A link in the Village Voice by screenwriter Josh Olson, which I saw on the blog of SFF Guru Lou Anders. Lou says:
I am so grateful that he spelled out a few things. He starts off with a many paragraph refusal–“I will not read your fucking script”–and then goes on to say, “At this point, you should walk away, firm in your conviction that I’m a dick. But if you’re interested in growing as a human being and recognizing that it is, in fact, you who is the dick in this situation, please read on.”
The full article is very well worth reading, but this point especially I’m glad he made:
“This needs to be clear–when you ask a professional for their take on your material, you’re not just asking them to take an hour or two out of their life, you’re asking them to give you–gratis–the acquired knowledge, insight, and skill of years of work. It is no different than asking your friend the house painter to paint your living room during his off hours.”
It’s interesting. There are more encouraging ways to go about this, and I would perhaps dangerously be much more polite than Josh Olson, but then again I’ve not been asked to look at all that many manuscripts recently. I daresay that I’d read friends’ work though – it only takes a few minutes to offer some quick advice, and having worked most sides of the publishing industry, I know (and hate) how mysterious it all seems to those on the outside.
And if there are any painters with manuscripts who want to exchange expertise, I’ve still a spare room that needs decorating. Just sayin’.
You had me at “fuck you” would probably have been my response to Josh Olson.
I’d be a little awkward in asking someone I know to read a manuscript because, if tables were turned, I wouldn’t want to upset them. I hate having to review published authors who me see my comments (even on amazon).
You’re a softie, Neil, but I understand that. If it helps, when you get to that author stage, you get a thick skin pretty quickly.
There is a difference I think in screenwriting and in other forms. Just as there is a difference between being an editor and being a writer. When I wrote screenplays professionally, you got an endless series of people asking if they could tell you their brilliant idea, which you could then write and then split the money with them. You also had people who felt that they could tell you their idea, and then, in five minutes, you could tell them how to turn it into a million dollars, as if writing were something that could be taught in five minutes. That’s what I related to so much in this piece.
In editing, it *is* different, although simple time constraints and needle-to-haystack ratios prevent me from looking at unagented material. And you get a LOT of people who get very offended when you explain you can’t look at unagented material, who are convinced that you are simply an impediment to their million dollar book deal, if only you get out of the way. A lot of “Fantasy is popular. I’ve written a fantasy. Ergo, you are a fool if you don’t publish it.” I think it is fine to ask authors with whom you have formed relationships to look at your material. But I would hesitate from approaching someone cold with a request that they do so. Also, there are plenty of avenues – writing workshops and seminars – where you *can* get feedback from professionals on your work. And I do know of plenty of cases where those professionals have gone on to champion and mentor specific students. The difference is that they met them in a professional setting, and then the professionals volunteered this support.
Yes, it’s hard to get an agent, just as its hard to sell a book. Yes, the odds are stacked against you. But ultimately, I think if your work is exceptional, then you are the exception!
Believe me, there is nothing I want more than to find a complete unknown who writes like George RR Martin. But there is that needle-haystack ratio, and thus there are processes, so that, you know, I don’t have to find myself in front of my computer doing work on a Sunday morning. Oh wait…
Hey, Lou! Yeah, I forget this other secret life you had before Pyr. I can imagine that is more annoying with screenwriting – particularly if it’s coming up with concepts, and people don’t realise the grunt work involved. (There could be an interesting post on just how much work goes into a book…)
I wasn’t specifically saying “no slush pile”, I don’t think. Quite a few gems have been found in them over the years, but yeah – when you make it your business to accept manuscripts, it’s a different game altogether, and you need the barriers in place.
I think the sense of “mystery” around publishing doesn’t help the woes. It’s not clear to folk how the process works, so they assume that anyone will look at their manuscript, and would be stupid not to. It’s probably why those types of panels at conventions are always packed-out.
Yeah, I had someone at a party get really mad at me because I wouldn’t write something with his idea (having just met him) and split the $$ with him. When I explained that I already had a writing partner, he said, “Well, don’t you ever do anything for fun?” To which I replied, “No. This is my job. I do it for money. I play videogames for fun.”
I also had a woman confess on our second date that she agreed to go out with me so that I would turn her “incredibly interesting life” into a movie script, thus making her rich.
That idea that “screenwriting isn’t work” is very, very prevalent and you encounter it often as a writer in Hollywood.
Also, while it may only take a few paragraphs to tell if something is worthwhile, you are inundated with these requests, and they can easily stack up.
The fickle life of the West Coast, right? 🙂
I guess also because movies are more commercial than books, there will therefore be more crazies out there.
California has more crazies than anywhere I have ever been. It also has more sex offenders (true). And more PhDs (also true). The stopping point for centuries of westward migration. Vibrant and infuriating both. There is an energy I felt the very first time I stepped off the plane. I miss it all the time, but I don’t know that I could live there now. Once my kids are grown, I might consider returning.
(Note to any movie studio execs reading the above – everything is negotiable.)