it difficult to work with publishers who don’t appreciate that your time is valuable and limited. Maybe also ask what is ‘wonderful’ about this novel that makes you an appropriate person to ask – why it will appeal to you in particular.

  7. Shelley Souza 7 years ago

    The way of thank you notes seems to be going the way of farthings…extinct. I would, hope, however, that you would still peek at the first few pages of any unsolicited proof (or novel) you’re sent because…you never know…you might discover a writer you love and who might also become a real friend in time. I suppose I’m saying: “hope springs eternal.” And as you are one of my favourite writers, I would hate it if you became one of the masses in rejecting everything, just because some people are schmucks. xxxs

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      So far, I’m still peeking. But I do vow about 4 times a year to stop!

  8. Shelley Souza 7 years ago

    Oh, and (P.S.) first person present *is* claustophoebic. It’s my least favourite POV. In general, I’m not wild about first person POV unless it’s quite literally the only POV in which the story needs to be told–as there was in, “How I Live Now”. (Otherwise, I suppose, it would have been How She Lives now or something worse…).

  9. Kathryn Evans 7 years ago

    Stroppy has the answer I think – it’s a tough one. I know I’ve really appreciated when authors I admire have offered to read my work – but I would never ask. I wonder how much input the author had in the request? It does seem a shame that they should suffer in the long term because of the actions of their editor but you clearly need to protect your own time and others should be aware of that. Ten books a week is an awful lot!

  10. Sarah McIntyre 7 years ago

    Thanks, Meg! My studio mate and I bitch about this frequently. We get requests from people asking things such as, ‘Can you give me some tips about how to get into illustration?’ or ‘How should I go about getting an agent?’ or ‘Would you illustrate my book?’. We might spend 20 minutes writing a reply, and we probably only get a simple ‘thank you’ e-mail reply from one person in ten. It makes me less willing to help people and I’m planning to put an FAQ on my website so I can just refer people there, and save myself getting so cross.

    I just can’t figure out WHY people wouldn’t reply with even a one or two line e-mail. I’ve spent too much time wondering about all the possible reasons.

  11. Tony 7 years ago

    I charge for quotes according to a fixed scale. It’s all set out in a grid. You can get any word/phrase from column A (‘readable’ ‘good use of commas’, etc) for £5, going up to £50 for anything from column Z (‘a masterpiece’ ‘James Joyce must be shitting his pants’ ‘better than Meg Rosoff’). I find it’s best to get it all out there in the open.

  12. Keren David 7 years ago

    Bad manners not to say thank you, as I always tell my children, and bad manners generally breed bad feeling.

    Have to disagree with Shelley’s blanket dislike of the first person present tense – it’s what you do with it that matters, not the tense itself.

  13. John Were 7 years ago

    Meg, thank you, thank you, thank you for readng our author’s book and commenting. You spoke directly to Will but do know that we are very grateful to you for taking the time to make comments that helped us feel justified in embarking on our publishing adventure. Please don’t stop doing such a wonderful thing.

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      Ah, now John, I enjoyed Will’s book and his writing and look forward to what he does next (Will le Fleming, folks, watch for him). Of course Will was insanely polite and yes, it helps. I hope xelsion is a great success.

  14. Ray P Hewitt 7 years ago

    and there I was about to send this book I’ve written … 😉

  15. John Were 7 years ago

    And thank you again for the good wishes!

  16. Jean Akam 7 years ago

    If I could find people like Meg to look at my children’s stories I would be very grateful indeed and she would know it. Having waited 8 weeks from one agent to get a reply and then got sorry am not taking any more scripts you kind of hope one day you will find a person like Meg. The trouble is nowadays people do not say thank you we have grown into a very ungrateful society and I find that so sad. Good on you Meg to insist you want some form of thanks for your hard work.

  17. Jan Carr 7 years ago

    You’re right to be irritated, the editor should have said thank you.
    Time is precious.

  18. ayse 7 years ago

    Perhaps do it in return for a hand knitted something of your choice….could be a little interesting test?

  19. Emma Beasley 7 years ago

    if i were you i would read the first chapter and then if i liked it then i would carry on to see where it goes but if i didnt like it then just respond with a comment saying they need to inprove their writing technique.

  20. E.J. Runyon 7 years ago

    I have a short story collection being released Jan of 2012. I got lucky and got an excellent blurb from a very good writer for my cover. In return, aside from thanking her at every email encounter, I planned right them to ‘tithe’ 10% of my writing work-week to helping other new(er)writers who may, in time, try contacting me.

    Whether I can live up to that practice or not, Who can say. But I’m willing to give it a try until the point I feel as Meg does, and I then begin sending out links to this post instead.

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      Fantastic. Good for you. (Not related to Damon, by any chance are you?)

    2. E.J. Runyon 7 years ago

      “(Not related to Damon, by any chance are you?)”

      Hah, So few folks ask that of me. No. Only a fan of his works.
      I got the last name off the credits of a film I saw back in ’73.

  21. Helen Jameson 7 years ago

    I can imagine how infuriating this must be as I get cross whilst out shopping just for standing back and holding a door open for someone who doesn’t bother to thank me afterwards. I now cause excruciating embarrassment to my family by saying loudly, “You’re welcome!” When the offender turns in amazement, I follow this with, “Oh, my mistake, I thought I heard you say thank you.” As this method never fails to get the desired response and simultaneously shames the recipient, perhaps you could try sending a similar follow-up email!

  22. SDCrockett 7 years ago

    It’s impressive you find the time to read new books at all. I’m new to your blog and it’s the only one I’ve read that I can bear. Every time I feel like prevaricating I will head this way. Having just written my first book, I will be prevaricating continuously, awaiting ANY reviews.

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      Sophie, the best advice I ever got about writing was to write my second book the minute I finished my first. You need to keep going, and sitting around waiting for reviews is not a good idea. I always say that if you call yourself a writer, your job is to write!

    2. SDCrockett 7 years ago

      ‘Tis nearly done! Good advice though – thanks.

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