It’s a hectic week, so Literary Battles will return next week. Sorry :( But in the meantime, enjoy this #TBT post from the past. Early in my writing career, an acquaintance of an acquaintance offered to read the first chapter of my first ever manuscript. The response was not quite what I expected. Thankfully, I’ve found other writer friends who are a bit more helpful. I needed to laugh this week. If you do too, I hope this helps!
Dear Marginally Successful Author Who is Holding My Manuscript Hostage,
Your ransom note, cleverly disguised as “News and Notes”, arrived in my inbox today at 10:22 A.M. I agree to your terms; I will send you the $45 check for your unsolicited commentary in exchange for the release of my beloved manuscript. Now that you’ve heard from me, you don’t need to “hold onto it” any longer. Please set it free.
First, though, I’d like to tell you a few things.
Let’s start with the fact that I never asked you to spend “some 20 hours on line-by-line editing.” You offered to read my first chapter. In fact, your exact words were, “If you’d like, I’ll take a look at the first chapter.” So, of course, I sent it. You have published 12 books—something I learned during the suggested visit to your outdated 90s web site—so naturally, I’d want your opinion of my story.
And speaking of your 12 books, it’s strange that I’ve never heard of any of them, especially given you are a writer of such self-proclaimed high caliber. Perhaps I missed your books in the dollar bin at Borders as I passed by on my way to the bestseller table to pick up a copy of The Help or Tuesdays With Morrie. Thankfully, though, I’ll probably get to see your work on the big screen as one of your books “has a good chance of being turned into a movie.” Thanks for that heads-up. But really, you didn’t need to tell me a third time.
I do, though, want to thank you for offering to sell me two of your books for $45 in lieu of the $5 per page you usually charge for editing—editing that, I assume, people request. Thank you also for clarifying that you are “certainly not asking” that I pay you since this was an “offer of friendship.” That’s so very kind of you, especially in light of the incredible length of the chapter. It’s understandable that once you started editing, you “couldn’t have imagined it would be 16 pages.” I mean, how could you have possibly known that there were 16 pieces of paper in the envelope I sent to you? You’re not a clairvoyant. My deepest apologies for any unintended deception on my part that led to those “20 hours of line-by-line editing.”
Believe me, I understand how precious your time is. What with your speaking engagements at Leisure World and the local library. (Thank you for also directing me to your blog, so that I could truly comprehend the vast extent of your influence.) And though you stated, “I should have stopped editing or asked you if you really wanted me to do this work” before continuing on with this enormous project, I suppose it’s obvious why you chose to do neither of those two things. You were out of state and understandably could not communicate with me. Interstate communication is very difficult in the 21st century, and yes, it’s especially vexing when the local Motel 6 doesn’t have free Wi-Fi.
But finally I’d really like to thank you for the uplifting concluding remarks in your ransom note—er, “News and Notes” as you called it. You told me that writing for publication is “a whole different world than writing for school essays.” At first I detected a bit of condescension, but I realized that I am nowhere near the writer that, say, you are, so I must simply be misinterpreting your inspirational message. And indeed, I am just a dim-witted English teacher; so naturally, my skill set is limited to writing essays. And I probably don’t do that very well either, as you pointed out with your parenthetical aside, “even these usually need lots of fine tuning.” I am just grateful that a marginally successful author—with a “book that has a good chance of becoming a movie,” don’t forget!—such as yourself could swoop in with her mighty red pen and save my insipid, unintelligible novel.
Like you, I’m also so happy I “trusted (you) with the chapter” and turned to you for advice. Your shameless self-promotion has offered so much guidance. And I guarantee the check will be in the mail today. Personally, I feel I should only need to pay $42.22. I should be able to deduct the $2.78 worth of postage affixed to the SASE I sent with the chapter; you obviously will not need this when you ship your two books and my chapter (along with your generous offer of a letter summarizing your conclusions) to me via Priority mail for $4.95. But I’m not going to argue. At this point, all I want is the safe return of my chapter.
P.S. “Dear, Leslie,” is not the proper way to punctuate a salutation. It’s incorrect grammar, and it’s annoying. Only one comma is necessary, and it belongs at the end of the salutation, just FYI. And I usually charge $2.78 for this type of letter editing, but since it’s an offer of friendship, I’ll just let you buy a copy of my book when it’s published in lieu of the $2.78.