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OSC Help Desk - Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Will you read my book/story/manuscript?


Dear Fellow Writers:

Why I Will Not Read Your Manuscript.

If you're hoping I'll write you a glowing letter of recommendation:

You don't need it. What you need is a "wise reader," as I describe in my books Character and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. What do you think a professional writer will do for you that your own "wise reader" can't do? Are you hoping I'll write a glowing letter of recommendation? Even if I did, it won't do any good. The editor will still make up his own mind. In fact, for all you know the editor might hate my fiction and think I'm an idiot, in which case my praise will be a negative. All that matters is the manuscript you wrote. Editors are hungry for good writing. If that's what you give them, they'll say so. If they don't recognize good writing when they see it, my letter won't help.

If you're hoping I'll give you wise advice that will make your manuscript publishable:

It's a waste of time. When I do read manuscripts in detail, critiquing them, generally the problems are serious enough that a complete rewrite is required. Few writers have the heart for it. My experience is that only one out of a hundred writers actually follows a single suggestion I make. And even if you try, there's no guarantee that you'll understand the suggestion, or that you'll be ready as a writer to do the thing I'm suggesting you do. Since I know from the start that in all likelihood you're not going to do a thing I say, why should I waste my time?

If you are a friend or acquaintance and/or you swear you'll do everything I say:

I'm not going to read it anyway. Even on those rare occasions when I agree to read a manuscript, it just goes on a pile of manuscripts that I really, really, really intend to read Real Soon Now. Only there has never yet been a morning when I woke up and thought, "I don't have a thing to do today! I think I'll read some of those manuscripts I've got piled up!" At the end of the day, I don't ever, ever say to my wife, "I'm done for the day and I don't need to go to bed for another hour. Where are those manuscripts so I can read one?" The result is that a year or two later, you feel bitter and unhappy about the fact that I never responded, and I feel guilty about not having read what you sent me, and so both of us are miserable, and the manuscript isn't read anyway -- so why not skip all the misery and just not send it to me in the first place?

I'm not proud of this -- but I've lived with me long enough to know this is what always happens, so I might as well be honest about it.

If you're thinking of offering me money to read your manuscript:

Give it to a good charity. I don't need your money. You don't have enough to tempt me. And even if you did, what I gave you in return would not be worth it.

If you're annoyed or angry that I won't help a struggling young writer:

My job is writing fiction. The only thing I owe to other writers is what I owe to other readers: To do the best I can with my own storytelling. When I teach writing, it's a hobby. I do it for love. Nobody has a right to demand that I teach them how to write or help them get published. So take a few deep breaths, return to the rational world, and then send your manuscript to agents and editors -- that is their job.

Is there ever a time when I'll read a manuscript?

Yes, if you're a former student of mine and you're in the room with me while I read. That's it. That's the only way I ever read manuscripts. If you have taken a class or workshop with me, then you have the lifetime right to consultation. But only on the first few dozen pages of an unfinished manuscript, and only in person, with you sitting there to receive my comments as I read.

Oh, yeah. There's one other exception. If your mother and my mother have the same yearbook picture, and we used to play Risk or Pit or Nurtz together as children. And even then I'm not very reliable.

If you're thinking to yourself that you're the exception, that if you just think of a clever enough way to ask me, I'll read your manuscript and it will make all the difference in your career:

It wouldn't, so I won't, so you can't, so you're not.

Regretfully yours,

Orson Scott Card


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