It appears that Steve Clackson, author of the unpub­lished Sand Storm, has ruffled the feath­ers of a US writer called Lee Goldberg. Goldberg is an estab­lished writer (in the sense that he writes TV tie-in fic­tion based on char­ac­ters cre­ated by oth­er people) and did not take kindly to an email sent by Clackson that read:

For any­one inter­ested.…

OK, so this is a brief, and argu­ably rude, email. But does it jus­ti­fy this tirade?

Here is an excerpt:

Does he really think an agent will stumble on his blog and offer to rep­res­ent him? Or that a pub­lish­er will be so enthralled by his prose that they’ll offer him a book con­tract? Or that a devel­op­ment exec at some stu­dio will read it and beg to buy the movie rights?

A glance at the com­ments below the art­icle will con­firm that the time-hon­oured Internet tra­di­tion of escal­at­ing hos­til­it­ies — com­ments becom­ing more per­son­al and vit­ri­ol­ic — is alive and well in this instance. My own feel­ing is that Clackson’s ori­gin­al email could have been bet­ter presen­ted, but the (pub­lic) response from Goldberg was dis­pro­por­tion­ate.

This reminds me of a blog post I’ve been want­ing to make for some time. The thing is, as a young writer with a book (even when that book is unpub­lished), you need people. You’re vul­ner­able, too, because nobody cares. Nobody cared about a journ­al­ist called Freddie Forsyth hawk­ing a hand-typed manu­script called The Day of the Jackal. The people who you, as a young writer, con­tact, are in a per­fect pos­i­tion to load both bar­rels and blast away.

Curiously, this doesn’t seem to hap­pen very much. Back in the day, when I knew noth­ing about mar­ket­ing my first book, I star­ted con­tact­ing well-known authors to ask them to read it. Foolishness, I thought. I fully expec­ted the kind of response that Clackson received from Goldberg: tough love mas­quer­ad­ing as a kind of ‘Waddya mean? I’m help­ing the guy! Jeez’ bull­shit. It soon turned out that my pess­im­ist­ic pre­dic­tion was off the mark. Ninety per cent of all the authors I con­tac­ted either (a) read the book (into this cat­egory fall Ken MacLeod, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Stan Nicholls, Ian Watson, and many oth­ers) or (b) wrote lovely emails explain­ing that they were too busy but wished me luck (Iain Banks, and one or two oth­ers I for­get). Only one writer — who shall remain name­less — made a tit of him­self with a little speech about how the idea of read­ing my book, when he had so many to write, was pre­pos­ter­ous. At least he didn’t post it to his blog.

Time and again I’ve over­heard writers say that the ‘tough love’ approach is best for every­one because it dis­cour­ages those with no tal­ent from wast­ing their time. Maybe. But people who love to dish out the crap should ask them­selves if their motives are really so noble. Don’t they, just a little bit, like to lord it over people they see as inferi­or? Who knows. And who knows, again, wheth­er someone has tal­ent?

Like caring for the envir­on­ment, there isn’t much an indi­vidu­al can do about oth­ers; but you can sort your­self out. So when I get an email ask­ing ‘How do I get an agent?’ I try to answer it. I’m not so busy. Hell, I know ‘busy’. I was work­ing on my blog until one in the morn­ing yes­ter­day and this morn­ing I was up at six for the gym. I also hap­pen to work sev­en days a week. But I’m not so busy I don’t remem­ber writ­ing those emails a couple of years back hop­ing for a little bit of help — and I got it in spades (one of those writers I con­tac­ted, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, turned out to be a review­er for the Guardian).

So, what goes around comes around? Probably not. But the ‘lit­er­at­ure game’ is hard enough. Give breaks where you can and don’t make a tit of your­self.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

7 thoughts on “Help!”

  1. What a relief to read your views, after the level of invect­ive, remin­is­cent of school­yard bul­ly­ing, in some of the com­ments else­where.

    I’m also not con­vinced by the ‘tough love’ argu­ment. Doesn’t it imply that tal­ent and per­sist­ence are identic­al? I always recall John Kennedy Toole when I hear it.

  2. Thanks for your com­ment, I think you’re right — there can be a bit of bul­ly­ing involved. Whether or not there is in this case, I don’t know, but it doesn’t hurt to be pos­it­ive occa­sion­ally!

  3. Lee is a blog­ger with a wide audi­ence where­as Steve is try­ing to sell his work so this has the sub­text of Bambi vs. Godzilla.

  4. These are good com­ments on a good post, I think. Steve, good to hear your explan­a­tion of the email you sent round — I thought it was prob­ably some­thing like that. I think Lee just reacted too quickly, you know, how people do to emails some­times. Pity he pos­ted his reac­tion quite so pub­licly, as you say, Ian. And I think David’s com­ment is per­tin­ent.

    Ian, I agree with you that in my travels through the won­der­ful uni­verse of blog­gers, I have encountered so much warmth and encour­age­ment, of authors to each oth­er and of non-authors to authors. I am sure that on the whole, des­pite excep­tions like the Lee/Steve “affair”, blog­ging and blog­gers are a great source of psy­cho­lo­gic­al sup­port to authors who oth­er­wise would be strug­gling in their gar­rets with nobody to know of their exist­ence.

    I am not an author, but I know how much the exper­i­ence of blog­ging has provided psy­sco­lo­gic­al sup­port to me, and has done more for my lifelong curse of depres­sion than any­thing else. I could ana­lyse that for ages but will spare you!

  5. Thanks for your com­ments, David and Maxine. It’s cer­tainly easy to get depressed as a writer (the odds of get­ting pub­lished aren’t great), but I guess it’s par for the course. I like the idea of blog­ger camarader­ie, though. Lighting a candle, and all that.

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