I turn down all clueless asks.
What exactly is a clueless ask?
- Anyone who sends me their manuscript unsolicited.
- Anyone who asks me to meet them for lunch.
- Anyone who sends me an e-mail headed “Hi” or “Hello there” (or with no salutation at all.)
- Anyone who asks me how to get an agent.
- Anyone who asks me to introduce them to my agent.
These are not malicious asks.
The writers who send them are nice people, motivated by good intentions.
They’re just clueless.
They have committed one of two misdemeanors (or both).
First, they have demonstrated that they have no respect for my time—and no concept of the value of what they’re asking me for.
Do I have two hours to meet somebody for lunch? In the middle of the working day? Why? To shoot the shit about scene construction and character development?
Or maybe the asker “admires my work” and would like to “pick my brain.”
Send me a check for $10,000 and when it clears I still won’t meet you for lunch.
Or maybe the asker wants me to blurb their new book.
Why would I do that?
Do I know them? Did we go to school together? Did we serve in the same battalion? Am I married to their sister?
The real ask in these cases is “Can I have your reputation?” In other words, “Will you give me, for free, the single most valuable commodity you own, that you’ve worked your entire life to acquire?”
The second crime these clueless askers commit is they have not done their due diligence.
Don’t ask a writer how to get an agent. Find out yourself. There are ten thousand sources online and a hundred books in the Writing section of a book store.
Don’t send a writer an e-mail with an attachment that contains your novel. What if I’m writing my own novel on that same subject? When mine comes out, you’ll sue me for plagiarism and tell the judge, “See, I sent him my book. He ripped me off!”
My lawyer won’t let me read anything that comes in unsolicited, for just this reason.
Do your research.
Learn good manners.
Find out how the business works.
My book Gates of Fire gets assigned sometimes to high school English classes. I get asks from kids to explain the theme, the structure, and the relationship of Character X to Character Y. You can see that the student (one wrote, “Please respond. Money is no object.”) has simply typed the teacher’s assignment verbatim into the e-mail.
These, I suppose, are not technically clueless asks.
They’re more like, “Hey, Stupid, lemme see if I can take advantage of you” asks.