Giving is a great way to get

April 22, 2008

My email is stacking up on the flight deck again. I get hundreds of emails per week. Some percentage of those emails, as I have become more well known, are from supplicants asking me to help them get published. They want me to read their manuscript, give them a blurb, recommend an agent or editor, pass their book along to my agent or editor, collaborate with them on their great book idea, and so on.

I am a kind and generous person, but sometimes I get a little put off by these requests. First, because as one gets even a little well known (and I know I am not that well known at all-I can’t imagine how much more pressed really well known people are with these requests), the number of them increases. Many people are looking for a leg up and you look to be a person who can give them that boost. But if I responded to each of these requests, I would not have much time to get my writing done or to have a life outside of my work.

Second, there is often an off-putting insensitivity in these requests. Some people acknowledge that I must be busy and that if I can’t find my way to help or I am too busy, they will understand perfectly. But others seem to assume I will be happy to take the time to both read their requests and to help them no matter the time it takes or the burden of the request (my agent would be very unhappy if I referred everyone who asked me to to her). These people occasionally express resentment when I do not provide whatever help they expected.

I have had one person seriously request that I read their dissertation in German and tell them if they missed any references to a particular subject I had some expertise on. I have had others ask me to essentially write their class papers on my area of expertise.

Besides not assuming that the person you make a request of will comply, I have a simple suggestion that may serve you well in life. If you want something from someone, give them something of value first, whether it be a compliment, a kindness or some useful information. Establish a relationship.

I have a correspondent who, noticing I like quotations, regularly sends me interesting quotations. I always take the time to read her emails. If she asked me for a favor, I would likely do it because has built up some credit with me (although I wouldn’t read her dissertation in German).

End of rant.


3 Responses to “Giving is a great way to get”

  1. Sigh. It is always, and forever will be, about the social capital. Since I published my two books, I have received a few requests for help from people–agents, publishing houses, etc. And the majority, unfortunately, don’t understand that it’s about reciprocity. About understanding other people’s commitments. And ironically, there’s somebody who’s helped me a fair amount just because she’s a menschy dog person, and if she asked me for the name of my agent, and an hour of time, I’d give it to her in a second. But she hasn’t.

  2. I really liked what you said “If you want something from someone, give them something of value first, whether it be a compliment, a kindness or some useful information. Establish a relationship.” John Maxwell put it another way, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” I have just self-published my first book and have offered to help others do the same. I am learning quickly the importance of having balance in my service to people. You never want to get to a place where you feel used by people and resentful toward others for taking advantage of your generosity.

  3. Gene Combs Says:

    As someone who is a little well-known is certain circles, but less well-known than you, I really enjoyed your rant, and the advice it offers. I’m sure I will draw on its tone and content at those moments I’m feeling really presumed upon.

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