How to ask an author or expert for help …

An established author/teacher I know once offered to pay me to answer inquiries she receives by email. These are being sent by writers looking for help with: their manuscripts/finding an agent or publisher/advice on career development. She was receiving so many of these requests – daily – that it was difficult to reply to each one. (These requests were from people she didn’t know at all and were in addition to those bona fide requests coming from former students, colleagues and friends. We’re talking a lot of emails on a regular basis here!)

She was just kidding about having me answer for her, because actually most of those requests she receives are from writers who haven’t bothered to do any homework, and have no connection to this established author other than that they know she is famous for having mentored so many other authors – so they really didn’t deserve a reply at all.

Since I’ve been working with writers myself over these past few years, offering advice and consulting them on their writing careers, I too have received requests out of the blue from people I don’t know. Not as many requests as my friend receives, but sounding much the same in tone and approach. I’m really not doing this any longer, advising others, because I’m on to other things in my own life now, so it’s easy enough to reply with a, “Sorry, but best of luck!” message.

I know this kind of reply is not much consolation to these people who are counting on me to give them that magic bullet they need to realize whatever it is they wish to achieve – but I’m sorry to say folks, THERE IS NO MAGIC BULLET!! Every writer is different. Every book they write is different. Every career path is different. What is the same for everyone, however, is that to write and publish successfully takes a lot of time and a lot of work. A LOT OF WORK!!!! And part of that time and work involves doing your homework. Even though I am no longer offering advice and help, I would be more inclined to come out of retirement if I received an email along the lines of the following:

Dear Author/Consultant (my full name),

I’m writing to you at the advice of (name of someone in the book business known to me who has given you a referral).
I attended one of your talks.
I have read your novel.

I subscribe to your blog, follow you on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn and I have read your novel.

I am a poetry/fiction/nonfiction (and include genre) writer at the beginning (or middle – if middle, list previous publications) of my career who has studied writing with (name of program and instructor) and attended writing conferences (name the conferences). I am currently in need of advice on developing my manuscript/pursuing publication/promoting my book/deciding on my next step, and would like to discuss with you the possibility of a consultation. Please let me know if you are available and the fee you charge.

My website link is:

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Please note that you should show you have actually looked me up online, that you know something about me – and whether I can actually be of any help to you – that you have flattered me by having bought and read what I have written and published – and that you still believe I may be able to help you – and that you also expect to pay me for my consultation, time and expertise.

So … it’s not all about you and what you hope to accomplish. It’s more about how you think WE may work together so you can realize your dreams and ambitions.

If I were to receive an email similar to this from someone I did not know (and if I consider their writing to be good when I in turn check them out), I would be more likely to come out of retirement and help that person in any way I can.


2 responses

  1. i would love to read, next, what a writer or former publisher who is relatively well known for having dealt kindly with authors in the past should say when asked for advice. daily, by relative strangers for no fee.

    1. I do, in actual fact, usually give some free advice to most who request information from me, and it’s generally along the lines of sending them in the direction of the public library or a writers’ organization or association. In Calgary, we’re very fortunate to have the Alexandra Writers’ Centre, an office for the Writer’s Guild of Alberta, and writers-in-residence who serve every year at the Calgary Public Library, the University of Calgary, the Alexandra Writers’ Centre and with the Canadian Authors’ Association. There are many, many free resources available out there for everyone no matter where they live. They just need to know where to look. And also to realize that there is no magic bullet.

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