Being an introvert, I’ve met more people through online venues in the past four years since I sold my novels than I have in the decade before it. Some of my closest Real Life friends are people I first met online, and now I wonder how I ever managed without them. Then there friends I first met online who I now see once or twice a year at conventions, which is awesome. Some online friends I may never meet in real life, but they cheer me up or make me laugh getting to know them through emails/their blogs. There are online acquaintances; people I run into on blogs or various community sites, and while I also may never meet them in person or develop a closer friendship with them, it’s fun to chat with them on the internet. Many readers email me after reading my book(s), and some days, those encouraging letters single-handedly push me through writers block and/or the doubts that inevitably creep in about my writing. All in all, it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience.
But like all roses, there can be thorns. Sometimes, when a person gets to know me through my blogs, books, or other venue, an expectation develops that I can’t fulfill. Maybe it’s the expectation that I’ll be a regular “pen pal”. I had one person (no, not anyone I know on LJ, FaceBook, MySpace, or Twitter, before someone wonders if I’m talking about them) who got very offended because I didn’t send her regular updates about what was going on in my life. When I explained that my schedule didn’t allow me to be “pen pals” with everyone who wrote me, her response was an abbreviated version of “So I’m not good enough for you, is that it?” No, that’s not it, but like everyone else, I only have so many hours in the day and usually too many tasks to accomplish within them.
Sometimes, people have other expectations I can’t fulfill. Some of my online friends/acquaintances are aspiring authors and they’ve asked me to critique their query letter/partial manuscript/full manuscript. 95% of the time, I have to say no. Right now, on a tight deadline, I’m saying no 100% of the time, even to my closest friends. When a deadline looms, writing has to come first. Not blogging, being involved in online communities, doing interviews, guest blogs, holding contests, reading for blurb purposes, critiquing, answering emails, promotion, or any other number of things that also falls under the “author” job description. If I fail in my primary job responsibility to write, then it doesn’t matter how well I do those other things, right?
Occasionally, some people feel an author “owes” them. I’ve gotten emails that have (paraphrased) said this: I’ve read all your books and blogged about them and gave you great reviews, so the least you can do is critique my query letter/first few chapters/entire book.
Unless there’s been a prior agreed-upon arrangement (and a promotion/good-reviews-for-critiques bargain would be highly unethical, in my opinion) when readers promote my books, it’s appreciated – truly, it is! – but it’s not subject to professional reimbursement. If I owed a critique to every person who bought my books, exchanged a couple emails with me, commented on my blog, or reviewed my books, I’d have to quit writing to devote the next couple years just to being an amateur editor – and I don’t want to be an editor. I love to write. I don’t love to critique.
Or some people might feel they’re owed a referral to the author’s agent/editor because of personal ties. If the author refuses, that person might get upset and say, “But I thought we were friends.” Let me say right here that I don’t understand this logic. If I’m friends with someone, I assume that means the person likes me. I don’t think it means there’s a professional obligation implied. To me, business and friendship are separate. Sometimes, I’ll want very much to help an online acquaintance/friend, but I simply can’t. It goes back to there only being so many hours in a day, and I’ve gotten way busier than I was when I was first published. When I had more time in the past, I critiqued partials, fulls, or query letters from some friends/online acquaintances. If I was wowed by what I read (and my agent repped that genre; she didn’t rep every one) I offered to give a referral. But I didn’t – and still don’t – feel my friendship entitles someone to any of these things.
Same goes with blurbs. I might be friends/online acquaintances with other authors, but that doesn’t mean I’ll like their book if I’m sent it for potential blurb purposes, and I won’t blurb something unless I really love it. I also have a list of auto-reject tropes that might be very popular with other readers, but will make me put down a book every time. In fact, I probably blurb just two of out every six novels I’m sent because I’m picky about giving blurbs (much to my agent/editor’s dismay :)). So if I say no to a professional request and the result is a fractured friendship…it makes me question whether that person was really my friend in the first place.
Then there are legal and ethical concerns. Say an author agrees to critique an online friend/acquaintances’ book/sample chapters/query letter. That story has a vampire/space alien conspiracy plot, and the critiquing author’s not-yet-published book also has a vampire/space alien conspiracy plot. Six months later when her book comes out, the author gets an outraged email from her online friend/acquaintance that says “You stole my plot!” Or the author reads a blog that says, “Can you believe Author X stole my plot??” Yes, this is an extreme example, but it’s happened. Not to me, and not often, but enough that publishers discourage authors from reading unpublished manuscripts (or fanfiction) to avoid that potential “you stole my plot!” issue. Even if no ugly public accusation occurs that could hurt the author’s career, no one wants another writer to feel ripped off – and especially in the same genre, plot coincidences can be rampant.
Right now, I’m getting a lot of requests for interviews and guest blogs, which flatters me, but I’m turning down all of them because I’m behind on where I should be in writing the next Cat and Bones book (no, this WON’T mean a delay in its release, before I get emails from readers saying “Then cancel your upcoming convention!!!”) but it will mean an inconvenience to my editor, copyeditor, and others because they’ll have less time to process the finished book. I don’t like inconveniencing or stressing my publishers, so everyone else gets a “no” until the book is turned in. That’s my reason for all the “no’s” I’ve been sending out lately to requests, but seriously, there can be a lot of reasons why an author says “no” and it shouldn’t be taken personally. If you’ve gotten a “no” from an author on a request, please think twice before assuming that author is ungrateful, arrogant, or unfriendly, whether that “no” was in regards to critiquing something/a blurb/guest blog/interview/agent referral/editor referral/etc. Sometimes saying no is the only way to ensure that we fulfill our primary responsibility – writing books.
And for everyone wondering, why did you write such a long blog if you’re pressed for time, Jeaniene? It’s so I can point to this detailed post when I have to say “no” again instead of explaining the same thing over and over. In that way, it’s actually saving me time :).
Now, back to writing!