Before the hounds start baying for blood, let me say that my post at the start of the topic is from my thoughts and reasoning. I do not claim omniscience. I do not have forensic evidence, so don;t get all legal. If you do not agree with me, then post it. It's a discussion!

In 2004, after 13 years of hard work, I sold my first novel. Today, I have one on the street, and two more under contract. I am writing new ones too.

Along my journey from wannabe to published author, I had joined groups, attended conferences and workshops, joined and quit Internet listserver groups. I met a lot of authors with many books in their writer's resumé. I became friends with a few of those successful writers, to the point where I asked them for help with publishers and agents. While each had their own technique of dodging the question, they all succeeded in letting me know that I had to help myself. That was two years before I sold my first book.

I discussed my frustration with my good-buddy Pat O'Connell, who was at the time, the President of the Maryland Writers' Association, and had one action adventure novel under his belt. Pat knew I was a scientist specializing in modeling, simulation, and analysis, so he challenged me to figure out why those authors would avoid providing direct help to a writer hoping to get published.

After a few months, an ancient memory clicked. It helps to have a photographic memory. In seventh grade, the science teacher regularly showed films of scientific experiments and we discussed them.

The one I had recalled filmed a dozen fertilized chicken eggs that were divided into two groups. Six were the control group in the incubator, and six were the experimental group. The control group were left alone to hatch. The experiment group were closely monitored for hatching. When an experimental chick had pecked a tiny hole through the shell, the scientist used tweezers to peck and prick the shell from the outside, thereby helping the chick to hatch.

The hatched experimental chickens received a small band around their foot with an "X" on it, while the control group hatched chickens received a small leg band with the letter "C."

Both groups were released into a "barnyard" area, where they could scratch for food and socialize. Within a few days, the control group chickens had doubled in size. The experimental chickens displayed slower growth. Only one experimental survived to adulthood, and it was scrawny compared to the other chickens.

The moral of the filmed story is that if we help chickens hatch, lessening the struggle they have to get out of their shell, then we are actually hurting their chances for future survival.

It is the same with writers. If someone short-cuts the process from unknown to getting an agent or selling a book to a publisher, they may be limiting the author's chances for survival as a new author.

If a new author doesn't have the stamina and force of character to break through the shell, to breach the barriers erected by the gate-keepers of the publishing world, then they will be handicapped with a lack of self confidence and stamina needed to bring attention to their just published book.

If they did break through on their own, then they will have an increased force of will, built from the calisthenics needed to break through the barriers in publishing. They will have what it takes to begin the newbie author task of going from unknown to selling 5,000 or more copies of their first novel. They will be more likely to be able to break through the barriers for getting into newspapers, on the radio, and perhaps interviewed on television.

So, if someone asks me for help getting published, I may help with their writing craft skills, story structure and arrangement, and how to prepare a good submission packet, but I will not take steps to short-cut the process of them breaking through the publishing barriers on their own.

I do this so that they can grow, and increase their chances of surviving the first book hurdles. If their first book doesn't do well, publishers may not offer a second book deal. They must be strong to pass the first book challenge, and that starts with being strong enough to pass the getting a contract stage.

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What a great discussion... thanks everyone!

I consider myself a toddler where all this stuff is concerned, so it never really dawned me to be so forward to ask someone I don't know all that well for this kind of help. Maybe it's the Midwestern values I was raised with. Maybe I'm just a rube.

Don't get me wrong. I understand the value of friendships and having a network based on those friendships. That's something altogether different. But "helping me get published" has nothing at all to do with introducing me to an agent or publisher--especially if it comes at the expense of the merit of my work.

To me this seems pretty simple and can't fathom why others would even want to sidestep that, let alone actually attempt it.
Here's my unsolicited view on this. As I gather from this, it'll somehow make me a better person (or writer or whatever) if I do the mechanics of getting published (hustling the agents, etc.) on my lonesome, I'll be somehow better for it.

Well, I've never been a big believer in that whole "I-won't-help-you-for-your-own-good" schtick. Personally, I think it's bullshit (no offense to Newt, and no reflection on him at all). If I were in a position to help a friend, I would...screw that nonsense of not helping him or her because she'll be a better person for it.

Having said that, on the other hand, I would never ask a friend to forward a manuscript or put in a good word for me with a publisher or an agent. That's a pretty hefty favor to ask, and it puts a friend in a really uncomfortable have to vouch for me. It's sort of like asking a wealthy friend to co-sign a loan for me.
I think I err on the side of encouragement and help. To me, it's important to pass on the kindnesses that I've received. That said, I rarely offer to contact my agent on anyone's behalf, and I never let someone use my name as in, "Pari suggested I contact you," unless I've read his or her writing and feel strongly about it. To me, that's a question of personal integrity. Just as I won't blurb a book unless I really, truly LOVE it.

But there are scads of ways we can new writers and offer hope along with reality-checks. One of the main things I do is point people to resources about which they have been unaware such as Preditors and Editors or some of the listservs. If I meet a newbie at a con and he or she follows up with questions, I try to answer them honestly.

Yeah, this all takes time, but it just feels like the right thing to do.
I'm with you, Pari. I've introduced exactly one person to my own agent, and I only did so after asking her permission first. That was very important to me -- respecting her time enough to make sure she even wanted me to send someone her way before I did so.

Mostly I feel like I want to do anything I can to help, but I have to keep a firm grip on reality. I'm still so new it's not like anyone's beating down my door asking for help, and when they do, often the best help I can often is pointing folks in the direction of resources they can use to help themselves.
Hi Newt - I like your analogy with the chicks and the idea of the survival of the fittest for writers. When my first novel was published, a lot of acquaintances suddenly claimed to be great friends, wanting to take me out to lunch etc and talk about the book they were writing and could I help them get published please... I imagine that this is not an uncommon scenario for other writers, too! I decided to write a series of posts on Getting Published on my blog and now refer writers to the advice I give there - see A creative writing teacher based in Malaysia gives some hilarious examples on her blog of wannabe writers approaching her to get their books (which are sometimes non-existent as yet) published - see
Sorry, but I don't think you can generalize from chickens to people. Since we are here on Crimespace, what we're talking about is people who want to read and write and publish crime novels, and this group is generally called "the mystery community". The mystery community is known in the business, by editors and agents and all the various people on the producing and selling end, as being a particularly tight, supportive bunch. I think networking is the way to go, and authors who by the nature of our work spend so much time alone need the people skills. Pushing ahead in isolation may be noble, or something, but accepting help is not going to weaken a newbie in the future.
I think there are two very different things mixed up here: established writers offering their help to people who are effectively their friends, and whose work they like, and people tapping up established writers they barely know in the hope of an introduction. I think the two are very different things, and wouldn't do the latter, but also wouldn't hesitate to take advantage of the former if it were freely offered. But the distinction between offers and requests is very important distinction here. I've been amazed and touched by how generous other writers (not just in the crime genre) have been to me (and others), and I hope I have the opportunity to pay that back some day.

I don't think it's about shyness, it's simply the numbers game, a way of getting through this industry's particular hoops - like editors who don't take unagented submissions, for example. Wanting to short-cut the whole submission process and have your ms read, and read thoroughly, I don't think weakens you as a writer, nor does it speak to how effectively you might market your work.

I wonder: if any of us were in the position where well-respected writer X read our ms, liked it, and said "I love this, would you like an introduction to my agent/editor?", would we say no thanks, I'd rather send it through the slush? I wouldn't. Whether a story of mine sells or doesn't is, in the end, going to be down to the quality of my writing, and that's all down to me. I can learn from others, take advice from others, but the words on the page come from me, and that's what is important. Anything else, it's just the mechanics of the business.
"Pay it forward."

Another way of looking at it is "What goes around, comes around." Seriously though, the more I scan this thread and the original posting the more I think that it's a no-brainer what the answer is.
...and you see. I was in this egg, getting a headache from bashing my beak against the shell, when this light shined in. Did I break the shell myself? Did someone help me? Was it God? Did it matter how the light arrived?

No one needs a handout; everyone can use a hand up. Helping someone who's ready to connect to the right person in the publishing industry is just a step in the writing process no different than helping them with their writing craft. And if they're not ready for that next step, they're not ready, and as painful as it might be to hear or deliver that message, the writer should be told the honest truth about it and not be given platitudes or a stone cold stare. didn't matter, but it felt good to see some light. I pecked harder.
I think the chick analogy is fairly apt. I always thought of the road to Hollywood and/or publishing as having a series of gates that you have to negotiate - it's a necessary weeding-out process - otherwise we'd see exponentially more junk out there than we already do. It's not fair or an even playing field, but some of the challenges really are there for a reason.

In Hollywood it's absolutely taboo to ask another writer to set you up with her or his agent. It is just Not Done. I've noticed in publishing that it's only been the most inexperienced people (and always people who don't know me from Adam's housecat) who come right out and ask if I'll pass their work on to my agent.

Asking for too much seems to be the mark of people who haven't done their homework.


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