“Can You Read My Manuscript and Give Me Some Advice?”

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editing manuscriptThere’s a sarcastic post over at Novel Rocket today about the Top 20 Things Never to Say to a Writer. This blogger is pretty frustrated with how many times people behave like being a writer isn’t a real job, or who tell him that they could write a book too (but oddly, they just haven’t gotten around to it yet; go figure).

I’ve heard those things before, but the #1 thing I hear in some version or other is this:

Can you read my book for free, then hook me up with an agent or editor?

Um, no.

Let’s think about this for a moment. People don’t assume that accountants will do their taxes for free, or that a doctor will diagnose their heart condition for free. Published writers with years of experience are professionals too, and they deserve the same consideration.

It takes a lot of time to evaluate a manuscript, and even more time to write up a report that might help the author place the book effectively with an agent or editor — to say nothing of the time and research involved in knowing which agents or editors might be interested, if any.

So, no, I do not read manuscripts for free. And sometimes people have a hard time getting this message. Once a total stranger showed up at my house with his manuscript in hand. He had read an article about me that suggested the kinds of things I enjoy for pleasure reading, so he tracked me down (gee, thanks, Google!) and waved his manuscript in my face, saying he’d brought me some of that pleasure reading he was sure I would love. He seemed surprised and frankly pretty ticked off when I politely sent him packing. (Someone with that total lack of boundaries isn’t even the kind of person I would consider taking on as a paying client.)

Writers deserve to be paid for evaluating manuscripts. Writing is hardly a lucrative career to begin with; let’s not compound the problem by refusing to treat it as a real job.

So if you’re a prospective author who wants a published author to “just take a quick look” at your manuscript, either to tell you if you’re on the right track (I get that phrase a lot) or to introduce you to an editor or agent, understand that it’s perfectly legitimate for Author #2 to ask whether you are paying by cash, credit card, or a favor in kind.



  • I have never understood this sort of behavior. I know many people who’ve been published, some of whom are dear friends. Through the years I have marveled at the extraordinary demands complete strangers will make. It’s definitely up to the writer to have good boundaries, which will often be interpreted as rudeness by the other person. Too bad. And yet, I get it’s hard to enforce.

    A very kind man from church read a few of my published essays and knew I was writing regularly. He told me he and his wife are writing the story of their marriage for their children and grandchildren. I said I thought this was great.

    “You could write it for us.” He said in this strangely matter of fact tone.

    “Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho!” Was all I could think to say. That was months ago and he hasn’t come back with the manuscript. It may be because he thinks I’m mentally unstable and I’m okay with that.

  • Ellen

    Alison – I just had the same thing happen, where a high school acquaintance sent me a message on Facebook saying, “I’m finally ready to write this memoir I’ve been thinking about, and you could help me!” I politely said that I don’t have enough time for all of my OWN writing ideas, much less someone else’s. She seemed to get the message, but I was floored at the proposal.

  • Adrianna Wright


  • Arrogance

    You could have at least invited him in… and asked how much money was in his wallet…
    Then politely said that showing up uninvited and being so full of foolish arrogance … he would be owing… at least $500 … up to that point… and that if you were to go further… you might consider referring him to me….. I would read his manuscript… for a small fee…

    Ok… You made your point… and it was a good one… and I am just laughing so hard at his brashness ….. as IN I can’t believe it…

  • Great article. You might want to consider getting a PO Box though. Someone as thoughtless as that guy could have easily had other deficiencies too. Better safe than sorry.

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  • Confession… I am one of these people. Recently, I asked trusted friends to beta read a manuscript one of whom is a ghost writer and another is editor of a small town newspaper. I guess I owe them an apology. I was considering making contact with a professional to “glance” at it and tell me if I should keep at writing or go try basket weaving. Glad I read this first. I would happily pay but working three jobs does not even cover our modest living expenses. I guess it best to keep at it until I either snag a publisher or reach a point of realization that this is not my path.

  • There is another option, which is to join a writing group. That’s what they’re for; everyone in the group critiques everyone else’s work on a regular basis for free. My own writing group has been meeting for about 4 years now and has been a huge help to me. You can find other writers in your area through bookstores, Writer’s Digest, and other methods. Good luck!

  • Good idea.

  • Good advice. Thank you.

  • Hannah

    In-kind trades are the way to go, I think.

  • I would be more than happy to do that. Of course, I can only offer the perspective of an aspiring amateur vs. an industry professional and vice verse. I suppose I was thinking of a one time thing wanting to hear “yes you have talent keep at it” or “your friends are blowing smoke hang it up” but then that is giving too much power to one person… even an industry insider.

  • Mr. Strader, you make a good point. One person, even a published author or editor, can be wrong about you. Talent is a subjective word. The Help was rejected over 30 times by agents. The Call of the Wild was rejected hundreds of times. Perseverance is talent these days.

    If you’re driven to write, then keep going! Also, you may not be writing at your best right now–and someone might tell you that and encourage you to quit–but if you keep going and attend a writers group and study your craft, you’ll get better. I’ve never known a writer who didn’t improve with time (especially me).

    This is a great post–I’ve gotten these requests from people too. I don’t think I’m doing anyone a service to predict their writing career for them, especially when agents and editors get it wrong. All future authors are best served to write everyday, learn how to write a query letter, and keep moving forward.