rubbing elbows with the gods.
July 18, 2006 6:29 AM   Subscribe

How to (tactfully and successfully) get some major names to look at some of my writing? Of course there is

I am going to be involved in a big-name writer's conference, though not as a paying attendee (no workshops, just the hobnobbing); I am there in more of a logistical/support sort of capacity. Nevertheless, I am going to be meeting with major poets and authors that I admire greatly, in a social setting. Is there a tactful way to pass on a manuscript or collection of some of my current work to them for perusal? I'm doing this primarily because I would like feedback from them, not because I am so foolish to believe that they'll say "omg this is wonderful I will pass it on to my editor/publisher tout de suite".

Related question for bonus points: how much is too much? When does a manuscript or collection get too big for someone to consider looking at? I want to err on the side of caution- I'm thinking of ~10 poems and a short-short story in one packet. Too much?

(I couldn't decide whether this was "Society and Culture" or "Writing and Language")
posted by exlotuseater to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You could pay them a fee? Seriously
posted by A189Nut at 6:41 AM on July 18, 2006

Best answer: I am not a big name but I do get given stuff to read. Others may have different attitudes but I'm afraid to say my experience is that it's really annoying. I don't mind, in fact enjoy, reading things that friends of mine give me but people who I've just met bugs me. I've never turned something down but I do warn people that I am very bad about reading other people's stuff and I have a big pile of it in my office, looking at me accusingly... and theirs is going to have to join the queue.

It is much better to try to blag a real personal introduction to a good writer you admire, or to genuinely befriend one of them, since the feedback you get will be that much better than from someone into whose hand you just pushed a package.

Having said that, ten poems is fine but the short story better be short. I'd be inclined to only do the poems or only do the story since it's more focused and easier to respond to.

If you are going to do this you MUST MUST MUST shamelessly flatter the recipient prior to handing your stuff over.

(Overall it is better to send it by mail if you can get their address).
posted by unSane at 6:43 AM on July 18, 2006

I think the only way to do it really, is to ask them if they consult, and if so, what their fees are, or wait for them to offer. Otherwise, you are just asking for a pained smile and a quick end to the conversation.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:48 AM on July 18, 2006

I think the first rule would be (and perhaps you've already gotten this far) is not to bring your manuscript to the social events and try to hand it off there. Exchange cards after chit-chatting for a while, and ask for the favor later, in an email.

I am neither a big name nor do I consider myself an author. But I am in editorial and I find I'm much more likely to glance at an electronic doc or check out someone's blog than schlep around a manuscript. If the writing's good, I can't help but keep reading.
posted by lampoil at 6:54 AM on July 18, 2006

You might find some helpful advice in this related thread.
posted by MsMolly at 7:03 AM on July 18, 2006

INA God but I think handing off your manuscript(s) is a bad idea. Take a genuine interest in getting to know the writers (or anybody really) that you meet. Be thoughtful. And hope that you make a contact or two that has the potential to develop into a professional (or friend-level) relationship where asking for something like this won't seem so grimey.

That's the approach I would take. If you find that you don't have the patience to do that, I'd second the recommendation to ask about consulting fees, but I feel that you're selling the opportunity you have here short by doing that.
posted by 10ch at 7:41 AM on July 18, 2006

There is no tactful way to pass on a manuscript or collection for someone's perusal unless that person has specifically asked for it. The suggestion about asking whether the authors consult and what their fees are is a good one. You say you are at this conference as a support person -- so be a support person, and be smashing at whatever it is you are doing, and perhaps a personal connection will be made. But there is no chance any writer will take you seriously if you show up with a manuscript in hand and a request for comments. Also, many writers won't even look at someone else's work -- accusations of stealing ideas, plagiarism, etc. The best thing you can do is be as professional as possible -- which means no foisting unsolicited manuscripts on anyone.
posted by mothershock at 7:49 AM on July 18, 2006

Also, Miss Snark, the agent-blogger, has a fair amount on how off-putting it is to people in the business (writers, editors, publishers, agents) when people go about making connections the wrong way -- and good advice on how to avoid that sort of thing. Just scan the archives.
posted by mothershock at 7:51 AM on July 18, 2006

I am not a big (or even tiny) name, but people do send me stuff to read--often without asking. It can be a painful task reading some of it. That said, I think 10 poems is too many, though it would depend on how short they are. I would think 3 - 4 would be sufficient and if they wanted to read more, they'd ask (though I'm not naive to think this is likely).

Also, I agree with mothershock--there's no way to tactfully do it. The only way I can think might work is if a third party who knows the writer introduces you and suggests the idea--might give you a way into the topic.

As an aside, a couple years ago I wanted to grab the ear of a few different specific writers. What I did was link to them from my site (which at the time was just a mailing list--no archives). They or their handlers checked their stats, came to my site, couldn't make head nor tail of why they were linked, and subscribed to my mailing list to see what it was about. Surprisingly, this worked well. All four writers I linked to subscribed. Without asking, 2 of them then gave me feedback on pieces I mailed out in the future.

*crosses unSane's name off list of people to approach about reading screenplay* ;)
posted by dobbs at 8:03 AM on July 18, 2006

One other thing: if you have "packets" of writing, to me that suggests that you're specifically approaching the writer in question. Were I that writer, I'd think that you probably have numerous such packets at such an event and that I'm merely one of many, which wouldn't make me take you any more seriously.
posted by dobbs at 8:07 AM on July 18, 2006

As someone with decent exposure to this field, I nth the other posters. DON'T DO THIS. That said, if you want some big names to read your work, why aren't you taking the workshops? This is, effectively, part of what they're getting paid to do in those workshop fees, so it seems almost doubly annoying to ask them to read your work in that setting. You have that opportunity already! Take some workshops!
posted by theantikitty at 8:16 AM on July 18, 2006

I am absolutely nobody, but I grew up meeting lots of notable authors at conferences and workshops, and knowing the people who offered "logistial support" for such things. unSane, mothershock and dobbs are right on. My one suggestion: once you have "networked" and gotten to know an author, a good way to get him/her to read something is to have it published. Place a poem with a journal or magazine (easier said than done, I know), and send a copy to each author you met, with the page marked and a personal note. Like unSane said, a writer's time is valuable. At least by sending them something published, they know that an editor has vetted it and it can't be complete crap; bonus points if you get it into a publication with which they are familiar.

And yes, I know that by soliciting feedback, you're trying to increase your chance of getting published, and that this seems like a Catch-22. But getting feedback from one of "the Gods" takes special effort.
posted by junkbox at 8:27 AM on July 18, 2006

You would do better to write them fan mail, and see if they write you back. Writers are really only doing these conferences for the money and most are socially inept if not downright agoraphobic. They will view your manuscript(s) for review as work, and who does work for free? I am sorry but this is the truth. Even if you are a genius, they don't care. If they are already teaching a workshop at a writing program than all of this double-true.

But you know, having a "real" writer, even a great one, read your work is not necessarily that helpful. I have been lucky enough to know some well-known authors and their advice on my writing wasn't much more valuable than that of an interested, well-read friend. If you know a great editor, on the other hand. . . well they are pure gold.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 9:28 AM on July 18, 2006

Also remember that they have to look at a lot of amateur writing and give a lot of feedback while they're there. There's only so much reading one can do of even the best writing before you start to feel like you just ate five huge meals and you can't eat no more. Especially for free. Another reason to just talk to them now and save the sharing for later. There should be plenty to talk about outside of your writing. They'll remember you next time if you treat them like a normal person.
posted by lampoil at 9:33 AM on July 18, 2006

Best answer: There is no tactful way to pass on a manuscript or collection for someone's perusal unless that person has specifically asked for it.

They will view your manuscript(s) for review as work, and who does work for free?

These comments are on the money. You are in the position of someone going up to a doctor at a party and saying "So, doc, I've got this pain in my side..." Don't do it.

Also, what sirmissalot said. Cultivate editors, not writers.
posted by languagehat at 10:02 AM on July 18, 2006

Get published and pay to attend the conference. Then you will be a peer, and other writers will be more open to working with you.
posted by kindall at 11:46 AM on July 18, 2006

I might be big--I really don't know. I do get such pleas from time to time. A very few times, if I was impressed with someone's verbal ability and poise, I have offered to read.

Nothing ever came of it.

Sorry to say, you are barking up the wrong, wrong tree. Do not suck up to authors--they can't do a damn thing for you. I have some good friends, writing buddies from before my published days, who are really good--better than I am, in fact--and I've not managed, though I've tried for years, to get them any closer to publication.

If I were to pass a ms on to my editor, or allow my name to dropped in the cover letter, what would happen would not be much different than if it landed on her desk by the usual submission route. First, they open it. Then they read one page. If you don't completely suck and if they have time, they'll set it aside to read some other day.

Most people, sorry to say, suck.

Later, they'll take it out and read a few more pages and glance at your synopsis and your cover letter. IF you have marketable angle and you're talented and you've managed to get it across the right desk at the right moment and the editor isn't suffering from a migraine or low-blood sugar or an irritating new assistant, you might get a request for the full ms (which you didn't send, did you? NEVER send a full--only proposals!) which someone might eventually actually read and might actually buy--but maybe not.

In this process, I can only get that first page glanced at for you. That you can easily do for yourself through a slick professional submission.

So do those poor authors a favor and buy your own stamps.
posted by writergurl at 4:08 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

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