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

People don't assume that accountants will do their taxes for free, or that a doctor will diagnose them for free. Why do we ask writers to give advice for free?

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.