The Art of Saying No

For a writer who has had to scratch and claw for every rung up the ladder (and I’m still climbing) I’ve finally reached a place where publishers and writer friends are coming to me with work.  Some of this is paid work like “We’d like you to pitch us on this new project” which, until recently for me, was a new phenomenon. Others are “Buddy, I could really use a beta reader!”

Yes, very hard to say no no to paying work, when you’ve been begging for paying work for years.

I also have a problem saying no to a friend…for anything.

I’m still learning how to say no…

For paying work, there are a number of questions you need to ask yourself before you say yes.  These are, in my very own order of importance:

One – Would I enjoy writing in this world/genre/milieu?  If the answer is yes, continue, if maybe, continue, if flat no, stop here and say no thank you.  No explanation why, just no thank you.

Two – Would I be comfortable working with the editorial staff of this publisher?  For this one, if you’ve never written for this publisher before, you should do some research.  If you get negative feedback from that research, and the answer to #1 was maybe, you should seriously consider saying no thank you and moving on.  If the answer to #1 was yes, you may continue to #3, but with caution.

Three – Am I already overworked?  This is where I usually fail.  I take on too much work.  I’m a putz that way.  I hope you’re better at time management than I am when you consider this question.  If the answer is yes, say No Thank You!  Why???  Because if you say yes, and then can’t deliver or turn in crap, it’s worse than saying no thank you.  Yes, really.  If no, move on to #4.

Four – In your own best critical opinion of your writing, do you think that you can do this project credit?  This is a hard one because it requires a critical eye to your own work, productive capacity, and enthusiasm. Usually, I’m pretty good at this.  If you’re not, maybe ask someone who knows you really well to answer it for you.  A discrete query to a devout beta reader like “Hey, NAME, I just got pimped by XX for YY project. Do you think I could do that credit?”  If the answer is yes, then you may, finally, ask yourself the last question.

Five – is the pay/contract adequate?  Again, this requires some thought.  I wag on this some… If I’m really enthusiastic about the project/publisher/genre I will take less.  If it’s going to be a labor of sweat and blood (a few maybe answers above) I will ask for more.  If they balk, or have a crappy contract, and you’re on the fence, this is the death knell, and you should say no thank you.  Again, you do NOT have to explain your answer, just say no thank you nicely and move on.

As for the second type of query from a friend asking for help… If they would help you, the answer should be yes unless you are way overwhelmed and cannot possibly help, in which case you should explain exactly why you can’t help and apologize. If they would not help you (they are a vague acquaintance or have ignored queries from you for help in the past) then just say sorry, but no.  You’re a writer and you’re busy. Every hour you work for someone else is an hour you are not working for you.

And above all, remember “RULE #1” of being a writer is….

Do not be a dick.

If you have to say no, be nice about it.

Happy writing!



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