Monday, 20 June 2016


For the past few years since becoming a professional writer I have been replying to the many emails and private messages from wannabe writers who want me to read their work. I'm not exaggerating when I say I get several of these requests a day.

You may not realise this but it puts me in a very awkward position. I am by nature very polite and obliging. And so it is difficult for me to say 'no'. I try really hard to be nice to everyone online. It is very easy for people to take what you say the wrong way. And that's why I try to avoid ambiguity in my answers.

I really don't have time to read other people's work. Even if I wanted to. And my agent has advised me not to do because writers have been accused of 'stealing' other people's ideas.

I find this difficult to believe myself, because we all have enough of our own that we can't find  the time to write up - so why would you need anyone else's ideas? The thing is though, we may accidentally, absorb the idea and it might come out in a different way even years from now. And then someone can come back to you and say - that was mine you stole it!

It's not the only reason I say no though.

I had a man come up to me at an event not long ago who basically dropped his manuscript onto my table. He expected me to read it and give him some validation, yet he didn't even pick up and look at one of the books I had for sale. And he didn't buy one, either. Yet he thought it was perfectly reasonable to give me his work to read. I naturally refused to look, explaining my agent's view on it, and the man left in a huff.

I really can't imagine going up to one of my contemporaries when they are at a signing event for their own writing, and asking if they would look at something I had written. Can you imagine asking Stephen King to read your unpublished manuscript for comments and help?

Think about that for a moment please.

I am often bombarded at events by people who want to be writers, say in fact they are writers, and I'm expected to politely look at their works, when they don't pay any attention to mine. I find myself listening to their one-way conversations as they talk at me: politely nodding as I hear in detail about the novel that they will write one day. I'm relieved when a genuine reader comes up and I can turn away from them, hoping they will go while I'm busy. Or at least do the right thing and buy a book before deciding that I am the only person that can critique their own work. The mind boggles at this totally self absorbed behaviour, that shows a complete lack of social etiquette. Imagine that online now. And how people have even less consideration when they talk to you digitally.

And I'm definitely not talking about those among you who have been extremely lovely and polite in your asking. It was so hard for me to say no to you, but I hope now you understand why a bit better, and it wasn't me being mean, or disinterested. I am interested. Too much to my own workload sometimes. But I can't and I'm sorry I couldn't help and advise you. Thanks for understanding, and taking it so nicely when I said no. I really appreciated that more than you can know.

That is not to say, of course, that I will not give advice on writing. And I do. I deliver workshops frequently, for writers groups and at events. I have given out my email to genuinely talented people who I felt had a future in writing. I am willing to talk at my table to interesting people about writing - especially when it is a proper discussion and not them just talking at me, more interested in their own ideas than anything that I might have to say.

Anyway, I wanted to put this note up, in the hope that you'll better understand how difficult it is for writers to help others by reading their work. It is incredibly hard to make a living these days as a writer and every moment we spend answering these requests, polite or otherwise, takes us away from our precious writing time.

And just remember, I'm not being mean when I say no.

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