No, I Don’t Want to Read Your Book Manuscript

About once a week, I get a request from someone to read his/her book manuscript. I almost always say no. Here’s why.

I really do work for a living. Between writing my own books and magazine articles, I don’t have a lot of free time. Oh, and did I mention I’m also bringing up three children and a puppy? Asking someone to devote hours to your WIP (work in progress) is asking a lot. Before you do it, you should ask yourself some questions:

1. How close are we? And by close, I mean, have I ever donated a major organ to this person, bailed him/her out of jail, or had a chair broken across my back for him/her during a bar fight? If you can’t answer yes to any of those, you may be asking too much. People have lives, and frankly, time is money.

2. Did I offer to pay this person or do I just expect him/her to be delighted to do my bidding free of charge? (See above “time is money” comment.)

It’s been my experience that too many aspiring writers don’t really want criticism. They just want you to tell them their book is the most wonderful thing you’ve ever read and offer to introduce them to your agent. A few years ago, I read a book manuscript for a friend of a friend. I spent hours marking suggestions. Then I called him to discuss. As soon as he learned that I wasn’t calling to congratulate him, but to actually offer ideas of how he could put in yet more work, the call mysteriously dropped. Did he hang up on me? I don’t know, but I do know that he didn’t try to call me back. That was the last time I ever read someone’s friend’s book as a favor.

Aspiring writers who can’t handle criticism probably won’t get too far. If you can’t take my criticism (and I’m actually pretty nice, I think), you’re not ready to send your book out to an agent or publisher. They won’t bother to tell you your plot isn’t moving along quickly enough or that your characters lack dimension. They’ll just glance over the first few pages and send you a rejection when it doesn’t work for them. And likely you’ll never know why they passed, because they usually won’t take the time to tell you (again, see “time is money” comment). This is why, when I decline to read a manuscript, I usually recommend to the person who asked that he/she get involved in a class or a writing group. That’s a great place to learn how to welcome honest feedback. If you’re not willing to do that, you’re probably not ready to publish.

Writers who are really serious about publication are generally those who are willing to put in the time (and yes, sometimes money) on their end. When I wrote my first novel, I signed up for an online novel writing class. That way, I was paying someone to read my work and offer criticism. I also did hours upon hours of research into the publishing process and the craft of fiction. This is why I’m always amazed when someone casually asks me, “Is it hard to publish a book? How do you do that?” The answer I’m too nice to say (see #3) is, “By getting off your rear end and putting in the work instead of expecting me to dispense knowledge like an ATM.” I mean, come on. If you’re serious, do your homework. And if you’re not, don’t waste my time.

I’ve been burned too many times. I have been too nice too many times to aspiring writers who’ve asked me to look at their work. Many of them sent their manuscripts in an email with a note saying something to the effect of, “This is really rough, and I just kind of put down on paper what was in my head.” Really? REALLY? So you verbally vomited on the page and now you’d like me to clean it up for you? No, thanks. This is more inconsiderate than middle school and high school kids writing a paper twenty minutes before it’s due and expecting their teachers to “fix” every error for them. At least the school children can blame immaturity.

I consider myself a professional. Do you call up plumbers and ask them to look at your pipes as a favor? Do you expect architects to design a home for you in their free time? Do you expect dentists to look at your sore tooth during a dinner party? (I know…a lot of people do, unfortunately.) I hope not. By the same logic, please do not insult writers by acting as though their work is a fun little hobby for them. It’s real, actual work.

Sorry if this sounds snarky. I’m usually nice (again, see #3). But if I read all the manuscripts I’m asked to read, I’d never have time to do anything else. So, on behalf of all writers, please think about what you’re asking when you ask someone to read your manuscript. Just don’t expect them to drop everything and serve you. If you really, really do want to ask a writer friend/acquaintance to help you, I actually think it’s perfectly fine to offer to trade services. At least you’ve acknowledged that what you are asking for is real work. And speaking of trading services, if anyone wants to steam clean all the floors in my house, I might just be able to find the time to read your book after all!

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