I debated long and hard about posting this one for two reasons: one, I am not a published author and have no idea the time constraints that published authors find themselves under. Nor have I experienced a raving email from someone I said no to or gotten a nasty response for a harsh critique. So I’m only writing this from what I’ve observed, not from what I’ve experienced.
There’s been a lot floating around the interweb about what a pain it is to be asked to read someone’s manuscript. Most published authors I know or have spoken to about this cite either a fear of being accused of stealing someone’s work or legal reasons from their publishers.
There are, however, other reasons and one of the main ones was that most often, some published authors think that unpublished authors are simply trying to skirt the system and get a referral to an agent or an editor. While I may not truly understand the sheer numbers of people like this, I wonder if that is truly what people are looking for when they ask a published author to read their manuscript.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that being handed a manuscript beneath the bathroom stall is both rude and awkward and reeks of desperation on the part of the writer. But assuming that newbie writers should know better is a false assumption, even if they should have some basic social understanding of etiquette in general. I’ve been ‘a writer’ for almost 2 years now and there is beyond too much information that I don’t know. I did not know about the Miss Snark website until last summer, AFTER I queried half the agents in the business.
Disclaimer: I have asked published authors to read my book. I sent an email and asked. And you know what? Most said I can’t and I was perfectly fine with that. I understand that people are busy. I understand that reading someone’s work who needs a ton of editing can be exceptionally challenging on both patience and brain power. I know this because I have pushed a book that was in no way shape or form ready to be read by anyone other than my cat.
I will also say now, thank you to the authors who did say yes, even if it was to read a few pages and say something like, I think you have talent but I don’t think this book is going to get you published.
Here’s the thing I love about the writer’s I have had the good fortune to have interacted with. Even if they haven’t read my mss, they’re still a source of inspiration and mentorship. Writers mentor better than any group I know of, including army officers. So I am well and truly grateful for the writers who have taken me under their wing. I know I am incredibly fortunate to have their support and their brains to pick on all matters from depression to writing industry to what to look for in an agent.
I am grateful to the writers who declined as well because I learned not only how to do so with grace but also that once published, the demands you have as a writer increase. When I asked one author why her publisher had a policy against reading uncontracted books, she was gracious to explain to me the whys behind the decision so that I now know that too many writers have experienced being accused of stealing someone’s idea. I am grateful because she took the time to explain something to me that I didn’t know.
I recognize that every published author cannot help every unpublished author. But when did it become the de facto sentiment to be so irritated that someone asked you to read something they wrote. Now, I understand being irritated if they’re simply trying to circumvent the system. And I understand how hard it is when people put you on the spot. I also fully understand that there are going to be those screaming emails when you do politely tell someone no and they lose their minds on you, blaming you for everything.
Agents go through it every day. I’m willing to bet that every agent in the business has sent a rejection only to get blasted by some unprofessional writer who blames them for not believing in their project that almost certainly would be a NYT Bestseller if only someone would pick them out of the slush pile. This behavior is wrong. Agents should not be subjected to it and neither should published authors. It is not your responsibility to help me make my manuscript better. It is mine to learn. But part of that learning involves asking questions.
So unpublished writers, approach published writers or agents on Facebook or Twitter with an idea of what you are asking. It takes time to read a manuscript, time most publishes authors will tell you they just don’t have. If someone does take the time to read and offer comments, don’t argue. Listen and learn what you can. I’m not telling you not to ask, but don’t email every published author and ask. Be nice and if they say no, say thank you anyway.
But published authors, please remember that someone, somewhere along helped you, taught you or mentored you and while you can’t help everyone, if you can, please do so, even knowing that it is not your job. No one has a responsibility to do anything to help anyone else out.
That doesn’t mean you can’t.
I know it’s frustrating and time consuming but please try not to be aggravated with us. Just like many of you are irritated with Harlequin Horizons for taking advantage of unpublished or newbie writer’s ignorance and desperation, please remember what it feels like to want to see your book in print so badly, you’d do anything, yes even hand a complete stranger a manuscript beneath the latrine wall. Yes, the onus is on us to work for it, and keep working for it. But if you can take a few minutes, even if it’s only reading ten pages of a manuscript and offer pointers, please do.
And unpublished writers, be grateful for what you get. I’m not saying you should lick boots or anything like that, but remember that other people’s time is precious to them so figure out what you need and be specific when you ask and be okay with being told no. If you really want to be a writer, you better get used to it, because being told no is standard issue in the writing world and you’ll hear a lot of it. But every so often, you’ll get a yes in there, so be grateful when you get one.
This post, hopefully, expresses just how truly grateful I am to the published writers who have helped me or simply offered a kind word when I needed one. This post also, hopefully, reminds all of us that no one is an island and that if at all possible, you should pay it forward when you can.