Wednesday 22 October 2014

An Unsolicited Novel Lands in Your Inbox

The situation: unsolicited email has a huge attachment.

You feel: feeling overwhelmed; guilt.

A kind reader writes you a personal email to tell you how much he loved your book and hopes that you enjoyed his review. You write back to thank him. He tells you that there is a little favour you could do in return – read his attached one hundred thousand word novel and give critical feedback. (Are you noticing a theme?)

This is a cunning trick, because he did you a favour first, so you’re feeling kindly disposed, and it seems rude not to help. You wish you had time to look at the novel, but you simply don’t.

The first thing to do is realise that once you’re quite well known, it is not physically possible to read and review the work of everybody who’s read and reviewed yours. What’s more – that’s okay. This is where you wanted to be, and although this particular aspect of being well known may make you feel bad, you are not in the wrong. There aren’t enough hours in the day to help everybody and that’s not your fault.

Whatever you do, do not make any false promises, no matter how much you’d like to help. This will heighten the mistaken sense of betrayal when you eventually have to let the budding author down.

The easiest thing to do is to open the attachment and have a quick peek at page one. If you’re lucky, the book might inspire you so much that you allow it to be one of the few books you can find time to read. However, the chances are that it won’t be your sort of book.

A glance at page one will often tell you that the brand-new novel in your possession is not the sort of thing that you could give feedback on even if you wanted to. This is useful because it allows you to get back to the reader in a way that neither hurts feelings nor makes you look like a haughty bighead. You can tell the author, in full sincerity, that you don’t know a thing about religious, historical fantasy and that his style is something so far removed from your own, that any comments from you would be useless.

If, on the other hand, the style is exactly the sort of thing that you could comment on, then you will have to navigate the situation a little more carefully. Do you have time to read the first few pages? It’s fine if you haven’t, but if you have, then the author is likely to be grateful for any feedback he can get, and this will allow you to gracefully decline giving feedback on the whole book.

If you don’t have time to read the first few pages, then is there another small favour that you could do for the author? Perhaps link to his blog from yours or recommend his work to a friend. You could even keep handy the details of somebody who offers reasonably priced critical feedback, so that you can pass it on when other authors approach you. All you can do is be honest with the author, write a polite email and hope that he or she understands.

Occasionally, totally splendid hotshot authors can get a little tired and crotchety. It is important to remember that, no matter how much stress you are under, “Hasn’t it occurred to you that I might be too busy to deal with yet another adolescent vampire romance?” is not a suitable response. You were once talented, unknown and desperate to succeed, remember?

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