Mark Terry

Friday, September 11, 2009

Josh Olson Won't Read Your Fucking Script

September 11, 2009
Yesterday I posted a link to a piece written by scriptwriter Josh Olson. He was pretty testy about saying he won't read your "fucking script" and gives some very good, nicely reasoned examples of why he won't. Despite them, he still kind of comes off as an asshole.

Okay. Fair enough. I'm not sure I have problems with the overall reasons behind his refusal to read other people's work, but the tone bothers me a bit.

Now, I've read some people's work. Some people have read mine. I'm grateful. When people ask me, if I have some clue who they are, I generally try to help out. I was involved in the Mystery Writers of America mentoring program, where people pay a small fee and one of the published members agrees to read 50 pages or so of someone's manuscript (the money goes to the organization, not the mentor) and comment on it. The guidelines are fairly straightforward, there's a quasi-legal document keeping both parties from suing each other, etc.

What surprised me both times about this was that I tried to go a bit beyond what these writers were paying for and give more detailed and thoughtful analysis, and included contact info and an invitation to contact me if they wanted to discuss it further. Neither writer did. In fact, neither writer even went so far as to e-mail me to say, "Thank you." Which I suppose is one of several reasons why when I received an e-mail from MWA asking for volunteers to do this again I just deleted it and went about my business.

In the comments yesterday, Natasha notes that she had some guy pursuing her, asking her to read his stuff even though he didn't know the name of her pseudonym (alas, neither do I) and hadn't actually read her work. Weird on a couple levels. First, what if she sucked? Second, what if what she wrote didn't appeal to him? Third, what if what she wrote had nothing to do with the type of writing he did? And fourth, which is the point here, how obnoxious can you get?

As Joe Konrath once said on his blog about people blindsiding him about reading their work or even asking for blurbs, if you want something like that, get to know him a little bit. E-mail him about his work. Participate on his blog. Come up and say hello at a conference. As Joe said, "Wine me, dine me, sixty-nine me." (Well, it's Joe, after all).

To which I'm going to clarify: will I read your fucking manuscript? Maybe. If you come out of nowhere and ask me to? Uh, no.

I've read a couple manuscripts of people who are regulars on my blog. They were regulars and we'd interacted. It seems to me we'd even exchanged e-mails before. (Is that right, Stephen?). I'd gotten to know them a little bit and they were friends of the e-mail sort (odd that we can have friends we wouldn't recognize on the street. Welcome to the 21st century. Weirdsville). I have a professional writer friend who regularly asks me to take a look at he and his writing partner's works-in-progress and provide feedback. I gladly do. And I've asked him to take a look at things of mine. The Amazing Erica O has read some of my stuff and vice versa. Natasha has read some of my stuff and I've tried to help her out when I can with some of her stuff.

So yeah. But that's different than someone coming out of nowhere and asking you to read something.

Also on yesterday's post, Stephen made the point that what most readers seem to want is validation rather than advice. Oh, Dude, you are so right. And frankly, I'm a professional writer and have had several novels published, and when I ask Erica or Natasha or Stephen or my friends Eric or Joe to read something, yeah, I'm hoping that they'll come back and say, "It's awesome, don't change a word." That's what I WANT. It's not what I NEED. I won't take up their time and energy for validation. What I NEED is for them to cast a critical and expert eye on a manuscript that apparently I'm not confident about. I'm a pro, hopefully, so I listen to their advice and give it some real thought and decide what to do about it.

This is running long, but I want to say a few things about having your work read by a professional. I pretty much agree with Josh Olson's assessment that he's got work he needs to read for his profession and work he needs to read for his friends (and then probably work he wants to read just for the hell of it), and when you come out of nowhere asking him to read your stuff, it's hard to figure out how to fit you in, even if you wanted to. I have this problem big-time. Here's what I've got going on: I'm re-writing a novel under contract. I'm working hard on two novels, one that's driving me crazy, but I feel I need to finish because not finishing it is a very bad habit, and the other is really, really capturing my attention and seems to be working very well. I'm working on a sci-fi novel that I'm very captivated by. I don't know if it'll fly, but I'm enjoying writing it and like Mikey, it's good for me.

Those are my "they're-not-really-paying-bills-much-but-I'm-passionate-about" projects. Then I've got my freelance writing business. I send out queries looking for work every day. I've started a publishing company so I've got an e-newsletter I publish every month, plus I put a short article up on the website 5 days a week. There's a lot of marketing involved with that, too. I'm the editor of a technical journal that comes out 4 times a year. I have regular clients I work very hard to keep happy. On any given day, with luck, I have 9 or 10 or 11 hours of paying work, in which I actually do about 7 or 8 hours of it. You do the math.

Then I've got my reading for pleasure. 4 or 5 magazines. Several newsletters I read for professional reasons. USA Today. And I play guitar. Study karate. Run. Bike. Lift weights. I'm the secretary of band boosters. I'm going to start volunteering 1 or 2 hours a week to help out the new guitar teacher at the high school. I've got 2 kids and a wife and a dog and all the various other things that requires, like house cleaning, etc. This litany isn't to brag about how busy I am, we all are; it's just that in my priority list, you've got to understand where reading your manuscript might fall. If you're my friend, I'll do my best to read it. If I don't know you, hey, I'm busy, you're not even on my to-do list.

Another point I might make, is that whenever I'm asked to read something BY ANYBODY, there's always a moment's hesitation. Because it's a litigious world and I always wonder if I'm blindly walking into a potential legal trap, that I'm going to get sued or otherwise accused of stealing an idea or plagiarizing or whatever. I fully understand writers who just say no on this basis alone. And it wouldn't surprise me if I got to a point one day where I just say no based on that as well.

Since this post is going on forever, I want to wrap up with 2 connected stories. A while back my blogger friend Stephen Parrish asked me to read a couple chapters of his manuscript. I did and made some comments. He rewrote along those lines, sent in his manuscript to Midnight Ink, my former publisher, and they acquired the novel. Although Stephen gives me some credit for this, I truly believe that Stephen knew what was wrong with the piece and just needed it pointed out to him. If you're close to being published or you've been writing and reading to the extent that you need to be to get published, you probably have all the tools in your toolbox you need. Sometimes you just need somebody to hold the flashlight so you can see better. (But if you're not to that point, then it's possible you're clueless and just not ready to learn).

Which brings me to a somewhat related story told by Stephen King in a piece I believe he wrote for Writer's Digest. When he was in high school he wrote a piece for the local newspaper about a high school basketball. He gave an example of what he wrote, then he showed how his editor changed it. He said it was a revelation. He said, "I got it." The editor told him if that was true, then he could do that and never have to work for a living. King did. But I firmly believe that essentially, King knew what was needed, but all he needed was someone to point out what he already knew.

Is this long-winded blog useful? Is it telling you anything you don't already know?

Cheers,
Mark Terry

15 Comments:

Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

Although Stephen gives me some credit for this . . .

I give you lots of credit. I'm sure I would not have broken in otherwise. You told me to cut what amounted to 60% of the opening material. I did, and suddenly life got easy.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Yes this post is long-winded. But I get the point, and I agree with you. The few times I've had stuff ready enough to have someone else edit it for me, they've pointed out stuff that I realized 'Duh, I should have seen that'. Nice post :)

8:36 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

LOL, he knew my pseudonym, (not my real name). So it was sort of doubly obnoxious, like if you and I were complete strangers, and I told you I was writing a women's fiction novel, and emailed you six or seven times to read it, even though I hadn't read anything you wrote, LOL!

Did I thank you for the help? I hope so! I was so lost and frazzled. I don't know how I managed to finish it.

I don't know. Having spent so much time seeking out lessons with teachers, I'm quite disappointed when people don't have a lot to say, or if it's all good. Having underwent "critique" 3 or 4 times a week in college, I typically disregard the compliments instantly and apply the helpful stuff, you know?

The time factor and the "already know" part is why I don't do a regular critique group. Mostly, I get stuff done in time for the deadline, but not for someone to read it first. And second, when I ask for help, I'm completely lost. I don't know what to do, what to fix. Like you said, though, I typically already know what needs fixing, LOL.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Stephen,
Well, I'll say thanks, but it was all there, I just pointed the way. Maybe that's a big part of teaching, but you were right on the edge and just needed a push.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Eric,
Yeah, I get comments from reviewers where you have to say, "Uh, yeah, now I see it."

9:48 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Spy,
you did thank me and it was easily one of those things where I read thru your piece and thought, "Her head's getting in the way. Start HERE."

I'm not good with critique groups either. I tried it once and it felt like a time-suck. Also, unfortunately, I have that "believe the criticism, disregard the compliments" thing, too.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What surprised me both times about this was that I tried to go a bit beyond what these writers were paying for and give more detailed and thoughtful analysis, and included contact info and an invitation to contact me if they wanted to discuss it further. Neither writer did. In fact, neither writer even went so far as to e-mail me to say, "Thank you."

Wow, that's rude--and not very smart.

On the other hand, it's not that surprising. I've had other writers approach me asking for input on either their WIPs or query letters. The ones who've been the most appreciative are the people I know in real life. The folks I've never met--they're the most nervy, the most pushy, and the least appreciative. I also think they tend to be the ones looking for validation, not an honest critique. (One guy--a friend of a client's--wanted my input on his memoir-slash-novel-based-on-his-life. In the same breath told me how many people loved his book and how it made them all cry.)

As for the article, I think Olson's "I won't read your fucking manuscript" attitude was meant to be humorous, as opposed to an ego-inflated ranting. But from the comments section, a lot of folks didn't take it that way. It's too bad he didn't dial back the 'tude because I think the message got lost.

In general, I think people who are new to writing truly don't understand how much time it takes to read and offer a thoughtful critique. I also think there's some envy involved, which presents itself as entitlement: "Hey, Published Author, you owe me."

10:04 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Hey Anomalous (er, anonymous),
I was waiting for somebody to mention Olson's attitude. Quite honestly, as a freelance writer, I'm convinced that if he'd just written a straightforward article about this it wouldn't have gotten published. In order to get published where it did, and presumably to get paid reasonably well for it, he had to go for that tone. That isn't to say he probably doesn't feel like that, at least some of the time (at least some of the time, don't we all?), but I think he was taking on a specific tone to 1. get his point across, and 2. make a sale.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous gregory huffstutter said...

I, for one, appreciate that you aren't Josh Olson. You were very giving of your time and insights to this particular aspiring writer -- especially your offer to chat over the phone. Your comments really helped me tighten my manuscript and land an agent.
If fortune smiles and I eventually change my status from 'unpublished' to 'published' writer, I intend to pay it forward to other newbies as much as possible.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Mark:
I have, and they know, a long-standing offer to beta read for some of my regulars. JT Willbanks BETTER send me his manuscript--LOL! I have read for Kath, for Jon (obviously), Stephen a couple of times, you . . . I have offered to read for Melanie. It is about a give and take relationship. I presume they would read for me.

That said, I have been approached out of the blue at least a dozen times, and I always found it a little rude. Blurbing . . . most of the time they phrase it as "I loved Spanish Disco and it got me writing comedy and would you consider blurbing my book"--that sort of thing. So at least it gives me a clue they may have READ my stuff. But asked to read fiction out of the blue for feedback that I get PAID professionally to do as well?

And I have to say the most annoyed I have gotten with reading for someone was when it became clear they were utterly uninterested in anything but praise. It is a waste of my time . . . .

E

11:05 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Gregory,
Glad I was some help. I try to pay-it forward, I guess, although I never really had any help from professional writers, although I've had some real kindness of various types from magazine editors. I do know how hard it is out there when you're trying to break in. All published writers do. But you don't have to get burned too many times before you stop offering your assistance.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Erica,
You're extraordinarily generous with your time and expertise and I thank thee, madam.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Catching up after being away for the weekend. I almost totally avoid reading books/stories by folks I know, either published or unpublished. What if I didn't like the book? How does one tell a friend, I didn't like your book? Which is possible because I have weird taste and, hey, taste differs. So to save myself having to even think about it, I just have a rule against reading friends' work. Which I've only violated a couple of times!

9:43 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Eric,
That seems like a sane fallback position, frankly.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Franzine Kafka said...

Hi, good post. I sometimes work as a writer in Hollywood. I wrote my own response to Josh's blog here.

7:25 AM  

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