Being a writer can be a double-edged sword sometimes. When we first publish, in whatever format we choose, we think, “What if nobody reads my work?” When we realise we are gaining some traction and are being read, we think, “What if people read my work and don’t like it?” It’s rare that we think about the stranger end of the spectrum.
But recently I was confronted with it when I received a request through the Contact Me page on this blog. It was from a man looking for a writer/publisher to help him complete, edit and publish his book.
My immediate thought was to reply with a quick “thank you but no thank you”. I’m busy enough writing my own books and have no interest in writing someone else’s. And I am one of those idiots whose first thought is always to be polite, even when there’s something in the back of my mind warning me that responding (and thereby providing my email address) might not be the smartest idea.
However, those warning bells started ringing a little more loudly as I read through the rather lengthy request. Originally posted on a “m4w” website, which I later realised was some sort of man seeking woman dating service, the message from “John” (as I will call him) outlined his age, his body type, his marital status and his need for someone who would help him finalise his book and get it out there.
As he described it, “This book will be the most controversial, real and dramatic, life changing eye opener ever written. Maybe even a bible, so to speak…”
But I wasn’t the only writer he was contacting (please note all spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes are John’s): “Im also gonna put this ad on other sites because it doesnt have to be a relationship but it will be with someone Im gonna spend alot of time with, and who better than a woman I can be comfortable with. I dont want anyone to think this is bullshit. I seriously want true and sincere devotion.”
By now the warning bells were strident. I didn’t even need to read between the lines. He wasn’t just looking for a writer and publisher, he also wanted it to evolve into a relationship with “true and sincere devotion”. What the?
He went on, “I,ll give you a hint of why I know it will be the best book ever written. Because its gonna attract every person from around the globe from every race, creed, color and religion. Its gonna attract the believers and the non believers, the politicians and liberalist. Police, judges and lawyers. defendants, co-defendants, gays and straights bis and tris.” (No, I don’t know what a “tri” is either.)
And then he concluded with, “And here’s something else for ya, I cant count how many times Ive felt comfortable enough with someone that I would spit out the most unbelievable shit, only to hear my girl(or whoever I was with, friends) tell me that, that was the smartest and most remarkable statement they had ever heard and that I should also roll with it. So here I am and Im ready to roll. Serious Enquiries Only.”
At this point I was beyond words. I Googled the request to see if I could find any references on hoax websites. I couldn’t. But that didn’t reassure me. And apart from anything else, there were about 100 spelling, grammatical and punctuation mistakes in the 800 word request, making me think the book would be a nightmare to edit, even if it was going to be the blockbusting bestseller he was sure it would be.
I decided to wait. While I had no interest in getting on board John’s crazy train, I thought it best to take a good long while to digest it and make a final decision on whether to send an email or just leave him to realise my lack of interest on his own. After all, he was contacting lots of other writers. I doubted he would be excitedly awaiting my response.
A few days later, John contacted me again. This time it was short and far from sweet: “So your a fake.? Or you really cant be professional enough to respond..?”
If I was waiting for a sign to tell me that not responding at all was the smartest thing I could have done, here it was.
As writers, we can’t choose our readers and we can’t choose which of those readers choose to contact us. But we can be smart about how we interact with our reading public. A few smart rules include:
*No personal contact: yes to a blog Contact Me page, Facebook, Twitter, no to revealing email addresses, home addresses or phone numbers. As so perfectly demonstrated above, sometimes this means choosing not to engage with people who want to engage with you.
*No personal information: this can be a hard one to stick to but it’s a rule for everyone, not just writers. How often do we hear cyber security specialists telling us that we should be extremely circumspect about what personal information we reveal online? Same goes for what personal information we reveal in our writing. It’s okay for my readers to know that I live in Melbourne, Australia but it’s not okay for them to know specifically which suburb. A good rule of thumb might be to only reveal the things you’d be fine with your arch enemy knowing. Because the potential is there for any one of your readers to become your arch enemy. Ask every famous person who has ever had a stalker. Or you could ask me. I’ve had two stalkers, long before I ever published a single word.
*No prioritising politeness: it might seem impolite not to respond but as more and more people read you and subsequently want to engage with you, it becomes less of a choice than a logistical necessity. So you might as well get used to not responding now.
*No second guessing: if something about the person contacting you seems off, don’t second guess yourself – there probably is something off. Most of the time the human instinct about self-preservation is spot on. It’s often when we decide to give the benefit of the doubt that we get ourselves into trouble.
*No second chances: if someone contacting you crosses a line, don’t hesitate to block them from being able to contact you again on your public forums. Most of these forums have rules and take breaches seriously so you can also report them. And in the most serious of cases, making a report to local law enforcement authorities might be the best thing you can do. Cyber stalking (for want of a better description) is a crime.
“Publish and be damned” might be the famous motto but it was coined in a time of refinement and respect, in an era we are moving further and further away from. Writing is important but so is a writer’s safety, both physical and emotional. One shouldn’t have to be compromised in order to achieve the other. So put your writing out there but know – and where possible mitigate – the risks.
For anyone wondering whether maybe I’ve been overstating the weirdness of the request from John, here it is in its entirety so you can make your own decision. I’d love to hear what you would have made of it if you’d received it.
“SERIOUSLY IN NEED OF A SERIOUS WRITER..ASAP
Please understand that this is a pre-post I had placed under m4w.
In this case I would be looking for any somewhat young and ambitous straight male or female who’s heart would be set on writing a number one seller.
SERIOUSLY IN NEED OF A SERIOUS PUBLISHER.. ASAP
body : heavy / status : divorced
I am looking for a mature adult female that knows what she wants to do in life. A very serious and strong willed publisher thats looking to publish that number one seller. I am not asking that you invest any money into this goal as money is not needed. I do however need someone who is very social mediac(but drama free) with maybe a lot of followers or able to attract the attention of the public and be willing to invest your time. I could seek the help of a ghostwriter or a professional freelance writer but the trust would not be there. I wouldnt feel comfortable and I would feel like I was lacking true heartfelt guidance that I would feel from someone that would care about my integrity and has my best interests at heart.
This book is already pretty much written, you just have to be here with me to fill in the blanks. My thoughts come in pieces so you will have to be intellegent enough to put the story together in the correct order along with correct grammar, pronounciation and punctuation etc.
Yes, it will be about me and my life and how I come to end up with some very different and unorthadox but very sensible and serious thoughts and beliefs. I am not that famous person that everyone wants to read about, but people wont be able to resist this book, because with your help, It will sell it before its even done. And nobody will be left disappointed, but they will end up a different person. Its not a motivational piece but it will have the capability to change everyone and everything. After all, it was both anticipation and curiosity that killed more than just the cat.
And me, I am a very good, honest, mature and open minded gentelman that is fun to be around. There’s a lot to life I enjoy but you never know when something will come off the top of my head that would be so unbelievable but yet make so much sense.
I,ll give you a hint of why I know it will be the best book ever written.
Because its gonna attract every person from around the globe from every race, creed, color and religion. Its gonna attract the believers and the non believers, the politicians and liberalist. Police, judges and lawyers. defendants, co-defendants, gays and straights bis and tris. Its also gonna effect everyone in this country from early teens to adult hood. Things will change. This book will be the most controversial, real and dramatic, life changing eye opener ever written. Maybe even a bible, so to speak, but far from religious and hypocritical. People will ask the question, “well what if it was really like this?” and they just might say, “sounds like a better plan to me.” Once this book is out, the new and improved “activists” will step forward, and government and people will have no choice but to agree.
There may not be a heaven, but we can build it.
I have an opinion, an answer and a salution for just about every topic you can imagine.
So if your serious, then let the people know. Lets get it started and make this book a number one before it even hits the shelves.
I have so so much, but you have to be a believer. You will have to be able to understand me and maybe even agree with a lot of my views and I have all the confidence in the world, that you would not find one single thing that even you would disagree with.
If you can hold true to this then I can send you a link to just another taste of what we would be writing about.
Ask for that link in your subjevt line so I know your real.
Im also gonna put this ad on other sites because it doesnt have to be a relationship but it will be with someone Im gonna spend alot of time with, and who better than a woman I can be comfortable with.
I dont want anyone to think this is bullshit. I seriously want true and sincere devotion. And here’s something else for ya, I cant count how many times Ive felt comfortable enough with someone that I would spit out the most unbelievable shit, only to hear my girl(or whoever I was with, friends) tell me that, that was the smartest and most remarkable statement they had ever heard and that I should also roll with it. So here I am and Im ready to roll.
Serious Enquiries Only.
“So your a fake.? Or you really cant be professional enough to respond..?”