On Approaching Authors for ‘Stuff’

Most writers you approach are pretty nice. They’re collegial and willing to help newbies along the road. They’ll sign things. They’ll do interviews. They’ll answer craft questions. They’ll point you in the right direction – like to a good writers centre.

Requests from newbies, sometimes overstep the bounds, either out of ignorance or simply trying to circumvent the system. What you need to be aware of when you’re asking writers for favours is the boundary between reasonable and unreasonable. Let’s explore a few possible scenarios.

Why are you contacting me?
Is what a lot of writers will think when they receive your email/letter/exhausted carrier pigeon with missive attached.

Some authors are incredibly generous with their time and they will read a manuscript or a book sent to them, and comment on it. What you need to realise is that these people are rare.

How long does it take you to read a book for pleasure? How long does it take you to read a book with an eye for editing detail? Or to proofread? And you do not have deadlines to get a book to the publisher or do a book tour or do interviews, etc. The hours that an author spends reading someone else’s manuscript are hours s/he is not doing their own writing. So, you know what? Be prepared for a polite “No”.

In the event of a polite “No” (or, let’s face it, even an impolite “No”), don’t bitch and moan about that author. S/he doesn’t owe you anything. If you’re looking for feedback on your work, that’s what a writers group is for, that’s what creative writing classes are for – use the correct channels.

You ask an author of high fantasy to read your chicklit novel
Okay, what do you think is going to come of this request?

Basically, in sending a query like this to a totally genre-inappropriate author you’ve told them straight off the bat that you could not be arsed to do research into who they are or what they write. It’s just plain rude and it shows you are not prepared to learn about your industry.

If the author is polite enough to reply to you and explain why they are a bad fit for your request, say “Thank you and I’m embarrassed to have made such a rookie mistake.” Indeed, if they are generous enough to answer you and provide you with detailed advice on more appropriate places for you to find the information you actually need to propel your writing forward, don’t ignore them. Say “Thanks” , apologise once more and take the advice – chances are, they have a clue! After all, they’re published and you’re not.

Asking for a review of your book (self-published, e-, or otherwise)
Honestly, this is what reviewers are for. As a result of successful breeding programs, there are a lot of them out there, not just attached to newspapers and journals and magazines, but also out in the ether. Find one who is appropriate (perchance even well-disposed) to your genre of writing. Email in the first instance and see if they are taking books for review purposes.  If yes, then send, send, send. If not, then be gracious and polite – they may be looking for books at a later date and you want them to remember you fondly and not as the rude psycho who told them “You don’t know what you’re missing! I swear, you’ll regret the day you refused to review Twenty-six Ways to Piss Off a Publisher!”

Professional authors have a hard enough time finding time to read for pleasure, so please, don’t ask someone to give up their time to read, critique, review or blurb your steam-vampire-zombie-chickpunk trilogy.

Asking an author for a free story for your hobby anthology
Your anthology may well be devoted to the highest, most worthy cause in the land. An author may well be inclined to help out, but for some reason they just can’t – their own deadlines, their own personal history, a conflict of interest – you just don’t know. Also, the theme/cause of your choice may well be anathema to them.

So, if you get a “No” from an author, then at least have the courtesy to say “Thanks for getting back to me. I do appreciate it.” Don’t bitch and moan. Don’t tell them they’ll regret it. Especially don’t tell them that one day you’ll wear their skin as a cloak.

Also, asking someone to provide a story for free in order to support your hobby? Writing is a job. It takes time. It is something a writer deserves to be paid for – you wouldn’t expect anyone else to sit at their day job and do it for free, so why expect it of a writer? Writing is freaking hard.  If it was easy, then every idiot would be banging off best-sellers. Mary Robinette Kowal made a great post over here on this very matter.

Asking for free books
Sweet Mother of Crap.

Unless the person you’re writing to is SuperAuthor, s/he isn’t going to have boxes of books in her/his garage. A writer may get ten author copies of their own books to give to the people they actually know and like. If they want more, they generally have to buy them from their publisher (admittedly at a discounted rate, but still!).  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: put your damned hand in your damned pocket and support the author and the industry.

Sooooo, approaching authors. Be polite. Be informed. Be careful.


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