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June 23rd, 2008

A grim fairy tale

Here's a little writer's fairy tale to get your week off to an entertaining start:

Once upon a time, there was a writer who had racked up enough sales and years to earn the title Established Pro (or EP for short). As EP's reputation grew, so did the number of less-established writers who asked for EP's help. At some point, EP was getting so many unsolicited manuscripts in her e-mail that she even had to put a special little Java script on her website that told anyone using the e-mail link to not send manuscripts, because EP didn't have the time to read them and really couldn't help anyway. (By the way, that didn't entirely stop the queries; just last week, in fact, EP got one from a man asking her to look at his baseball screenplay. The e-mail wasn't even addressed to EP, who wondered why she should spend two hours of her time reading something that didn't interest her when the writer couldn't even be bothered to take the time to address his e-mail to her. She deleted that query without responding simply because she considered it rude.)

Which is not to say that EP didn't like working with new writers, because she did. She signed up for a mentor program; she co-founded a writing group, partly because of the chance to help fresh new talents get those all-important first sales.

One day, at a local event, EP met a young writer, Mr. A. Mr. A was passionate and enthusiastic, but was possessed of the notion that real publishers would never do his work justice, leaving only self-publishing. EP tried to dissuade Mr. A from this idea and agreed to read something from him. It was actually good. Mr. A gave her a second story, which was very good. The subject of this very good story happened to fit a themed anthology that was about to close to submissions, and so EP urged Mr. A to try a submission (even though the story was also very long). Mr. A agreed. EP exchanged several e-mails with Mr. A, helping him prepare the manuscript for submission.

Several months went by, then EP received a quizzical e-mail from the editor of The Themed Anthology - did she really know Mr. A (who had used her name in his initial query)? Well, it turned out that the editor of The Themed Anthology had also thought Mr. A's story was very good, but it was just too long for the book; the editor asked if he might be able to consider it for a later volume. Mr. A proceeded to send the editor at least three increasingly nasty e-mails, which essentially boiled down to "you're an amateur because you are incapable of recognizing my genius and buying this story even though it's too long for your dumb ol' book." It also turned out that Mr. A had ignored most of EP's advice and had included things with his submission (like a photo) that she had told him to lose.

Fortunately for EP, she already had a good working relationship with this editor, and together they were able to laugh about the fact that she ever tried to dissuade Mr. A from self-publishing. However, imagine the possible consequences for EP if she hadn't known this editor, or if this editor had maybe been a little grouchy the morning he got Mr. A's first vituperative message. We're talking potential bad splashback here, dear reader. All because EP tried to help a new writer.

The moral of this story is: If you're a new writer and some Established Pro refuses to look at your work, don't blame the Established Pro - blame all the Mr. A's who have already gone and screwed up the works. And if you do get lucky and find an Established Pro who agrees to help you out, then for godssakes don't do anything that might embarrass the Established Pro.

Because the Established Pro just might come looking for you then.