I receive a lot of writing-related requests. Within the past week, for example, two authors have asked me to blurb their novels. Someone else asked me to recommend a Yiddish translator in a certain part of the country. Another person wrote to request that I check out his website and maybe recommend it to all of you. And an author asked me to recommend where to submit his just-published book for reviews (and also, for post-publication prizes).
Here’s how I responded to those requests.
I told the novelists–both of whose books fall under the description of “Jewish writing”–that since I’ve begun working for a publisher of fiction on the American Jewish Experience (AJE), I’ve stopped reviewing and blurbing similar books.
Regarding the website, I responded that a quick look showed me very little; one must create an account to access the site in full, and I’m not inclined to do so.
And I told the nonfiction author that I’m very sorry, but I simply cannot provide individualized advice of the sort he was seeking for his book.
It’s difficult to say no, especially when people ask for favors politely. And I appreciate that others value any insights I might have. But I have to draw the lines of literary citizenship somewhere. Sometimes–as in the case of the translator query–I so lack expertise that the response is simple. Other times, I’m more conflicted/regretful.
On Saying “Yes”
I did agree to one request I received this past week. And it’s a biggie.
Briefly, the request was an invitation to contribute a chapter to a forthcoming volume. It came from a literary scholar I respect, so my first reaction, frankly, was that I was honored that she’d thought of me for the project: a collection of new essays, tentatively titled Third-Generation Holocaust Narratives: The Intergenerational Transmission of Memory, Longing, and Loss, that examines third-generation Holocaust narratives and the intergenerational transmission of trauma and memory.
As I considered the offer, however, I couldn’t help thinking: Do I really need to write 7,000-8,000 words, in “academic” format (with those pesky endnotes), for no pay? Do I really need to wrangle the (potential) permissions issues involved if quote extensively from some of my own past writing? Do I really have the time to take this on, especially without any financial compensation?
Yes, I understood the editor’s explanation that this will be a “scholarly” volume (read: no money to the writers involved). But the other contributors are university faculty members. They’re essentially paid to do the research and writing these chapters will require; their publications count when it comes to their reviews and tenure/promotion cases. One or more of the might even have a sabbatical (not to mention the entire summer) to dedicate time to this work.
Such is not my situation.
Ultimately, I decided that for this subject/project, I would accept the invitation. (Besides, there’s one plus of an academic project–the deadline is, at the moment, far in the temporal distance.) I’m telling myself that it’s an act of literary citizenship–and an act of Jewish citizenship. And this time, that’s going to have to be enough.
I’m happy to report that I’ve managed to secure an assignment to review that nonfiction book that I mentioned wanting to read and write about. So that’s good news!
I’ve also made some notable progress with the essay, that at last report, I was struggling with. It may be ready to go out soon. I have some doubts–I’m glad that I wrote it (finally), but I’m not sure I really need/want to publish it. We’ll see.
What about you? How are you managing saying yes, saying no, and your own work-in-progress?