Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Could you read this for me?

This is a common enough subject line on Playfriend emails. Usually it’s something small like a synopsis or a letter that needs to be checked for typos (or just that it makes sense). Fast, quick and easy. Sometimes we’ll send out a plea for someone to read a couple of chapters, but that’s not often, and it’s purely voluntary. Nothing is expected, and no one gets mad at you if you don’t have time to do it.

I also don’t mind—honestly—when folks email to ask me English teacher-type questions. I’ve explained dangling modifiers a thousand times, so what’s one more? It’s not like I have to go do research or anything. A couple of sentences, maybe a paragraph-- it’s five minutes, tops, out of my day, and I figure it’s good karma if nothing else. As a proud Grumpy Grammarian, it’s my duty to help make the world a more grammatical place.

Now, every newbie author learns soon enough not to email folks (especially published authors) out of the blue and ask them to read their WIP. It’s Rude. Tacky. Not Done. (Okay, so I did it once. But I’m very good friends with that author and only asked her to read a chapter because I’d gotten editor feedback that my characterization was spotty and she’s soooo good at characterization. But I told her I’d understand if she didn’t want to or couldn’t for some reason. I sent her a giftie afterwards, too.)

Interestingly enough, I’m already getting requests from people who ask me to read their stuff—and I’m only barely “published.” I’m not comfortable doing it (because I’m not sure I know all that much anyway) but it’s very uncomfortable to say no.

However, there’s recently been a rash of emails from people wanting me to read their research papers. I’ve hooked up with a lot of old friends from high school and college via Facebook, and it seems a lot of them are back in school for various reasons. Ack. Like I really want to read another paper on Iago’s motivations in Othello. I’m not even sure my comments could be much help—the grading of essays is just as subjective as the judging of manuscripts. Plus, with essays, I don’t know what the teacher has assigned, what they’ve talked about in class, or what the teacher is looking for. What I wanted my students to produce and what that teacher is looking for may be totally different things. Other than basics—organization, structure, grammar—or telling you that you’ve confused Iago and Roderigo in paragraph five, there’s not much I can really help with.

If I don’t help, though, I’m mean. If I do help, and the teacher gives it a bad grade anyway, I’m stupid. Can’t win for losing on that one.

Plus, these are folks I haven’t seen in 15+ years! Why are they asking me? They have zero proof, beyond my claims to degrees and teaching experience, that I have a clue as to what I’m doing. And honestly, if I’m not on your Christmas card list any more, I don’t think you should be sending me a 20-page research paper and asking me to “fix” it for you. I don’t care that you held my hair back while I puked after the Motley Crue concert in 1987. While very appreciated at the time, I think the window to collect on that debt closed a long time ago.

The Etiquette Hell site recommends “I’m afraid that won’t be possible” as a good response to unsolicited (or unreasonable) requests for time, energy or money. What do you think? While technically polite response, it seems to beg the question “Why not?”

I did like the response Karen from Will and Grace would use: “Oh I would, honey, but I don’t want to.” But that doesn’t seem quite right either.

So I’m open to suggestions…


P.S. The Playground gives a big shout-out to Barbara Vey who is celebrating her birthday today.


Playground Monitor said...

"I'm afraid that won't be possible" works for me, and if they ask "Why not?" just answer "Because I said so." And now couldn't you actually say "My editor has suggested I not do that" and then they'll be so impressed that you have an editor maybe they'll forget to ask "Why not."

I know we were all raised as southern belles and feel it necessary to give polite answers even to rude questions, but there comes a point when the polite answer goes out the door. Giving them a polite answer just encourages them to ask again later, and next time it might be the 100-page paper.

I do kinda like Karen's reply. And if you did it in that voice of hers, well...

Barbara Vey said...

Wow, thanks for the birthday wishes. You really caught me by surprise because I was thinking about how to answer the question you posed.

You could say, "I'll bet it's wonderful, but I couldn't do it justice right now between my own job and family. You really need someone who could give you 100%. I wish you much success."

ArkieRN said...

"I just don't think I have the time to give it the attention it deserves."

Linda Winstead Jones said...

Don't be the polite to the point where you end up burned out. It's OK to tell people that there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything you'd like to do (which is true enough) and you simply have to say no.


Maven Linda said...

You're too busy. Literally. You have a deadline and, with the holidays interrupting everything, it'll be some time next spring before you can take on anything extra.

Unfortunately, that's also true.

It's also true that, now that you're published, you should be very, very wary about reading other people's unpublished stuff. Giving a quote on a manuscript that has already sold is completely different, and while an essay isn't the same as a manuscript, it's still stuff that someone could say you lifted.

So -- don't.

Rhonda Nelson said...

Definitely just say that you don't have time and don't apologize for it. You're busy. Period.

Sorry I missed out on Lynn's festivities here yesterday--I had galleys. Lynn, I am so very very happy for you!

Happy Birthday, Barbara!

Can't wait for next weekend. Woot!

Smarty Pants said...

It isn't as though you're lying - you ARE really busy and you SHOULDN'T read other people's work. It just opens you up to problems.

I only read for a very select group of people and I only let certain people read my work. It's self preservation.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

I think everyone has already given great advice. I always play the "I'm too busy and have a deadline" card. And now that I really, really have a deadline -- well, it just puts teeth behind the statement. :)

Thanks, Rhonda!! We're having a party on Friday here, so you can come back and have a hunky waiter get you something from the chocolate fountain. :)

Anonymous said...

As Oprah once said "Just no" and you need not give any excuse or reason.

Instigator said...

I like the I'm busy response. For me It's true. Although, I do like Karen's response as well...and her tone of voice.

Happy Birthday, Barbara!


Anonymous said...

Congrats Lynn!

Happy Birthday Barbara!

As for the excuse: busy works for me. You might also wish to consider posting a statement on your website that says you are unable to honor any requests for manuscript reads.

Crystal Lee said...

Congrats Lynn!

Happy Birthday Barbara!

As for the excuse: busy works for me. You might also wish to consider posting a statement on your website that says you are unable to honor any requests for manuscript reads.

Crystal Lee said...

Sorry about the double post. Not really sure how that happened.

Jen said...

Cut this off right now, PC. You don't have time.

suzzane donald said...
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