Mistake No. 48: No-thank you

Ingratitude is the theme of today’s post, and while I’ve deliberately waited until some months after my last professional experience of it in order to keep the emotion out of this, it’s possible some residual frustration will seep through. Excuse it, please.

I want to say upfront that most people in the business will thank you for a favour. I could fill up the rest of this post with nice things concerning nice people and their nice appreciation, but you’re busy and I want to dish the murky stuff.

I’ll keep it vague, but last year, I helped a colleague for the fourth time on a specific issue. The delivery of that help was – I admit – flavoured with impatience, due simply to the fact that the information I had three times taken the time to offer – without once receiving an acknowledgment, let alone thank you – had been apparently ignored and certainly not acted on. For my troubles, I was sworn at.

Most established writers occasionally receive unsolicited requests for help and advice, usually from new writers or students. One sticks in the mind from several years ago. I gave a considered, detailed response, which may or may not have been what the writer wanted to hear, but it was what I thought was right. No thank you came. ‘Did you get my email?’ I enquired. Yes, but the individual was ‘busy’, and would come back to me when they had time. That was the last I heard.

There are others, and all the writers and journalists I know have similar experiences - people not thanking them for contacts, for feedback. Some, so frustrated at what they perceive as the eye-burning ingratitude and breath-taking rudeness of the individuals concerned, instantly hit delete whenever a new hopeful arrives, and have a policy of no longer helping.

I think this is a shame, because the ‘good’ vastly outweighs the ‘bad’, in my experience, and also because there are wider benefits to helping and encouraging new talent. I was helped when I started out, so I help those who are in the position I was in years ago: this passes on knowledge and good practice, improves the business of publishing and our reputation within it, and seems to be the natural order of things – it’s just karmic fairness, to me.

But some disagree. Some are of the view that the very existence of blogs such as mine, which theoretically make it easier for people to get published, create competition which they could frankly do without. The hate mail hasn’t arrived here yet, but I have heard of mutterings and grumblings in the fiction community concerning online short story and novel advice which ‘gives too much away’, so perhaps it’s going on out of earshot…

Anyway, I don’t subscribe to this view, and will carry on. But I am interested in the reasons, besides sheer rudeness, why some people fail to remit you those two words.

They forget? Possible – but how can you? Is it not simply automatic? Even if you’ve been given something so big it’ll take a while to digest, how can one not quickly reply? “Just a quick thanks – will read and respond properly later.” That’d do me, even without a follow-up.

They feel it’s unnecessary because they feel entitled? I won’t forget a quip of wisdom I first heard from writer and blogger Linda Jones: “Journalism doesn’t owe you a living.” I’d extend that to ‘publishing’ in general. Nobody is owed in this business. You work, you earn, you progress. People will help but nobody likes a freeloader.

They feel it’s unnecessary because it’s free? Linda also once said that people don’t always value what they get for nothing. Also true.

They’re too wrapped up in themselves? Perhaps. Could some be so focused on number one and what they need from you that as soon as they have it, they drop you like a sweet wrapper? Is it a failure to click out of that selfish and tunnel-vision mindset and give you what you need – a tiny expression of appreciation?

‘Need’ is the right word here. I don’t need to be thanked for this blog – I volunteer it. And I don’t need to be thanked for my tutoring or the critiques I offer – I’m paid for it all. But a request for help from a stranger? I do need to be thanked, thanks – it stops me from being grumpy, from losing faith in fellow man, from losing self-confidence about the advice I offer.

Here’s the thing. You need information from a library – that library needs your custom and support. You need publication of your work to make a living – the reader of that work needs information and/or entertainment. You need help from a writer – that writer needs a word of thanks. Etc.

For one’s every need there is a reciprocal need on the other side – bearing that in mind will stand us all well.

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