Asking a Published Author to Read Your Work

Dear Rachelle,
I’m a bookstore owner and have developed a pretty good rapport with an author with whom we’ve done numerous booksignings. I want to show him some of my work to get his opinion, but I don’t want him to think that I’m just using him to get signed with an agent.

My question is this: What is the proper method to approach an author to ask them to assess your work? I would love a referral, obviously, but mostly I just want to see what he thinks. At the same time, I don’t want to damage our relationship. What’s your advice?

Dear Conscientious Writer,

This is an important question and I suspect every author will have their own unique take on it. Many of my clients report that they get approached regularly by other writers who want an agent referral, and most agented and/or published authors frequently get approached by writers who want their opinion, advice, or feedback. It gets overwhelming for them at times, but I know for the most part, they’re kind and considerate and want to help, so they usually try their best to do so.

The problem with asking authors for feedback is that you put them in a no-win situation. They’re not in the business of assessing manuscript saleability, so they may love your book or they may hate it, but either way, they still might not have any idea whether it’s viable in today’s market. Plus, what if they don’t like it? Things would then become quite awkward, as they try to figure out how to tell the truth, which might ruin your friendship, or lie which could be equally damaging to the relationship.

It seems to me the best approach would be not to ask. Wait until the fact that you’re a writer comes up in conversation naturally. Then you could throw something in like, “I’ve finished my manuscript and now I’m in the place where I need some outside input, but it’s hard to find qualified readers. Do you have any advice for me? How did you get feedback on your work before you were published?”

That way, the author is free to offer to read your book, but they don’t feel pressured. As someone who has lots of experience working with authors, I can tell you they feel pressured all the time and while they may want to help, it’s not always realistic for them to do so; in addition, they worry about hurting friendships by being put in a difficult position.

It’s better to search for a critique partner or group. That way you have people who have already volunteered to give feedback on your work.

But I’d like to put this question to my blog readers. Perhaps we can get some perspective and good advice from those who’ve been there.

Readers? What are your thoughts? Published authors, your perspective is especially valuable so chime in. Thanks!

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Anonymous on May 11, 2011 at 11:08 PM

    >I think that Whitney is exactly right. In general, I am not going to ask someone for a favor or a service I can't return. Asking doctors for a diagnosis when you run into them socially, asking a handy guy to come over and install some shelves, asking a published author to critique your work–people do all of these things all the time, but asking for someone's time and skill when you have nothing to offer in return is an imposition. Hinting lightly to see if they offer, there's nothing wrong with that. But I wouldn't push.

    I'd say, if you need perspective, read the best books in your genre, all the time. Pick up Self Editing for the Fiction Writer, and Stephen King's On Writing (even if you don't like his stuff). Read good agent blogs.

  2. Whitney Bailey on May 10, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    >A point that I don't think has been touched on: the writer is expecting a normally costly service (editing) to be given for free. If you are truly seeking a unbiased opinion, that's what paid freelance editors are for. Critique groups and partners work because all parties are "paying" for the critique by providing at least on of their own. Asking a writer for a critique and offering nothing in return is (to me) akin to asking a maid to come clean your house on her day off.

  3. Beth on May 10, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    >A critique group is absolutely imperative. I don’t know how I would get along without the two that I’m in. (I’m in two because of two different types of writing that I do.) They have helped me identify weaknesses and strengths, and that objective viewpoint has tremendous value. Plus, I get a chance to see their works and offer input too. Go with the critique group!!!

  4. Shelly Goodman Wright on May 10, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    >A good critique group is so valuable. Not only do you get a critique from someone who does not know you, but you also get feedback on how or what to change.

  5. Peter DeHaan on May 10, 2011 at 7:24 AM

    >In my vocation, I am often viewed as an “expert” for that industry. I am frequently approached by people wanting my advice. Although I want to be helpful, I have learned two things: 1) these people generally don’t have a basic understanding of what they are asking and 2) they don’t want to hear or follow what I have to say. Their constant queries become so overwhelming and repetitive that I actually set up a Website to refer them to.This is for a small industry, so I can imagine that it is much more intense for writers.

  6. RobynBradley on May 10, 2011 at 6:16 AM

    >This is one of the reasons why I think most MFA programs have it wrong: authors don’t necessarily make good writing teachers or editors. I’ve often said the programs should get book editors to teach courses and guide students with their theses.

  7. Marleen Gagnon on May 10, 2011 at 5:49 AM

    >I believe all authors want to know what a published author thinks of their work. But they have a life too and I respect them for all they have to do. Finding a critique group that gives honest feedback is hard. I have a couple people I know who can help me with a critique.

  8. Claude Nougat on May 10, 2011 at 4:52 AM

    >Excellent post as always and the obvious course of action is not to bother writers. Perhaps asking for them to read the opening chapter (provided it’s good and short!) might be a good idea.What I think does NOT work is to join a crit group. That’s good to improve your writing abilities but of no use at all to obtain what the bookstore owner you mention was actually seeking: a recommendation…

  9. Taz on May 9, 2011 at 11:22 PM

    >I have had an author of 30 published novels read my first ever novel (2002) and her feedback was that she liked it and liked the way I handled the conversations between characters because her feeling was this this can be hard to tackle as a writer. Her feedback was very encouraging and she also suggested a genre where I might find my niche. Still I was hungry for more critique.Last year I hinted to a different author to read something of mine but she didn’t take the hint so I refused to push because if her life is anything like mine, there’s nothing worse than having more apples added to the basket already overflowing, and since she is pretty well known and we do occasionally correspond, I didn’t want to take advantage or have her feel like I was. Yet she is very open to answering my Q’s and giving advice, which I appreciate SO much.This is good training for when I’m in her shoes, and I’d rather she say no if that’s the honest answer. Having said that, after more than 10 novels I finally feel like I’ve got what it takes! That’s huge, and the encouragement helps keep me there from the guys and gals who’ve gone before. They are in the position we hope to achieve, and it is more than nice to have their advice, no matter how great or small.

  10. Rittle on May 9, 2011 at 11:16 PM

    >Asking a published novelist friend of mine for advice has probably never crossed my mind…I tend to ask my friends who know the proper use of grammar and enjoy reading. I tried to use as broad a group of friends as possible to get the most diverse suggestions and comments as possible. 🙂

  11. Jeff and Mary Johnson on May 9, 2011 at 10:04 PM

    >Because all writers have a time problem–too much to do and too little time in which to do it–I would not ask a published author to read my writing and comment. But I do sometimes ask other writers and agents for their advice on things that can be explained quickly on my part and answered quickly on theirs. My own agent became my agent because someone I’d once asked for some other type of advice referred me to her.

  12. girlseeksplace on May 9, 2011 at 9:29 PM

    >I don’t know any published authors, so it’s kind of a moot point for me. However, I can see where someone might want a published author to read their work, to earn that seal of approval from someone who has been there, done that.

  13. Susie M Finkbeiner on May 9, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    >I agree with Phoenix. I think it is unfortunate that many on this thread think that newbies only want a gold star from published writers. It's simply not true.

    I think, however, that one needs to inspect the way in which they critique another. Perhaps a little mercy and consideration (be nice when you tell someone that their story isn't good). Remember what it was once like to be unpublished and swimming in the slush pile.

  14. Phoenix Sullivan on May 9, 2011 at 7:18 PM

    >Oh my. I feel incredibly fortunate that of all the honest crits I've done on my blog and privately and for short stories for an anthology, I have ONLY ever gotten lovely, respectful letters (emails) of thanks. And many, many of those who've gotten critiques come back for another round or two.

    Maybe I just run with an incredible group of writers who really do want honest feedback and know how to respond politely. I'm quite amazed that the perception here is that MOST writers only want compliments and not real crits. I'm normally a hugely cynical person when it comes to people in general, but my own experience doesn't bear out this bias. I'm really quite saddened that it seems to be the norm elsewhere.

  15. Louise Curtis on May 9, 2011 at 6:31 PM

    >I'm sorry to say that unless they're someone you were friends with before you knew they were a writer – it's rude. (The only exception is if they want a service from you that is usually paid – such as landscaping their house or medical treatment – in which case the suggestion of a trade of services may be useful. Unpublished first-timer edits are not worth the same as published-author edits, either.)

    I AM an unpublished writer, and I STILL get people I've never met asking me to edit their story (or NOVEL!?!?!) all the time. What is even more offenseive is that 90% of people DON'T want critiques – they want compliments, and/or an "in" to publishing. Many get angry when they hear a negative response. This is the same reason most agents and publishers give form rejections – because too many writers react unprofessionally to honesty.

    Maybe you could ask the writer acquaintance for a blurb if you're accepted for mainstream publication AND you're in a similar genre. And you treat it as a business favour, with room for them to say no.

    Go to an online critique group and volunteer to read someone else's unpublished novel. Then you'll understand the extremity of what you're asking.

    Louise Curtis

  16. Larry Carney on May 9, 2011 at 4:12 PM

    >Bah, being too busy penning the next Great American Novel, I merely tell them to bug off and go back to scribbling on the walls of their cave with the rest of the great, unwashed masses. Oh, how I hold my nose at those who stink up the party with the notion (how dare they!) that someone who has accomplished something in the industry might want to feign a look at their cocktail napkins scrawled with crude, illiterate markings!

    When that is the idea that new writers have of the majority of authors, I think we will no longer be an industry that is open to new voices, good stories, and most importantly, more readers.

    There have been some great suggestions about how new writers can get feedback on their work, but there are limits to each; some may even be harmful to new writers. For example a critique group is all and good, but if it is comprised of people who have never been published, how does that help a writer determine if they have written something that is worth submitting to an agent? And what if in this group of writers there are some really terrible suggestions that the writer incorporates into their WIP?

    Agents are no longer able to give detailed reasons for most writers on why their work was declined, nor do most new writers have personal relationships with editors at publishing houses.

    For many new writers, the costs of attending writers conferences prohibit them from attending.

    Simply put, published authors are pretty much the only people in the industry who a new writer might approach who can give the sort of feedback which can truly help them craft something that people might want to read. Rachelle gives some great pointers about how to do so with tact, but it is up to the one being asked to respond with grace.

    While not asking every author to be an unpaid editor, what I am hoping is that as an industry we find a way to help the new generation of talent be able to do what we all want: to tell stories that touch us, and hopefully others.

  17. Larry Carney on May 9, 2011 at 4:12 PM

    >Bah, being too busy penning the next Great American Novel, I merely tell them to bug off and go back to scribbling on the walls of their cave with the rest of the great, unwashed masses. Oh, how I hold my nose at those who stink up the party with the notion (how dare they!) that someone who has accomplished something in the industry might want to feign a look at their cocktail napkins scrawled with crude, illiterate markings!

    When that is the idea that new writers have of the majority of authors, I think we will no longer be an industry that is open to new voices, good stories, and most importantly, more readers.

    There have been some great suggestions about how new writers can get feedback on their work, but there are limits to each; some may even be harmful to new writers. For example a critique group is all and good, but if it is comprised of people who have never been published, how does that help a writer determine if they have written something that is worth submitting to an agent? And what if in this group of writers there are some really terrible suggestions that the writer incorporates into their WIP?

    Agents are no longer able to give detailed reasons for most writers on why their work was declined, nor do most new writers have personal relationships with editors at publishing houses.

    For many new writers, the costs of attending writers conferences prohibit them from attending.

    Simply put, published authors are pretty much the only people in the industry who a new writer might approach who can give the sort of feedback which can truly help them craft something that people might want to read. Rachelle gives some great pointers about how to do so with tact, but it is up to the one being asked to respond with grace.

    While not asking every author to be an unpaid editor, what I am hoping is that as an industry we find a way to help the new generation of talent be able to do what we all want: to tell stories that touch us, and hopefully others.

  18. Amber Argyle on May 9, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    >I try to post answers to writer questions on my blog. So I usually ask them if they've looked through it to see if I've already answered it.

    As a side note, I had a writer ask me a long list of questions. I took a lot of time to write out my thoughts on a blog post. Only to have the writer ask me similiar questions later; I asked if he'd read the post I wrote specifically for him. He hadn't. I was way bugged. I'd messaged him about the post, and he couldn't even take the time to read it?

    So my advice would be to see if the author has already answered those questions. They'll be much more likely to help you if you show you've already taken the time to research on your own.

  19. Marla Taviano on May 9, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    >I'm a published author, and people ask me pretty often if I'll read their work. I tend to go case-by-case. Usually I'll say, "I'm sorry, but I don't have the time."

    Sometimes I encourage them to find a critique partner. And I ALWAYS point them to your blog, Rachelle.

    Just last week, I did read (skim) someone's WIP and told her honestly (if not vaguely) that I liked her writing style but that her life story/memoir wasn't going to sell since she's not a celebrity/doesn't have a platform.

    I try not to feel annoyed when people assume I have all kinds of free time to read their work. The truth is that I have a to-do/write list sixty miles long and not enough time in my day EVER. Sigh.

  20. Cheryl St.John on May 9, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    >It's most often uncomfortable to be asked to read a manuscript or a partial. Many many times I offer if I know the person or have developed a relationship, but a request out of the blue from an acquaintance seems desperate and, well, rude.

    I mind less being asked for a quote for an upcoming release.

  21. Joanne@ Blessed... on May 9, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    >Great Post! As a soon-to-be author, all of a sudden people are intersted in my critiques.

    What I've found is that for the most part, they seem excited to have an author look over their work but aren't really up for what I have to share.

    When I suggest a critique group, they have seemed taken aback. But, how in the world will we get better if we don't actively practice our craft and put it before even the smallest of audiences.

    What I've been telling people now is that I'll give something a read-through at my convenience, but that I'll only give my personal feedback. Thankfully, as a nonfiction writer we aren't always desired by the fiction crowd.

    So, that gets me off the hook most of the time!

  22. Anonymous on May 9, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    >The question itself is a little confused. Conscientious Writer is asking for a critique, but what she wants is a referral.

    As a published writer, I get asked for critiques. But the writer never really wants a critique, she wants to be told if she's "good enough". Silly question. None of us is good enough.

    I no longer do critiques except for friends. It ain't worth the grief. And, as another writer mentioned, the likelihood that someone will accuse me of stealing their idea is another reason. All those lawsuits against J.K. Rowling have been a real disservice to unpublished writers in that way.

    CW may wonder how, without asking, she'll ever get published. The answer is (and this is the publishing industry's best-kept secret) you don't actually have to know somebody to get published.

    But I agree w/Rachelle: CW should just mention that she writes, and let the author take it from there.

  23. Wendy Lawton on May 9, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    >A word to published authors about that referral to your agent: Don't offer this lightly. When we get a referral from one of our clients, that manuscript goes to the top of our to-do list. We assume the client referring has read the manuscript and believe it's perfect for us. If we keep getting so-so stuff from a client, it makes us begin to worry about that client's taste and critical eye. We start subconsciously discounting referrals from him.

  24. Sue Harrison on May 9, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    >My agent told me NOT to read unpublished novels (for my own protection against copyright lawsuits). That gives me an honest reason to say no, and most writers understand. Like Kerry Dexter, I'm still open to reading queries.

    Now I recommend Rachelle's Blog to any author who asks for help.

  25. kerry dexter on May 9, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    >when asked, I offer to read the person's query letter rather than his or her manuscript.

  26. Margo Kelly on May 9, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    >Great post – and helpful comments! This has been a question in the back of my mind for awhile now. Thank you for addressing it.

  27. Jill on May 9, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    >As an unpubbed author, I don't know if it's pride or courtesy or fear that prevents me from asking for help from a pubbed author. Probably a little of each. After reading this, I'd hesitate even more now to ask for this kind of help. I wish I were braver/shameless/a different person because it seems good things often come to those who have "no idea" when they commit social blunders.

  28. Michelle DeRusha@Graceful on May 9, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    >Well I admit, I committed the big faux pas and asked a published writer to look at my proposal and/or ms. In my defense, I'd been reading her blog for more than a year, and we'd had a few email exchanges, so I felt like we had at least somewhat of a relationship. I know it was asking a lot, but I am so very glad I did. She graciously agreed to take a look and when she liked the writing, she then offered to refer me to her agent.

    That said, I absolutely agree that Rachelle's advice is the best approach overall. I've also had a few experiences in which I overstepped my bounds, and it didn't end quite as positively (like the time I emailed Jon Acuff to see if he would guest post on my blog, which had about 4.5 readers! He was wonderfully gracious, but in retrospect, what a dorky thing for me to ask!! I am still completely mortified when I think about it!).

  29. Marybeth on May 9, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    >As a published author juggling kids and commitments, it's truly a matter of time that keeps me from being able to read for other people. When I know a friend is getting started with writing, I typically refer her to websites and books that were helpful to me. I also can't say enough about going to writing conferences. Those paid critiques are great ways to get your stuff read. I also submitted my novel in a workshop setting at a conference and it helped a lot. I can confidently send my friends/acquaintances in the same direction I once went in because I was pleased with where I ended up!

  30. katdish on May 9, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    >I think what you recommend is a great approach, allowing the author to offer help. I would also agree there needs to a be a relationship already established before that conversation takes place. As a website administrator, I've been pretty taken aback by some of the bold requests I've seen from hopeful writers (via the contact form on the site). I admire their determination, but if I've learned anything from my glimpse into the world of publishing, it's that all those shortcuts and lucky breaks other writers seem to have are more about hard work, talent and determination than they are about luck.

  31. Jacqueline Windh on May 9, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    >First of all, anyone who asks anyone for advice (and expects any honesty in the responses) has to be prepared for negative answers. Which might be:
    – no, I'm sorry, I don't have time to take a look at your work, or
    – no, I'm sorry, I don't think you have much of a chance of getting this published.
    In both cases, the asker should appreciate the honesty.

    Basically, for me, I would feel very put-on-the-spot with this request unless it came from a close friend. Not just an acquaintance. Friends do favours – and usually return then. (e.g. this week I have asked a good friend to help me with some publishing advice – but I am also offering to treat her to lunch while we have our chat).

    But if the author you want to ask is not a good friend, I agree with Rachelle's advice: Don't ask. Hint around, e.g. "I've finished the manuscript, I am not sure where to submit it etc. etc…" And it is even OK if you make it very obvious that you are hinting.

    The author can choose to pick up on that or not. They may offer. But it keeps both of you out of that awkward situation where you ask straight-out, and then the author says a flat-out "No."

    And, as others have said: Do your homework. What drives me up the wall is all of the people who come to me for advice, much of which I learned on my own from blogs such as Rachelle's and many more. I've put a lot of time into learning this business, and I definitely do not want to put more into teaching you because you are too lazy to do it yourself!

  32. Tana Adams on May 9, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    >If I ran into this I would agree to look over the manuscript and refer them to a list of free lance editors for the rest. If it's family or friends it's hard to say no. Or I'll tell them the truth, which is, I'm too swamped!

  33. Carrie Schmeck on May 9, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    >I recently told a fellow writer I would be happy to review his query rather than his transcript. It took much less time and might make the difference whether an agent ever gets to the manuscript or not.

  34. Lorraine on May 9, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    >Goodreads is the place to go. It is frequented by readers as well as writers and they will do reviews and critiques on there.
    Anyone wanting help and advice could try that or one of the writing sites like Authonomy, Book Country or Slush Pile Reader.
    It is through Authonomy that I got an agent and also improved my writing tremendously, but you do have to ignore the gushing and the spam sadly.
    Good luck, Lorraine

  35. Noelle Pierce on May 9, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    >I love how you phrased it, Rachelle! (I would have seriously botched it, if I tried to approach a pubbed author). I have several people I speak with regularly on FB and Twitter who are published, and several I've met in person at conferences or through my RWA chapter. At my chapter, I entered a critique workshop and contests and got feedback that way, and through the workshop, a published author offered to read more of my work (she was also a judge for the contest and remembered my other story after visiting my website). The others, well, I haven't asked simply because I know they're busy and I get feedback from other avenues.

    I'm not willing to strain a friendship with someone, especially because there are tons of people out there who would take advantage of the acquaintance. I won't be one of them, and I don't want to be in the position of them viewing me as such.

  36. Kelly Combs on May 9, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    >My friend has a "great idea" for a book. Problem is she isn't a writer, so she wants me to write it with her, a la Jenkins/La Haye. She's already contacted a publisher! Yikes! I'm trying to help her understand the writing process, but she thinks we could have it out by Christmas. haha.

    So I'm stuck being the bad guy and raining on her dreams – when really I'm just being realistic.

    I agree with your advice to join a writers group, and not put the published writer in the position to have to be a bad guy.

  37. Joel Heffner on May 9, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    >If you like it, everyone is happy. If you don't like it…. Some folks can't take criticism. Some take it personally. Personally, I'd prefer not to read another writer's work. I prefer to leave that to professionals.

  38. Colleen Coble on May 9, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    >Absolutely perfect advice, Rachelle! It's much better if it develops naturally and the author feels a connection to offer to help someone who writes something he/she is proficient with.

  39. Julie Jarnagin on May 9, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    >When people ask me about writing, I give them information about joining writing groups, critique groups, reading craft books, etc. I find that those who are serious about writing usually follow my advice, and at that point, I'd be happy to read their work. Others act a little irritated and ignore me. This can be a signal that they're looking for a shortcut, and I'm not nearly as eager to read their work.

  40. Michael Offutt on May 9, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    >I think I would hate to have a published author read my work as an assignment. It wouldn't be an objective read, it would be a critical analysis comparing it to how they like things to sound in their head and the words that the use. I think it is just asking to have more voices in your head than you need. Just my opinion.

  41. Ishta Mercurio on May 9, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    >I hate asking published authors for feedback, so I never do it. And I even hate it when they offer, even though I'm also grateful – because then I feel in favor debt, and they'll always be more experienced than me, so it feels like a debt I can never repay. And I hate that feeling, too.

    I stick with my crit group, and with paid critiques from professionals (at conferences, workshops, etc.).

  42. karenranney on May 9, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    >I've been published for sixteen years now (26 books) and have never been asked to read a manuscript.

    I don't know what I would do if asked. Probably politely decline, because time is always a factor with me.

  43. Pam Halter on May 9, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    >I agree with your advice, Rachelle.

    What I've experienced is a little different because I am also a freelance editor and I am also on the editorial staff for two independant publishing houses. I only do children's books, but I have been approached by people who write novels. What most people don't realize is the time it takes to stop the work you do have to read their manuscript. Especially if they only want to hear how wonderful their manuscript is. It takes discernment on my part to decide if reading and giving my opinion is something I should do. I've had people who wanted my expertise for free (thereby asking only for my "opinion" and not asking my editing fee) and people who genuinely wanted to work to make their writing stronger.

    Before I was published, I joined a writers' group and attended conferences. There are opportunities to have authors, editors and agents read your stuff at a conference.

    But I also agree that if you have established a friendship and you feel comfortable asking, go ahead and ask. However, if the author turns you down, make sure you don't react negatively. It's probably not personal.

  44. Erica Vetsch on May 9, 2011 at 9:18 AM

    >I tend to direct people to critique groups and writing contests to get feedback on their work.

    And I try to give back to the writing community by coordinating and judging in writing contests. The guidelines/boundaries of a contest entry are clear-cut. I know what to expect, and so does the contestant.

  45. Matt Morton on May 9, 2011 at 9:03 AM

    >I think the answer depends on the strength of one's relationship with the author, and the way in which a person asks and receives input. Some of my best feedback early in my writing process came from a good friend who was also a published author. But I'd known him for 10 years in a different capacity — my first contact (or even 2nd or 3rd contact) with him wasn't to ask him for this favor.

    I did tell myself ahead of time that I would humbly listen to his input, even if I disagreed. In addition, I gave him as much time as he needed to read it without pressuring him for a response.

    It was a great experience for both of us, and he's continued to be a valuable mentor. Each person has to consider the relationship for themselves, I think.

  46. Erin MacPherson on May 9, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    >Hi Rachelle! This is a great post because I've been asked SEVERAL times recently for "feedback" and a few times for a "referral". I didn't know what to say! Recently, a friend asked me to read her MS and honestly, I wasn't a big fan. She asked me for a referral and I told her I wasn't comfortable making a referral until she had been to some writer's conferences and gotten some other feedback. She said "well, maybe I'll just query and use your name". Gulp! Anyway, this is great advice but I'd love advice on what authors should do when approached for feedback/referrals, especially if, like you said, we're not qualified to determine the saleability of a book.

  47. Emma Cunningham on May 9, 2011 at 8:17 AM

    >If the professional author writes similar fiction, it might be tempting to ask. BUT if they happen to be working on a storyline that is similar to yours, they could be opening themselves up to a lawsuit. Safer for their career if they say no.

  48. Rogue on May 9, 2011 at 7:18 AM

    >well what i think is that let it come up in a conversation and if the author agrees to read it don't take it personally if he hates it. Ask them instead what they didn't like about? and how can you make it better? but there are tons of websites out there for writer's like Authornation, Livejournal, or Writersbox, who have writer's looking for work to read. Authornation (my personal favorite) the writer's i met there have given me great feedback on my work. You should give them a try.

  49. Joan Dempsey, Literary Living on May 9, 2011 at 7:15 AM

    >I like to have a short list of people who DO read and provide feedback on manuscripts so I have someone handy to refer people to – this often works out really well.

  50. Richard Mabry on May 9, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    >Rachelle, I think your advice is sound, and I've tried to follow it when I was on both sides of being published. The last time I agreed to read and critique a manuscript by someone I thought was a friend wasn't a pleasant experience for either of us.

  51. Jerry Eicher on May 9, 2011 at 7:08 AM

    >I have been asked several times for feedback, and did so willingly, but for some reason giving advice didn't work. It might be me, or perhaps the writers didn't need what I had to offer. The only success I have had was when I approached a good friend of mine, Ira Wagler about submitting his blog material to my publisher. But that was because I was impressed with his writing. My publisher turned down his submission, because it wasn't suitable for their publishing house, but he went on to get an agent through that contact and will be published by Tyndale this fall. "Growing up Amish". It should be an excellent read.

  52. Timothy Fish on May 9, 2011 at 7:04 AM

    >I think that’s terrible advice. I occasionally receive requests for advice. Usually, it comes in the form of a question much like the one you suggest, “I’ve finished my manuscript, do you have any advice for me?” It would never occur to me to offer to read the manuscript when the question comes, even though I might be willing to, because I don’t want them to take me up on it just because I suggested it. I would much rather get specific questions so I know what the other person wants. I may be forced to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m unable to do that at this time,” but at least I know what they want.

    If the author is specific about what she is asking, I’m more likely to answer in the way she wants because it takes less time to address a specific question than a general request for advice. The best approach is to word your request in such a way that it is easy for the author to give you the answers you want, rather than having to guess.

  53. R.S. Bohn on May 9, 2011 at 6:51 AM

    >What an entirely graceful way to handle the situation.

  54. Rondi Olson on May 9, 2011 at 6:47 AM

    >The best place to get professional feedback on manuscripts is at writer's conferences.

    Published authors, agents and editors also sometimes donate their time to charities. There are two great auctions going on right now, and Granted, auctions can get pricey but it's for a good cause!

    Please don't expect someone to read your entire manuscript for free. If they offer it's one thing, but you wouldn't ask a doctor to do surgery on you for free or a lawyer to try a case for nothing. A good manuscript evaluation takes many hours, days of work. When you ask someone to read your manuscript you're asking a lot.

  55. Lynne Connolly on May 9, 2011 at 6:41 AM

    >The RNA New Writers' Scheme is the best thing out there, IMO. So good, in fact, that it's usually full by the end of January! (membership in the RNA runs January to December).
    If the first reader loves it, they can send it for a second read, and then, if the second reader thinks it's brilliant, the RNA can send it to an agent or publishers, on the author's behalf.

    Anyway, I was going to say that sometimes it's not a published author you need. For your first crit, it's often best to seek out your peers, who aren't going to crush you with their comments. It's hard to take the criticism, if you have a way to go, and sometimes it's best to take each issue one by one, and use that book as a learning exercise.
    On the other hand, you might be a phoenix, rising fully formed, but, sadly, like the bird itself, they are extremely rare.

  56. Anonymous on May 9, 2011 at 6:41 AM

    >Don't ask. You are not asking them if they like your work, you are asking them for validation. Ultimately, if they hate your book, or think you're not ready, you don't want them to tell you the truth anyway.

    You should never ask anyone a completely loaded question like this. It's the, "Does this dress make my butt look big?" question.

    "No, your butt looks fine…fine."

  57. Katie Ganshert on May 9, 2011 at 6:32 AM

    >I definitely am a fan of waiting for somebody to offer. I never asked a published author to review my work. I had a really cool opportunity after submitting my stuff into the Genesis contest. One of the judges/coordinators really liked my writing and offered to mentor/critique me. We are still critique partners today and I am 100% certain I wouldn't have a contract right now if she hadn't taken the time to rip apart (in a completely awesome, awesome way) my book and help me rewrite the beginning.

    Another awkward and similar situation (that you and the lovely Keli Gwyn helped me with) is asking for endorsers. Only then, you can't wait until people offer. You have to actually ASK them if they'd review your book for a possible endorsement. Which is all kinds of awkward for the reasons you mentioned above – authors are busy people.

  58. Wendy Paine Miller on May 9, 2011 at 6:32 AM

    >I agree, this is really cool when it happens naturally. I’ve felt deeply grateful for friends who have offered to read my work and in some cases for those who’ve surprised me on this topic.

    This is something I’m sensitive about because I feel strongly about protecting my friendships.

    And I love all of Adam’s points!

    From another conscientious writer,

  59. Catherine West on May 9, 2011 at 6:27 AM

    >I think it depends on the situation. If the person is a friend and I feel like I want to help them out, I'll probably take the time to read the manuscript with the warning that I'll be totally honest about it. I'm newly published and I am already learning how vital it is to guard my time. Reading someone else's unpublished work is time consuming, especially if it isn't that good. That's where it can get awkward. I've also been asked a couple of times already to read a book for 'review' – not even in the genre I write – so I have to explain that I'm probably not the best person for that job! I do think people need to be wise in who they ask help from, especially if it is for an endorsement. I was very fortunate to have a multi-published author show interest in my book before it was published and if that happens to you, be very grateful!! The help she gave me was invaluable, and so awesome of her to be that interested, so if you're waiting for that kind of opportunity it can happen, but personally I never would have come up to her and asked her to read my manuscript. She offered. Because I have received so much help from authors along the way, I'm probably more inclined to reach out and do the same, but again you can't say yes to everyone and it's hard saying no!!

  60. Rosemary Gemmell on May 9, 2011 at 4:10 AM

    >I've never asked a published author for any kind of critique on my work, but I did enter the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writer Scheme (in the UK) where I received an excellent professional critique on two of my novels for the price of membership.

    Before my first novel was even published last week, but as a well-published short story writer and sometimes adjudicator, I was asked by two people I didn't know (through mutual friends) if I would look at the beginning of their novel. I was astonished that they would trust even that to me and said so (just so they're aware that others might not be so careful of their ideas).

    Anyway, I scanned through the two pieces (obviously very different in the experience they had). But I made it clear I could only look at the first chapter (if it was finished) and that I wasn't an expert on this. But I said what I thought (kindly) as a reader, and gave them lots of resources to check out for themselves. I also suggested a couple of very good literary Authors Advisory Services I know, where they ould pay to have a very professional critique. They were delighted I had taken time to respond and were even more delighted with all the follow on adresses and writing magazines I suggested.

  61. A3Writer on May 9, 2011 at 3:22 AM

    >Alan Rinzler had this same topic a while back, found here. I think that as long as you are respectful and make it clear that the author is free to say no, can it really hurt?

    Yes, authors may not know the saleability, but don't many agents take on more referral clients than those from queries? The potential benefits are game changing.

  62. Anonymous on May 9, 2011 at 3:02 AM

    >I have been spared this so far…perhaps because I don't really know any other hopeful writers. Being asked to critique someone's work would be easier than what I have had though…within two days of my book coming out I had a group of strangers arriving at my door like pilgrims, and a young lady inviting me to move in with her.

  63. Phoenix Sullivan on May 9, 2011 at 1:41 AM

    >What good is cultivating contacts if you don't actually tap them at need? I approached a NYT Bestseller author with a no-blurb policy to ask for a blurb. She very graciously agreed to read the book, then not only granted the blurb but was impressed enough with the writing to offer on her own to refer my next manuscript to her agent, who generally only works with established authors and doesn't accept unsolicited queries.

    The bookseller who poses the question has established a business relationship with this author. He's cultivating a relationship that's beneficial for him (numerous booksignings), so why should it be inappropriate for the bookseller to approach him for a favor in return? I'd like to ask the bookseller if she truly believes the author wasn't using her in the beginning. Great that they established a rapport, but did he strike up a friendship because he simply liked her or because she could help get him signings?

    Be prepared to accept "no," but simply ask politely and directly, letting the author know exactly what you want from them and let them take it from there.

  64. Adam Heine on May 9, 2011 at 1:08 AM

    >I actually have gotten a referral, but not because I was looking for it. My method:

    1) Be friends with people–published or not–without caring what they can do for you.

    2) Critique other authors' manuscripts (again, whether they are published or not) without caring whether they can critique yours in return. In fact, assume they won't. (This is part of being a friend, btw).

    3) Once you're friends with someone, it's much easier to ask whether they'll look at your manuscript. But treat it like the huge favor that it is (critting an unpublished novel is a lot of work!). Be very, very nice, and make it clear that you understand if they can't do it (i.e. give them an out). It's hard to go overboard on this.

    4) Don't ask for a referral. If they love it and think their agent will too, they'll probably tell you. If you think they're not but could be, still don't ask for a referral. Instead, ask if they think it would be a good fit for their agent.

    The bottom line, in my opinion, is that the friendship is far more important than any referral. If your book is good enough, it'll find a home. Otherwise, a referral can only get you a quicker rejection (at best) or lose you a friend (at worst). Not worth it.

  65. Mary Ann on May 9, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    >So, I clicked "submit" too quickly.

    On the other hand, if I really know a writer and he/she is serious about getting my help, I'm willing to spend as many hours as I have available.

    After all, I sometimes need help, too.

  66. Jordan McCollum on May 8, 2011 at 11:58 PM

    >Oh, and I should add, as noted above, these friends were all published in the genre and the same market as I was targeting.

  67. Jordan McCollum on May 8, 2011 at 11:56 PM

    >A critique group is absolutely the best starting place. Contests can also give useful feedback (or not; I've had good and bad experiences).

    I'm not published, but I find it really disheartening when I'm entering a new critique relationship, when someone says to me, "I just want to know whether I'm any good, or should quit now." It's just not the right attitude!

    K, all that said, I *have* asked published authors to read my work, and they have accepted (or turned me down). I had a contest win they knew about, but more importantly, we were friends and had been for a long time. Here's how I asked them, after a social email and fully letting them know where I was with this MS: "I know you're busy, but would you have the time to give feedback on my manuscript?" I detailed what kind of feedback I needed–just high level, but I'd take any notes they saw fit to give. And I gave them a long deadline (I was having a baby the next week, so I had literally months, in case they had an opening any time soon). I also tried to make it absolutely NO pressure–no reason to feel bad at all if they were too busy with family/career.

    Two of my friends said yes, and one said no (and we're still great friends–just talked to her yesterday!).

    Good luck!

  68. Mary Ann on May 8, 2011 at 11:53 PM

    >I've not been published much. I have been asked to read other people's work. I'm generally willing to read a chapter and offer general comments. I don't like to give a close edit because usually the people who've asked me really don't want one. They want someone to say, "Oh, how wonderful."

    If they want more than general feedback, I suggest they join our city's writers' group and then find one of our sponsored critique groups.

    Doing more than that is a lose-lose proposition for both the established writer and the beginner.

  69. Happy on May 8, 2011 at 11:44 PM

    >wow. I'm one of the first people to comment! woohoo!

    Just recently a published author in the genre I write offered to read the first 50 pages of my manuscript. I had been following her blog and we had emailed back and forth a bit etc… It was when I updated her on the status of my query process (lots of interest/requests but no takers yet) she VERY generously offered to take a look and help me spot any potential red flag areas in my MS that might be the problem. Of course I never ever expected this and accepted the offer with huge gratitude!

    I have to say that it has been the BEST and most helpful advice I have received in my writing career. It was also the most blunt and harsh. 🙂 (Thankfully she started off with what a good writer I was, because she then proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms that my plot structure was completely off!) Since then I have done all of the homework she gave me- the first of which was to read James Scott Bell's PLOT AND STRUCTURE-( I hight recommend btw)

    I think getting involved in the writing community is what's important. Putting oneself out there without expectations–supporting blogs and sharing information with others, etc.. all of these things lead to a better understanding of writing as an art and as a business. Critique groups and partners will lead to learning and growing and more friends who will help you along the path, as you help them too…

  70. Ilima Loomis on May 8, 2011 at 11:42 PM

    >I'm also a published author and full-time journalist and I love to help young and aspiring writers whenever I can. I think Rachelle's suggested approach is a great one because it shows great sensitivity and professionalism. Whether or not the person reads your work, you'll have made a good impression.

  71. Susie M Finkbeiner on May 8, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    >I made the rookie mistake of asking a published author to read a bit of my manuscript. The problem was that she wrote a VERY different kind of fiction than I do.

    She hated my writing…everything about it. And she wasn't so kind about it.

    Because of that, I decided that I'd rather work with my editor friend and writing group, thank you very much. They point out problems in a loving and constructive way.


  72. Matt Mikalatos on May 8, 2011 at 11:30 PM

    >I'm a published author, and I love helping people out if I can. I never mind people asking, especially if they have relationship with me and have done their homework (i.e. they aren't asking me questions that a single internet search would have easily answered). And by "relationship with me" I just mean that I have some sort of context for knowing them, even just as acquaintances.

    The biggest problem, honestly, is that I don't have the time to do it quickly. I have a full time job and write in my "free" time. Which means that your manuscript is at the bottom of a growing pile of things that I won't get to until the guilt gets to be too much.

    Second problem is that a lot of times people write in genres I don't read, so my advice is going to be pretty basic.

    I'll tell you what I really dislike… when someone asks me to read their manuscript and then (when I finally get around to it) send me an email explaining why all my advice is wrong.

    So, for me, I don't mind being asked so long as you understand that (a) I want to help and (b) I'm going to be slower than a critique group or agent or publisher. I wish that wasn't the case….

  73. Susy on May 8, 2011 at 11:16 PM

    >I love that Bookstore Owner is conscientious and is considering her approach with care and forethought. Blessings to her! As an author with 4 books under my belt, I do often get approached by aspiring authors. Most want a word or two of advice or have a burning question. Some want more, but my stock advice is often to direct them to a writers conference. But, if someone approaches in a thoughtful and polite manner, I'd have no problem reading a chapter and responding with a general impression and a suggestion or two. I think it's rather exciting; I'd love to uncover a diamond in the rough! However, I'd rather not be asked to read a whole manuscript. Only for a close friend or colleague would I be able to invest that amount of time and energy.

  74. Kimmy on May 8, 2011 at 11:08 PM

    >I've been told by published authors that they often answer this question by saying they are not allowed to read or comment on other writer's work because of their agent/editor/contract/whatever to get themselves out of the situation. I think it's better to join a crit group or find some beta readers to avoid placing authors in an awkward situation.