It appears that Steve Clackson, author of the unpublished Sand Storm, has ruffled the feathers of a US writer called Lee Goldberg.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 The thing is, as a young writer with a book (even when that book is unpublished), you need people.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.

Published by

Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

7 thoughts on “Help!”

  1. Thanks Ian,
    The reason my email was so brief was that I thought I was just alerting people I correspond with that I put up the first chapters.
    It was just an annoucement.
    His email address was in that group.
    Then it hit the fan, maybe I should have called it Shit Storm.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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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