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Don’t be a twunt.

At after work drinks I was introduced to a friend of a friend. My pal gave a brief preamble saying we both write fiction and left us to chat. The guy said, “Oh right, you’ve had some stuff published, I’ve got stories that need publishing, where should I send them?”
I asked him what kind of fiction he wrote, what journals he read, who his favourite authors are. He told me he doesn’t read other people’s stories as they aren’t of interest, he doesn’t read literary publications, he just wanted to know the best places to send to and wondered if I’d make him a list as he didn’t want to waste his time.
I told him to check out Duotrope. I felt awkward, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to get into just how arrogant I thought his attitude. It has stuck with me though and I wanted to address it here. His sense that those journals would be lucky to get their hands on his words was strong. Even if he’s an amazing writer (which I really doubt) the attitude that people should read him but he will not offer the same courtesy, stinks. 
I’m a writer who loves reading, is there really any other type? I read widely online and the high standard of many literary ‘zines stuns me. I subscribe to a few journals, to keep in print they need support, if you ever hope that a print magazine will want to take your words and other people pay to read them, you could buy that magazine yourself occasionally, right?
I try to keep up with blogs and read the stories that Facebook & Twitter pals link to. I give a cheer out every now and again. I’m not insincere though – I don’t go down a list going likelikelikelike. I’m not desperately trying to schmooze people, if I like or link it’s because I mean it. 
Last year Matt Bell gave an interview in Ploughshares  in which he said:
“I think the big mistake most writers make is thinking that becoming involved in your community is something you do after your book is published. Instead, I urge writers to become involved as early as possible, in a genuine, non-book-related way. It’s always a little off-putting when a person suddenly becomes interested in book review venues only once they have their own book. In a similar way, it seems false to only be interested in independent bookstores when you’re trying to get your own book stocked. The better solution is, as a part of your daily work as a writer, support the communities you wish to be a part of, by reading books, writing reviews, promoting other writers or bookstores or whatever in your social networking. It’s a small but old truth, but the more you give, the more you will receive. And this isn’t any kind of slimy networking. This is every writer’s responsibility, and the writers who create the most buzz for the good work of others will find that same energy waiting for them, when their own excellent book finally comes out.”
I love that.
I try to do my bit, small as it is. I critique for some writer pals – I’m happy to do that, glad that they respect my writing enough they think I can help. I belong to a really good (tiny) online group and we flash together, offer thoughts on each other’s longer fiction. I’m lucky that if I need someone to look at a piece of mine I can turn to a few truly amazing writers and ask. 
I’m proud to be a first reader for PANK. They are an awesome journal and it’s an education reading the submissions they receive. (By the way they were recently mentioned in The New York Times – that’s how fucking cool PANK is. If you’d like to support them they are having a Spring Funds Drive and would really appreciate any help.) 
I often get asked to review. I’ve spoken about my wariness before; as I’ve got older I feel I have more respect for other folks endeavours and less inclination to put anyone down. If I hate a book I prefer not to mention it. If I like a book I’ll happily say so here on my blog, on Facebook, at work and so on. My bookseller recommendations are genuine. I LOVE to talk about great fiction, I’m thrilled to see a customer buy a book that I think highly of. When I was young I was hugely opinionated and very sure of myself. I would happily give my thoughts on anything and everything, but now I’m older I realize how little I know, how subjective everything is. I enjoy reading other people’s thoughts but my own often seem flimsy. I find it easier reviewing books by people I don’t know, preferably “names” so I can tell myself they won’t be affected by what I think. It’s the debut collections and novels that worry me. I don’t want to cause offence. With age has come an excruciating politeness. It’s not ideal for a reviewer to feel that way. I am sent heaps of books I think are ok. No better than that. I read many story submissions that are ok. I want to be dazzled but it’s a rare occurrence. One can’t simply review a book and say, “This is okay,” it wouldn’t tell anyone anything, and yet I keep feeling that’s all I have to offer. I’m trying though to be the best and most honest reviewer I can be and to say what I mean without being a rude bitch.


I get to do cool stuff at the bookshop. I support good writing via recommendations, readings, reviews, displays and promotions. I think I put a little back into the world I want to be part of.  
Sadly I’ve been getting increasingly fucked off with the bad manners some writers have. It’s bad enough at work dealing with the occasional deluded writer (the self-published man who wanted me to order in his £20 hardback, 1 in a series of twelve self-published novels he’d written in the last two years, for example) but it’s part of the job I am paid to do. I’ve lost count, however, of the number of times I’ve been approached as a writer by another writer. We become friendly online or in person. Then, oh, their book is published, or due to be, and they wonder if I can get it into Waterstones? Can I review it? Can I organise an event? Then when I’m no longer any use to them they vanish. I try not to take it personally, I know how hard it is to get published, to get sales, publicity, etcetera and I really do want to help promote good words. It’s not wrong to ask if I can review and so on, but it is wrong to pretend to give a shit about me personally if you don’t. It’s really fucking rude. Please do consider when approaching someone, a nonprofessional, if your intention is simply to get them to do a particular thing for you. If so, why not ask directly? I’d much prefer to be asked “Can you review my book?” and offered a copy than be schmoozed for a while. The fact is I often give my review/critique/whatever for free. It’s a goodwill thing. If you are paying for my reviews/critiques you have every right to expect it to be a transaction but if ostensibly we’re writer chums and you ask for a favour and then disappear please know that I think you’re a twunt. 


I’ve been feeling embarrassed about the fact I have sometimes felt I’m making genuine friendships, y’know, I’m a writer, they’re a writer, we’ve got stuff in common. We chat, email etc,  I take things at face value; we seem to be getting on then, erm, we’re getting on, right? When I’ve ordered the book in, reviewed it, time passes and I think, hmm, whatever happened to so and so? And it hits, the realisation that, shit, it was another one of those networky things. I feel foolish at best and genuinely upset at worst. 
Oh, and if you bad mouth someone to me and then I see you Twittering all over them I not only feel uncomfortable, I also assume if you do it to them you’ll do it to me too. Ugh. 

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22 responses »

  1. Excellent post, Sara. I'm relatively new to writing and very new to the whole 'networking' thing and even in the few short months I've been on twitter I've been attacked by the "lets support each other, do you want to buy my book, no, bye then" brigade! And I recently purchased my first ever Pank. It's worth it for the cover image alone. I am really enjoying finding new lit journals and meeting lots of new authors online, but some days I do just think… aaargh! 🙂

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  2. Agree 200% with every point here – except the last. I think we have to be able to let off steam with friends – and say what we really think, offload stuff that's happened, that we can't talk about publicly. Sometimes, it is necessary to be "pleasant" online with people one would rather not have to be pleasant to because they are in reality slimy, backbiting immature little w**kers. But don't tell them I said that, will you? Ta.

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  3. This is such an important topic, Sara. However, it's one of those posts that will probably be read by those who already agree with you!It's disheartening to come across so many people who network selfishly or never read the literary magazines they submit to…

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  4. Apart from loving the word 'twunt' I absolutely agree. I don't think anyone can claim to be a writer if they don't read. It's the one vital piece of advice I give in every school talk I do.

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  5. Couldn't agree with you more. I don't see how you can be a writer, if you weren't first a reader and continue to be one. I also critique and share your reservations about reviewing – if I don't enjoy a book (for whatever reason), I'd rather say nothing at all and definitely wouldn't write a review of it. That's sometimes awkward when you 'know' the author through social networking and they know that you've read their book. As a result, I'm trying to read more books written by authors I don't know personally this year!!

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  6. Fantastic post. I agree on all of it to be honest. As for the guy with his series of hard backs… that made me laugh. Thank you for posting this.

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  7. "Agree on…" oh dear… apologies.

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  8. Really good post – thanks for being honest and saying it how it is. I've lost count of the number of times people have asked me for advice / sent me their tomes and expected me to review them without even asking me properly or politely first and then got shitty when I've politely suggested that I had other plans than reading the first draft of their thinly veiled autobiographical 50k drivel this morning…. Cheers!

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  9. Extremely well said, Sara, and worth saying again and again. That quote from Matt Bell is so good. I subscribe to as many lit mags as a can, not just to actually find out what they like to publish, but to support them too. And I'm loving my new PANK T-shirt, bought for their Spring fundraising drive. It feels like the least I can do for them. With all this Twitter and FB, I think it's easy to feel that someone is a "friend", but I don't necessarily feel I know that til I at least email them privately if not meet them. I'm wary, maybe too wary, but you don't need that many friends, and I feel pretty lucky. As I'm starting out again on the "Please buy my book" I'm feeling all this very keenly, I hate to do it. But I won't follow or befriend someone, badger them, then disappear. That's not a way to behave. I've had it done to me and it just stuns me.

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  10. Thanks for your comment, SJIHoliday. Twitter does have a smattering of "here's an ad for my book" "Here's a link to my book" types. Of course, it's good to know but not 75 times a day! Oh, and how gorgeous in PANK in print? Such a wonderful journal. Vanessa – oh yeah, bitching to pals is mandatory 🙂 Sophie, alas, you're probably right. I'd like to think it may give one or two pause for thought though. Lucy, twunt is a most excellent word 🙂 And yes, how on earth can someone proclaim to be a writer whilst stating no interest in reading. Tsk!Kath – it's a difficult balance to try and be supportive to online writer chums whilst reviewing their work. Potentially disastrous! Sounds like a good plan to try to avoid :)Rebecca – Heehee – I swear he's real. I gently explained to him that even for an eagerly anticipated novel from a well established big name £20 is a hard sell. Juliette – It's astonishing really that people are so oblivious to their own bad manners. SIGH.Tania – You put so much into the writing community and it's always a pleasure to hear of your new work. I agree with you re: being wary. I'm definitely the same which is why it continues to surprise me when I still end up hurt. To clarify, I'm talking about people I have exchanged emails with, met in real life, socialised with, swapped personal information with – not just people I've only met on twitter or wherever.

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  11. I still follow/cheer on/buy the books of most of the people I connected with when I first started blogging. I used to comment more but people don't reciprocate. I subscribe to several journals and would love to subscribe to many more but I have no income of my own and my husband's only eeks out so far. I try to get around this by alternating subscriptions and by asking my library to subscribe.I like to think I'm supportive but I guess I could do more.But a writer who doesn't read….sheesh – what is that all about?

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  12. I try very hard to play by the rules as I’ve gleaned them from reading articles like this. But I find the whole networking thing hard and that’s putting it mildly. I simply can’t keep track of that many people. I have subscribed to your blog for months—years most likely—but I don’t have the time to comment on all your posts (or even most I would imagine) and after a while I start to forget why I began following you in the first place and you blur into the morass that is my online life. I find I can only handle a handful of friends. And yet I have books I need to get reviewed. So when a new one comes out (I have a new out at the moment) I do the rounds of those I think will do me a solid and some do but not all can and that’s fine because no one has the time to say, “Yes,” to everything they get offered; I understand that. Which leaves me where? I have to start looking at sites I’ve never followed which I have been doing and some say, “Yes,” but a far greater percentage don’t even bother replying to your e-mail. Either way I feel bad for not getting to know them first but I shouldn’t because the vast number of people who’ve approached me looking for reviews I’ve never heard of before and aren’t following my blog. Some of the people who’ve reviewed me in the past I’ve kept following but I wonder how many of them think of me as a friend? And are e-friends to be judged on a par with real-life-friends? That said, I’d hate to be thought of as a twunt or even especially self-centred. It’s a problem. I subscribe to 250 blogs more or less and for a while I really did try and touch base with most of them and I was wearing myself out doing so and losing perspective and when have I the time to read journals? I can barely keep up with the books I have to read. Reading has always been a pleasure throughout myself; now—incredibly, unbelievably—it has turned into a burden. So I had no choice but to cut back. And lose track.

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  13. Thanks, Jenny.Rachel – of course there are financial constraints – don't get me wrong, I only subscribe to a few, and I try to swap it around sometimes. Jim, Oh goodness, just writing your response highlights what a thoughtful person you are. I'm truly not saying that I think people should be commenting more or working harder with social media. Support can be shown in many ways – I'm not trying to dictate. Matt Bell's post resonated with me. Also, in this post I was reacting strongly to two things: 1) A writer who said he couldn't be bothered to read work at the places he was going to sub to. 2) Various encounters I've had whereby I have genuinely believed my relationship has progressed beyond social media into real life – only to discover that it was a fake friendship that lasted for the duration of my usefulness.

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  14. Great post Sara. Not had the misfortune of coming across the second type of twunt you mention, but I have come across plenty of the first. On my first ever writing course there was a guy on there who simply didn't see the point of reading other people's work. Needless to say, I don't think he faired well when it came time for final marks and feedback. Since there I have never failed to marvel at the 'writer' who claims he/she doesn't need to read others work, be it on sites they plan to sub to or peers on courses.On my MA, the single best thing so far has been the chance to read other people's work in progress and comment on it. Learnt so much from looking closely at the published novels in the reading unit and the work of my peers in the writing workshops. Thankfully, the writers I've dealt with so far online have all been lovely – which probably means I'm due a twunt or two of my own soon.

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  15. Great post, Sara. I just can't understand the attitude of that guy who doesn't read and who expected you to do his work for him. You have a lot of patience and tact! But sadly I have come across types just like that. Sadly, some people will just squeeze what they can out of other people and then move on. I don't get much of it in real life but I am getting sick of some people on twitter endlessly asking me to promote their books in DMs and emails. Drives me crazy!

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  16. how would someone even learn to be a writer if they don't like to read. your'e right!

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  17. Hi Sara, I'd never come across the word 'twunt' before. It's got quite a ring, and one of those words you immediately guess the meaning to, so I had to google it. What a combination of anatomy, I must say! :-)I don't network at all, so I can't speak, and when I do, I come across as so awkward, it just doesn't work. So I would be just like you, liable to get hurt by people who just want to get on with their career. But on that one point of 'not reading other people's work', I would contend that it is the most basic requirement for being a writer. How can you develop your writing style and cultivate any smidgeon of talent you possess if you don't read? And that means the good and the bad. And the 'just okay'. So many many famous writers, gifted talented ones, have said and been quoted, about this topic and it comes down to two words, "Read everything."

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  18. Listening to a podcast interview with author A. Manette Ansay today (Barnes & Noble, Meet The Writers podcast), she said that about 50% of the students she sees who want to be writers come to writing without being readers. I don't know how typical that is, but I was surprised the number was so high.

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  19. Wow, Bob, 50% is higher than I'd have ever guessed. Is it arrogance or ignorance? Maybe a combination of the two.Thanks, Alison and jennifer for your comments. Astonishing isn't it!Elaine, twunt is my favourite word – it's so satisfying!

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  20. Relatedly, I had a friend who only ever contacted me when he was trying to sell something. As in literally flog merchandise. Well, he started out as a friend and we drifted apart. He never could close a deal with me. Last time I spoke to him, he was trying to offload a fridge. I recall he was suspended from school in the first year (he was 11 at the time) for stealing someone's violin. Bad genes maybe. Oddly, he rejoined the school in the 3rd year. He was a sublime cricketer, had an average intellect, was tall and lanky. He had yellow teeth as well. Why I am telling you this is to make it clear that unfortunately there are some people operating out there who take others for a ride. And they're not all writers. This guy, for instance, was flogging real estate in Spain, last I heard.Like the personality that's in your writing. I'll subscribe to your blog, I think. Why not.

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  21. Thank you SR Cloud (what an ace name Cloud is). Yes, twunts are all around, twuntdom is not limited to just writers. It's just so rude tho'. Stupid twunts!

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