Dear Crabbit Old Bat,OK, I know I exaggerate, but only a bit. See, I've been getting a few of these emails recently. In fact, more than a few.
You give such good advice on your esteemed blog (bows, scrapes and touches forelock) that I wondered if you could help me? See, I am really trying my very, very best to follow all your words of wisdom (more flattery, more, more) but I still don't quite seem to have managed to get published. So, please go on my website, where you'll see I have put loads of samples of my best works, including the much-loved (by me) fantasy trilogy, The Mega-Magical World of Gloom Valley and the Invasion of the Man-Eating Night-Birds. I just wondered if you could tell me what you think and give me some advice to get me published. Go on, you know you want to! I'd be really grateful. Anyway, I know you're not really as crabbit as you seem!
Yours in anticipation,
Of course I'm thrilled. My heart melts with a warm glow. I am touched. Especially by words like "esteemed" and "wisdom" and "Fan". And by the idea that you think I can wave a magic wand and help you.
On the other hand, I am not thrilled. There are a few reasons why I am not thrilled and why I have a minor frisson of panic and meh-ness when you (lovely) readers contact me in this way.
- I am very (very) busy
- I should be spending much more time on trying to earn a living. (Ask my agent).
- I spend hours giving free advice on my blog, which I absolutely love doing but which I kind of feel is enough at least in terms of the free part
- It takes a lot of time to offer individual advice
- And there can be a severe downside - especially if you didn't like my advice. It could get personal. I'm not very good with personal: it tends to keep me awake at night.
- Another downside is that unless we have a formal agreement at the start, you could turn round and accuse me of stealing your idea. Now, I know I wouldn't do that (I have enough of my own) but can I afford the time to explain that and get it cleared up before I read your tome?
- Advice that might seem to you to be easily accessible in my head, all ready to be spewed out onto the keyboard, actually takes some time to sort out and set out and check
- You are asking me to give professional advice for nothing. Would you expect a lawyer to do this? Or an accountant? Or a plumber? Or frankly, any self-employed person. Now I know that I'm not really crabbit but actually pathetically generous, and often say yes to things I shouldn't, but I have to draw the line, and the line is here.
Now, there is an answer to this question which might help both you and me: next year, I plan to start offering individual advice, in the form of a professional critique service, talks and workshops. The planned name is Pen2Publication. At the moment I am thinking through the details with a partner. (While also doing my existing writing, if you're listening, o wondrous agent. And yes, that novel will get written...)
- critiques at various levels
- individual advice on submissions
- residential weekends / days with around 20 aspiring writers, where we focus on "how to make a publisher say yes". I'd do the weekends in partnership with another writer.
- talks around the theme "Hurdles and Hooks - your road to being published" - I already have some events lined up for university Creative Writing MA courses, but I'll also do talks open to the public, or to existing writers' groups. (If your group might be interested, let me know).
Meanwhile, to those of you who want to ask for individual advice, please bear in mind the downsides for me. I can't / won't read your work for nothing - not even if you try to persuade me with boots, Hotel Chocolat or sparkly wine.
HOWEVER - if there's a small question of possibly public interest you'd like me to answer, do ask me and I'll blog about it if possible. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org) I'll do it with or without naming you, at your instruction.
It's the "please read my work and tell me what you think" that's the problem. You may think, "she's a successfulish writer so she can afford to do these things." Unfortunately, successfulish only happens if I try to be balance free stuff with paid stuff. My agent - who reads this blog, so I should watch what I say - thinks I'm writing a novel. I am. I am.
Meanwhile, I hope you're all working hard on your entries to the Hotel Chocolat Halloween competition. Flash fiction is a genuinely great opportunity to hone your writing skills and write for a public audience. And with ten prizes, the odds are good.