Writing is, at its core, a very solitary exercise. One person’s brain produces words and puts them to paper. No matter what anyone has to say about what you produce, you’re the one who makes the ultimate decision about what the text in your manuscript is going to be. On the most technical (but really, really ill-advised) level, you can even now produce a published book entirely on your own. Your writing career can forever be a one-man or one-woman show.

But no one really wants that, do they? Even if you choose self-publishing, to do it right you likely need an editor, a copy editor, a formatter, a cover designer, and possibly even a publicist. To go traditional, you need an agent, an editor, a publisher, and oh how the list goes on from there. And that’s all after your book’s already written!

But what of before that point? What about when you’re still trying to get the words out and you’re banging your head against the wall (hopefully metaphorically, but hey, things get frustrating) trying to figure out why a scene’s not working or whether a storyline is believable? That’s where the wonderful writing community comes in. Rescuers of revision, saviors of similes, cheerleaders of chapter openings – the possibilities are endless when it comes to how relationships with other writers can be invaluable. But as with all relationships, there are guidelines – a special kind of social contract, if you will. Sure, it can get kind of complicated, but that’s why I’m here to explain the three major writing relationships as I see them, beginning with the most one-sided of them all: The Stalker-Stalkee.

Stalking might sound a little controversial, but I swear, it’s all from a good place. I first learned the art of manuscript stalking from expert Stalktress (is that a thing yet?) Leigh Ann Kopans, and I like to think I’ve become an expert in my own right. Stalking essentially comes down to this: You see a manuscript segment/pitch you love, usually in a contest or writers’ forum (though occasionally just the amount you can uncover in 140 characters will do), you find a way to contact the author (posting on said entry is best; when that’s not allowed, finding their Twitter handle or blog is the next best thing – ANYTHING ELSE IS TOO CREEPY) to let him/her know that you’re basically dying to drink the wine of their mindgrapes, and if they agree to give it up, you give your contact info and they e-mail you the manuscript.

Simple, right? Well, yes, it should be. But sometimes stalking gets complicated, and that’s why it’s important to note the following:

1) When stalking/being stalked, BE CLEAR on what you each expect from the other. If you’re giving up your ms because you want notes on it, make sure you’ve actually asked for notes. If you do not plan to provide critique, be clear that you will not be providing critique. If it’s your manuscript and you do not WANT critique, make sure to state that too.

2) Stalkers, you are not owed anything by anyone. Authors absolutely 100% reserve the right to say no, and they don’t need to tell you why, either. If you see someone politely ignoring your request, do not push. They probably didn’t “miss” your tweet; they’re probably too polite to flat out say “I’m not comfortable sharing my manuscript with you at this time,” and that is something you need to respect. Even if you’ve seen them give it to someone else, it does not “entitle” you to receive it as well.

3) There are some rare exceptions to this rule, particularly if you’re agent-siblings, but generally, do not ask a pre-pub author for his/her ms. This is a manuscript on its way to being sold for money. This person has nothing to gain from sharing with you, and one potential reader’s money to lose for each person he or she shares it with. If you want to read this manuscript, buy the book. It’s the number one best way to support an author anyway.

4) Stalkees, know with whom you are sharing. Obviously you’re not going to “know” the people stalking you, but at least check out someone’s Twitter history before giving it up. Is this a person who’s generally trusted by others, who’s fairly well-known? Do they engage in behavior that makes you uncomfortable? If, for example, you do not like having lines from your ms tweeted, you may not want to share with someone who does that, or you should at least ask they not do it with yours.

5) Though I put this last, I did so not because it’s the least important, but because it should go without saying: DO NOT SHARE PART OR ALL OF SOMEONE ELSE’S MANUSCRIPT WITHOUT EXPLICIT PERMISSION, EVER. WITH ANYONE.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that! So tell me, dear readers – have you successfully stalked any great mss? Got any strategies, recommendations, questions, or comments?