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Why I Won’t Read Your Book Manuscript For Free

I recently got an email much like this:

Anne! I have written a book. I have no money to invest in publishing it and I do not wish to give it away. Are you able to help me determine if it has merit? Thanks in advance for your consideration.

I did respond with a link to my coaching services and I wasn’t a bit surprised that I didn’t hear from the person again. I think I also suggested putting together a book proposal and looking for either an agent or publisher. Or, if it were fiction, submitting the manuscript to either agents or publishers. I probably should have pointed out I’ve got a whole category about book publishing.
As you might suspect, these kinds of requests happen pretty often and I always either turn them down flat or offer to do it for pay. Here’s why:

It takes time to read a book length manuscript. Most run 40,000-100,000 words. While I may read a suspense novel or mystery in a couple of evenings, those are books that have already gone through a selection and editing process.

I’m not an agent or a publisher. Although I have some pretty good ideas about what makes a book saleable, I’m not making money for the books I read – unless I’m coaching a client.

If your book is awful, and many in manuscript form are, I’ll still feel some sort of obligation to help you fix it – or at least provide some suggestions.
When I have read a book for free I’ve often found myself in an argument with the writer – because they hate what I’ve told them and instead of fixing the book they want to endlessly discuss it with me or prove to me I’m wrong.

I doubt that people who make this kind of request really understand what they’re asking. They see me and other writers with websites, as professionals but apparently feel it’s okay not to pay us. I suppose there’s not much harm in asking, but I suspect they are asking in hopes of figuring it out for themselves.

Sigh.

On the other hand, if that’s the worst request I ever get I’m not doing badly.

What do you think? How much should a pro be willing to do for free?

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • I would like to know the step-by-step process of approaching it…can you prepare something like that?
    Ron’s SEO Copywriting Blog recently posted..How to Write What People Actually Want to ReadMy Profile

  • Hear hear! Reading work is time- and energy-consuming; it is also WORK, particularly when you’re being asked to give advice or feedback. And I think the people who ‘just want to know if it’s any good’ are often the people who genuinely think writing on the first try is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, never ‘good but could be improved’ or ‘a bit messy but could still be edited into something extraordinary’.

  • Kyllie

    A wonderful post that also begs another question. Yes, don’t do things for free, but I have a website/blog and when people write to tell me they like my writing, they are often asking me if I can go out to coffee. First of all, I never quite know who these people are. Second of all, if I had time to go to coffee — I wouldn’t be able to write a blog. How do you let people down in a kind manner? Or am I actually ruining my “fan base” by not going out to that coffee? Thanks!!

    • Anne

      Kyllie, you must have a bunch of local followers! What do you tell them? Maybe you should have a monthly get-together at some coffee shop for all of them… a no host meeting.

  • I’ve been working as an offline translator since 1995, and I got lots of requests from friends or acquaintances to help them with a short text (1-3 pages). When I was younger, I was eager to help and less tired. Right now, I’d only do it for a very close friend, or in exchange with something they could do for me. You know, the old barter method. And if I was an editor, well, I’d never, ever read a whole book for free. I mean – never!

  • It is sooooo time consuming to read a manuscript with the intent to critique it–totally different than pleasure reading. And if it is part of how you make your living, why should you be expected to do it for free? I get similar requests, with people sometimes just presumptuous enough to send me the manuscript, and it is always difficult to turn people down. But writers need to understand that those of us who make our living writing and coaching simply can’t do a lot of work for free. I usually set myself a limit of accepting one pro bono client every so often, just so I can give back in some small way.
    Charlotte Rains Dixon recently posted..Writing Beginnings: Nanowrimo, Day One, a Story about SometimesMy Profile

    • Anne

      Thanks Charlotte – glad to know I’m not alone!

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