Just Say No… Nicely

Here’s part three of my what-do-when post. I’m thinking of starting a little advice column. So email me your writing related questions. Okay, onto the post. Here’s the scenario: you have just read the letter from an events organizer inviting you to give a reading. You have carefully evaluated the offer and you have concluded that these people must be crazy. What’s the best way to say no?

  • Always say “no, thank you”. Never say “hell, no!” Whenever someone asks you to do a reading, it is a compliment. Even if it is a really really crappy offer like “We would like you to travel to the middle of nowhere, teach a workshop, give a reading, and have lunch with our graduate students for $500, excluding travel.” Think about it. The organizer could have asked any writer in the country to perform this unreasonable task, but for some reason she chose you. (And most likely because she likes your work, not because she thinks you’re a cheap date.) So when you decline, do so graciously. Use the word thank you. Use it twice. If you can, google the organization and say something about it in the message. All you want is not to do the gig, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
  • If the money isn’t sufficient, offer to do the gig, not for more money, but for reduced responsibility. If they ask you to do a reading and a workshop, tell them you’ll just do the reading. They will get the message that you’d be willing to do more if they come up with more cash. (Chances are, they are offering you all they have, anyway.) If they can’t alter the terms, refer to the first point of this post.
  • Do not send them your resume to make the case for more money. If they are inviting you, they probably are aware of your credentials. Sending your resume is the equivalent of donning a English accent and saying, “Have you any idea who I am!!!” If you have evaluated the offer and you just don’t want to do it, just say no… really nicely.
  • The honorarium offered is usually an expression of the resources available, not an expression of your worth. So don’t give yourself a complex if you get asked to read at a public library for $100. That’s probably all they have. Even if the reading is at a major university, you could be getting the offer from a junior professor who is using the cash in her personal book budget to invite you out. If this is the case, she won’t tell you because she doesn’t want you to know that the Department wouldn’t sponsor your visit. (This has happened to me.) Furthermore, the person inviting you may have never been asked to speak for money, so when you turn your nose up at $100 for what is essentially an hour’s work, you will alienate that person for life. And what’s the point of that?
  • Never forget: All you want is to get out of doing the gig. And remember this– someone who asks you to read for free today, may very well hook you up with something really attractive in the future– if you play nice.
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    3 Responses to Just Say No… Nicely

    1. carleen says:

      And never forget the word of mouth about your work…every little bit helps!

    2. Honoree says:

      Excellent advice, Tayari! I wish someone had told me all this when I was just starting out. BTW, I think you really should do the advice column. Son many young writers out there and not enough mentoring…

    3. Alicia says:

      I’m a co-coordinator of a reading series for graduate students. When we asked the people in our program to help create a list of whom they’d like to be a headliner to read with them, they came up with a list of writers who have a blockade of agents, publicists and assistants. So the matter turned out to be getting a mass of rejections from those people (our series is in line with the $500 reading & dinner w/grad students not to mention reading after four grad students), though I will never forget George Saunders sending a friendly personal reply (my friends don’t reply emails that fast). So when I finish my MFA, start my job at McDonalds and have Mr. Saunders come to my window, I’ll be like “Those fries are on the house”.