Last week, Editorial Anonymous blogged about a very foolish writer who seemed intent on shooting himself in the foot as many times as he possibly could. And as usual, I have my own version of this story to tell.
A few weeks ago a writer complained to me about the lack of help available to struggling writers. He had submitted his book widely but he had received nothing but standard rejections, with no indication of why his work had been rejected. He had edited and revised it as much as he was able to and simply had no idea what was stopping him from moving on to the next level with his work.
He seemed genuinely frustrated and keen to improve so I offered to take a look at his first one thousand words to see if I could spot anything obvious. I promised him a no-holds-barred opinion, warned him to brace himself: and he seemed grateful.
I should have known better.
The first clue came when he sent me his entire novel because (as he mentioned in his email) he didn't have time to mess about separating the first thousand words of it into a new file. This irritated me: not only did it imply that his time was more important than mine, it also clogged up my internet connection because, living out in the sticks as I do, we don't have access to broadband and so I rely on a very slow dial-up service to connect to the outside world. His book was over 750 pages long (single spaced...), and it took nearly forty minutes to download.
If he had been submitting to a publisher he would have earned himself a swift rejection right there for the tone of his email and for ignoring the submission guidelines which I had provided. But I had promised to look at his work, and so I kept my word. I read his first chapter and was not impressed: his writing was patchy, cluttered with clichés, and very passive in tone. However, his premise was intriguing and despite the problems his writing did show promise: some of the better patches were quite good, and could have been very much improved with just a little bit of rewriting.
I emailed him my thoughts, along with my annotations to his first chapter and my reasons for suggesting such changes: and in reply he told me I didn't know what I was doing and that rules are made to be broken. He made it quite clear that he disagreed with everything I had written, and would not be making any of my changes.
So I e-mailed him back just a few words: "I'm sorry I couldn't be more help." And he sent me back a long, detailed email in which he called me names, accused me of being a racist (even though I hadn't been aware of his colour until he made his accusation), and said that I’d completely missed the point of his book.
And that's why so many editors and agents are no longer prepared to give personalised rejections.