Author John Scalzi "On The Asking of Favors From Established Writers"

John Scalzi's scalding and funny diatribe about why he doesn't give favors to unestablished writers applies to more than just writers.
3. The person who determines what a writer should do for others is the writer, not you. Why? Well, quite obviously, because it’s not your life, and you don’t get a say. And if you’re somehow under the impression that well, yeah, actually you do have a say in that writer’s life, take the following quiz:

Think of your favorite writer. Now, are you:

1. That writer?

2. That writer’s spouse (or spousal equivalent)?

3. Rather below that, a member of that writer’s immediate family?

4. Rather below that, the writer’s editor or boss?

If the answer is “no” to the above, then guess what? You don’t get a vote. And if you still assume you do, that writer is perfectly justified in being dreadfully rude to you. I certainly would be. I certainly have been, when someone has made such assertions or assumptions. And if necessary, I will be happy to be so again.

UPDATE: Here's Glenn Reynold's video interview with author John Scalzi.

On The Asking of Favors From Established Writers


  1. It’s been my experience (in the animation business) that artists are much more likely to go out of their way to help a young artist than other professions. I know I was on the receiving end of several artists’ generosity early on in my career, and I am passing that help along to the next generation. I once asked Ralph Bakshi why he spent so much time cultivating young talent when he could just hire seasoned pros and knock the work out faster, and he told me “Every artist owes to the muse. If you cheat the muse, the muse will cheat you.”

  2. Yes, yes, that’s all well and good to let off some steam at know nothings. Sure it feels good to assert your position as Successful Professional Writer/Artist by turning away idiots, but really, doesn’t this world need more love, not less?

    To really make a difference I suggest spending even less energy and making a terse, but polite canned response. No reason to even read the whole letter from them. I recall Heinlein doing something like that with postcards, but I may be mistaken.

    Something like:

    Dear Fan,

    Thank you for your inquiry. I don’t expect that you’d work for free, and neither do I. Please, check the internet for forums that discuss what you’re asking for and I bet you’ll be successful.

    Professional Writer

  3. I think Neil Gaiman said it best when he said:

    “George R R Martin is not your bitch.”

    Weirdly, Amanda Palmer tweeted this blog post earlier today and that’s why it was on my mind. With that and “I will not read your fucking script”, I wonder if there’s some sudden surge in people wanting writing favours? Perhaps the economy is to blame?

  4. I’ve found that some people use the unreasonable sense of entitlement that a few have as an excuse to not exert any energy to help anyone at all.

  5. Yeah, but…..
    I think the man is a little full of himself.

    If a human is importuning another, any individual has the right to say, “Buzz off!

    But, this sounds the complaint of private citizen suddenly finding that his life is not so private anymore.

    People (and the law) will tell you that this is the price of success. You’re a Celeb. Enjoy it.

  6. What did I say? I just figured that he could come to my place & help with some laundry. I mean it’s the least he could do. jsavitz3d You win best comment award.

  7. I have difficulty sympathizing with people whose biggest problems are that they’re so successful, influential and respected that the less fortunate are constantly requesting their help.

    Maybe this means I lack perspective. But if so, I think the same could be said of Scalzi.

  8. I expected cleverness, but he just came off as a dick.

    I’m sure it’s a problem when you get big, but come on, it happens to everyone. Drop the attitude already.

  9. I’m astonished by how many people think Scalzi’s being a dick here. You’d grow some ‘tude too, if you had to put up with this as often as Scalzi does.

    Btw, Antinous, this isn’t the first time Scalzi’s written about this. His first one predates “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script” by a long time. Also, he linked the latter article in a post titled “This guy is saying what I’m saying, only about scripts.”

  10. When I read Josh Olson’s version of this a few days ago, I thought it sounded amazingly similar to Harlan Ellison. At the minibio at the end of that article, lo and behold: “Recently, he has written with the legendary Harlan Ellison…”

    Now we’re full circle, back to SF writers.

  11. I thought it was funny the first time I read something like this. By now, I just agree with Kleer001. “Nope.” That’s the answer. No profanity, no ranting, no place for them to go.

    Some people are just never going to get it and are going to hate you anyway. He even says it in his article: “and no, not even posting a “why I won’t read your unpublished work” post here stops it, because lots of people believe, oh, that doesn’t apply to them.” So just say no and leave it at that, your rant (some might say privileged rant) isn’t going to be heard by those who need to hear it.

  12. Before reading this blog item, I had never heard of this dude. As of now, I still have no idea what he writes or why anyone cares, but I know for certain that he’s a dick.

    Well done, Mr. Successful Author!

  13. You’d grow some ‘tude too, if you had to put up with this as often as Scalzi does.


    Perfectly entitled to say no? Certainly.

    Perfectly entitled to say why, that the author is not, as Neil Gaiman said, the reader’s bitch? Of course. To post a statement of what you won’t do on your website? Sure.

    Perfectly entitled to go out of your way to flame and belittle the reader as viciously as possible, just to ensure that the subhuman filth will never dare to ask such a thing of your exalted self again? No.

    When someone makes an unreasonable request of you, you are entitled to decline, but NOT to be “dreadfully rude.” That is a Thing That Should Not Be. Unless it were absolutely necessary, which it almost never is, and certainly not in this case.

  14. If Mr Scalzi doesn’t want to interact with the public — fans, young writers, whomever — maybe he shouldn’t be blogging. Standing in the middle of the town square means being in the middle of people. Suck it up or go home. What’s more, I find his steadfast claim that the “job of a writer is to write” to be arrogant and misleading. Ask any professional writer (and yes, I’m one) — the job of a writer is actually to get more writing jobs. Most of us spend more time pitching, researching and negotiating contracts than actually creating. And that’s what people are asking for: help getting those jobs. I’m glad that Mr. Scalzi burst forth from Zeus’ head fully formed, with instant access to agents and editors without the need for a shepherd or mentor. But for everyone else, kindness goes a long way. He could’ve argued his case with more compassion.

  15. Why would anyone ask John Scalzi, of all people, for favours? Christ, have a little pride in the merits of your own work before you go asking a hack Heinlein-wannabe for his support.

  16. I never cease to be amazed at how many complete morons ask famous artists to collaborate with them.

    Hey Jim Lee, I wrote this story, will you draw it?

    Hey Steven Speilberg, I wrote this movie, will you direct it?

    A great example was at the recent Penny Arcade Expo. Some guy said he drew some children’s books using some Penny Arcade characters. He asked if it was ok, and if he they would collaborate with him. The answer? “No, what made you think that was ok? Make your own characters.”

    Neil Gaiman said it in a blog post long ago. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The only thing that is valuable is the ability to execute on the idea. Everyone has ideas, but few people have the ability to make them into reality. Don’t bother trying to give your idea to the people with skills. They don’t want them. If you can’t execute on the idea yourself, learn how. If you don’t, then it just isn’t going to happen.

  17. Shay guy @ 21 – concerning unreasonable requests. Reasonable people do not make unreasonable requests. Once you’ve selected for unreasonable people, the response isn’t unreasonable, it’s blunt. Which is frequently appropriate for unreasonable people because they are often rude, stupid or crazy. Frequently a pleasant mix of the three.

  18. @#25
    You are assuming here that most famous or successful artists have one or more ideas, and further assuming that any of those ideas are good ideas. There are many, many counterexamples, a lot of whom where they got where they are now by aggressively soliciting and exploiting the help of people who were then more successful than they.

    It is not productive to discourage aspirants from asking for help, because you will only dissuade the shy and sensitive ones with good ideas, and the morons will still not care who they offend.

  19. I don’t find this very witty OR especially true. Wasn’t Robert Anton Wilson interviewed in issue #1 of BoingBoing? Just how did that go down? Friends of mine have contacted established writers and been very well received. Well-established people in any field ccan be surprisingly accessible at times and love to share their wisdom.

  20. @ 27 – also, I dint think the point is to discourage aspirants from seeking help. The point is that there are appropriate for artists of all shades to practice and perfect their work. Asking a favor of someone who is not your friend is not an approriate venue. Scalzi has been an instructor for the clarion writing workshops, I believe. He’s also written about what worked for him. It isn’t that h doesn’t offer advice. It’s that sending your manuscript to your favorite author is a demand on their time that you should nit think to obligate them to. By doing it, you’ve forced a situation on them where they are made to feel like a dick in refusing or promise something theycant deliver. Scalzi rightly points out that feedback from him will only help you make a work he wants to read, not a publisher.

  21. Imagine that you are sitting down to dinner, or in the bathroom, or working, or doing anything where being interrupted causes you annoyance. Then someone unexpectedly stops in, calls you, or otherwise disrupts your train of thought, asking for your help. Now imagine that that interruption happens several times a day, and it’s like telemarketers: sometimes they don’t take no for an answer. Wouldn’t you occasionally get impatient with the interrruptions?

    The difference between John Scalzi and the rest of us schlubs is that he had the gall to verbalize what many of us think when the phone goes off and it’s yet another robo-solicitation.

  22. I’ll cop to being biased, because I’m a Scalzi fan, and I’ve met him in person. But what Scalzi’s doing is pointing out an unproductive behaviour for newbie writers and saying “Hey, this is really unlikely to work out, and this is why.” A literary Miss Manners, if you will. He’s very specific about what will not work for him and why. (As Futbol789 at #30 notes, Scalzi is an instructor at Viable Paradise and promotes a lot of new writers all the time. He isn’t saying this to slam doors, but to point folks at the ones that work best for them.)

    You can read that as being a dick–and some of you have–or you can read it as helpful advice. Me, I took it as helpful advice, a reminder that nobody wants to be treated solely as a bridge or a ladder, and that their time is valuable to them. The rant works for any number of professions, as far as I can tell.

    Incidentally, Asifa @4 makes a point about artists being helpful….and I have to wonder (as a graphic designer and illustrator) if this is due to the highly visual nature of art. After all, it takes about two minutes to look at a painting, and while critting a painting takes longer, and a tactful critique sometimes can go on REALLY long, the initial input and impression are really quick compared to reading for critique.

    Still, I have participated on some online art forums where we gave people art advice only to have them berate us and yell at us. We have people tell us we just don’t get it, or insist that we’re all trying to keep their art down while crap like X, Y, or Z never has anything bad said about it. So yeah, I know too well the ache of working really hard on a critique only to have the critiquee throw a screaming fit because you didn’t recognise their brilliance.

    If you’re a sensible adult capable of realising that your favour places demands on the person you are asking the favour of…..Scalzi probably wasn’t talking about you.

  23. Blame Anthony Robbins. Everyone thinks they can’t take no for an answer, and have to push for success so they can buy a helicopter.

  24. I’m actually not familiar with Scalzi. But I do know that I will not be asking him for any favors anytime soon :) I’ve dealt with unreasonable requests before by usually saying no. Any further attempts by same person are simply ignored. I guess when you get to Scalzi’s level or notoriety, it can get on your nerves a bit more.

  25. I know I am basically repeating what has already been said here, but being a person that was in the computer industry, I constantly had people asking me for advice/help or to outright go fix their problems.

    The advice I don’t really have a problem with. Asking me to go to their house/business and repair the problems is way out of line.

    I learned to not tell people what I do. I still work with computers somewhat, but I am retired, for all intents and purposes.

    Sometimes I (or more likely, someone who knows me) inadvertently tells someone a bit about my experiences with computers – which happen to go back about 37 years and touch on many computer fields to some degree or another.

    If you are a professional, you will at least try to be patient, which John Scalzi does not seem to be. Don’t get me wrong; I can see where he is coming from. A rant like that does not help him, IMO.

    /been writing a book lately
    //anybody have advice for an agent?
    ///I know I am in over my head with this book

  26. I thought this was funny, not mean or rude. You can tell he means it, sure, but the overstatement here is pretty clearly the result of humor, not jerkiness.

    For example:

    To which you may say, “Yes, but –” To which I say, you’ve gone one word too far in that sentence.

    That made my day!

  27. I think it’s remarkable how many commenters here are saying that a simple “no” would have sufficed. If saying “no” were enough, Scalzi wouldn’t have had to write this piece in the first place.

    I’m also struck by the readers who think that because they perceive Scalzi as a celebrity, he is therefore obliged to behave like a butler or a well-trained waiter, instead of the colorful and opinionated personality he is.


    Funny. Strangers never come up to me and ask to be disemvowelled.

    And yet, hardly a day goes by when I don’t see commenters who are begging for it.

  28. “I’m also struck by the readers who think that because they perceive Scalzi as a celebrity, he is therefore obliged to behave like a butler or a well-trained waiter, instead of the colorful and opinionated personality he is.”

    This is a point that cannot possibly be made often enough.

    The fact that you think of such-and-such person as a Great Big Deal is your issue. It doesn’t impose an obligation on them to behave with what you imagine to be appropriate gravitas.

  29. @kleer001, zeroy, jsavitz3d, zikzak, RevelryByNight, aj, Shay Guy,#23, Derek C. F. Pegritz, prettybrilliant, actuallyidobite, Jaybot7: I agree.

    BB at times, seems a little “Inside Baseball” about some things.

    I have no idea who John Scalzi is, but he sounds like a gigantic douchebag with no coping skills.

    How many of us have gotten anywhere with Zero help from other people/experts?

    Ex: Once, I needed some expert opinions on an internet project. So as a Total flier -from which I realistically expected Zero return, I shot a 2-sentence email to 3 VERY heavy hitters.

    Two of them got back within 24 Hours!
    -One of those two within 15 minutes!!!
    And they were IMPOSSIBLY nice, gracious and cool about it.
    -I couldn’t thank them Enough for their 5 minutes! (especially since consult at their level was probably worth ~$5k?)

    Ex2: Warren Buffett himself has actually met with total freaking individuals and given them coaching+help, if they made their own schedule & location conform to his.

    So: No. As jsavitz3d said (FTW), Kanye has no point to make.
    -Who the f*** does JS think he is, Dan Brown? Stephen King? Tom Clancy? Frederick Forsyth? Jodi Picoult? JK Rowling? -??!?
    (idk, maybe he’s a gay fish)

    Though I will make one (1) and only 1 point to the douchebag’s case.

    In a talk I once attended, Stephen King told a few short stories about unpublished writers who asked his advice, and then immediately argued with him about it!

    Note: Steve was not a DB about this either, just kinda laughed it off.

  30. Arkie, shame on you! It’s rare they both appear in the same place, but a rarity to be celebrated, not derided!

  31. Teresa Nielsen Hayden
    “I think it’s remarkable how many commenters here are saying that a simple “no” would have sufficed. If saying “no” were enough, Scalzi wouldn’t have had to write this piece in the first place.”

    Which is why I quoted his piece about those who are reading this don’t think it applies to them. “and no, not even posting a “why I won’t read your unpublished work” post here stops it, because lots of people believe, oh, that doesn’t apply to them.”

    So those who need to read his scribe either aren’t or are going to just ignore it. Which leaves the quite simple solution of “Nope” and walking to another part of the party. If they’re being a jackass and asking you to do them a massive favor, you get to be a jackass in return. He’s venting here, but I just don’t care, so I’m going to the kitchen to freshen up my drink myself and just duck out of the front door to avoid whatever additional screeds like this suddenly become popular in the near future “I will not listen to your f***ing mixtape!”

  32. Xopher,

    but I was imagining a theme tune and everything!

    And if you think I could ever deride either Teresa or Patrick, let alone the NHDuoBot, you have far overestimated my evilkinesis.

    I’m a TNH fanboi. I have a badge and everything.

  33. Um, I don’t know this Scalzi, but as he pointed out, there are professionals whose jobs are to critique work — editors and writing consultants. He happens to be expert at writing (or at least, he’s got a job doing it), but is he necessarily the expert you should be asking to work your manuscript for you?

    He’s thoroughly explained that he has no qualms about helping close friends and family. But he doesn’t owe a complete stranger anything, *especially* since he’s solicited in such volume. I’d be the same way if I was in his position.

    The flipside of this is that one of my favourite authors, Lindsey Davis, has asked fans not to submit manuscripts or even story ideas because she’s afraid of litigation if she ends up coming up with a story too similar. According to her, she’s already discarded a few ideas in the past because of this. Not that every fan is a litigious maniac, but as a professional with a career and reputation to protect, who is not making the billions the Dan Browns and Stephanie Meyers of the world are, I completely sympathize with her position.

    I actually found Scalzi’s post pretty funny and spot-on. I’m no pro writer, but I was asked by friends many times in school to “check” their work. I was OK with helping with grammar and punctuation, but suggestions for improvements with flow and style? I avoided that like the plague after the first person snatched her poem of my hand and shrieked, “It’s just ‘OKAY’?”

    @46: “So those who need to read his scribe either aren’t or are going to just ignore it.”

    Someone on his blog already pointed this out, and he responded.

    Sometimes we don’t always write for the obvious audience.

  34. Any time I’m doing something I don’t want to be doing at someone else’s request, it’s $85/hour. YMMV.

  35. Eh.

    I’m a writer. And a lot of people helped me along the way. I remember that.

    I suspect people helped Scalzi. And I hope he, when he’s not being scalding and funny and whatnot, remembers it too.

  36. There is a difference, though, between asking for help when an author is there wanting to help people (I’m under the impression that Scalzi donates his time to go off to workshops and things) and people just dumping an email on him expecting him to get them published.

    Most young artists and writers got to be talented and famous mostly through years of hard work and practice, and that sudden leg up to fame and fortune came purely as a result of them having put in the hours to be talented in the first place. Sometimes you do get lucky being able to talk to someone already established, but by god it helps if first of all you put in the effort on your end.

  37. You’re right #56. I hope Scalzi remembers how people helped him, and does something like, I don’t know, be an instructor at Viable Paradise, put together Hugo’s packages for the voters to see what is being nominated, writing a whole bunch of articles on the business of writing, handing out copies of two books for free, giving shout-outs to other authors on his reasonably popular site. And in the meantime being scalding and funny and whatnot.

  38. Fair enough. Some writers & other celebrities choose to be generous, however. I’ve had the good fortune to encounter a few.

  39. @56: He says as much.

    He says himself writers remember people, good and bad. He actually says that if you write to him asking for a favour and he says no, and you respond gracefully, he’ll remember that.

    Why are people still saying he’s not “being generous”? He IS! Just not specifically to you, but a group that he selects based on more factors than you being a random stranger.

    I guess that’s what you get from writing something that goes beyond digestible bullet points.

  40. People say they love the Internet for the infinite conversation, but in practice seem to prefer the liberty to rehearse their petty grudges.

  41. @Antinous #20. cn dsmvwll myslf.

    @johnphantom #36. I even had a sign on my desk that said “No, I will not fix your home computer.” Didn’t help much.
    Though if you mention that you work in IT to someone who catches your eye in a bar, you’re likely to be invited back to their place, to fix their computer. (Not quite as good as going to see their etchings, but it’ll do.)

    Some people have an overblown sense of entitlement, and think that if you know how to do it, you should do it for them, for free. Sometimes I don’t mind helping people out, but I choose which times that is. I don’t expect any more from Scalzi.

  42. What could the inconsiderate slob have been thinking, to ask such a favor? Something like, just read the guy’s book, invited him inside a human head for a day or two or ten, made him at home like an old friend, paid thirty-three bucks for and old-fashioned hardcover mindfuck, and now this? Get your money back.

  43. John Scalzi is incredibly generous and helpful to other writers in many different ways. Those of you who are saying he’s a dick for choosing not to be generous in this particular way, to all of the hundreds of people who ask; or who think this very funny post is dickish…

    …well, all of you are ridiculous.

  44. It seems to me that some people are focused on getting published, and some people are focused on writing. I suspect that most of those with the unsolicited “Will you read my manuscript please, Mr. Published Author Guy?” requests are the former.

    At some point in the process, publishing a finished work necessarily becomes a focus, and networking becomes important. But I’ve seen unpublished writers at conferences who can barely string two sentences together, working on polishing elevator pitches for their unfinished first novels, chatting up agents and editors in the hotel bar, and so on. All of which is a complete waste of time for them and for the people they’re talking to, because they haven’t figured out that being a writer isn’t about pitches, agents, or editors. It’s about writing.

    I say all that at the risk of arrogant projection, because I used to be that way. Once I focused on actually finishing something instead of worrying so much about what was going to happen after I did so, things improved.

    I believe that the help that Scalzi offers is directed primarily towards those who are focused on writing, not those who are focused on getting published, and that his rant is directed towards the latter.

  45. @27: In that case, do you need to go any ruder than just “no?” This whole thing smacks to me of “they are wrong, therefore I am right.”

  46. Shay Guy,

    Perfectly entitled to go out of your way to flame and belittle the reader as viciously as possible, just to ensure that the subhuman filth will never dare to ask such a thing of your exalted self again?

    Did we read the same piece? I’d genuinely like to know where Scalzi “flame[s] and belittle[s] the reader as viciously as possible”. “Subhuman filth”? Seems like you didn’t like his premise and filled in the blanks for yourself.

    He isn’t even talking to ‘the reader’. He is talking to a very select group of people who continually ignore his wishes, and presume a relationship-of-obligation that doesn’t exist.

    You think he went to the trouble of writing this piece (and the others), before saying a simple “no” numerous times?

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