Wannabe Author Syndrome: Cheap, Craven & Conned? How $300 Can Get a Writer a Brutally Honest Manuscript Review
I am so tired of hearing unpublished writers (I won’t call a writer an author until he/she can actually show me a bound book or a buyable online version) wail about not being able to find a literary agent or get published or get readers to buy direct. Last night I practically leapt across a dinner table to throttle a wannabe author because he simply could not or would not absorb what I was telling him—that what he desperately needed was someone to assess his book and let him know if it was good or bad.
Over the main course I listened politely to the very familiar saga of an 80,000 word novel that had taken three years to write and that was destined to turn his life around as soon as his literary genius was revealed to all. Over dessert I nodded encouragingly at the synopsis of the story. Over coffee I braced for what I knew was coming next. Would I read the manuscript?
NO! The answer is NO. I will not read a total stranger’s manuscript. I will not spend hours and hours curled up reading a manuscript or an online book unless I know the writer and for personal reasons want to make the time available to read his book. I consider reading a manuscript, any manuscript, A LOT LIKE WORK.
However, since I had been to this fire before, I was ready. “Thanks,” I said. “I’d love the opportunity, but I’m just too busy to do a manuscript-read justice.” (Long face. Mine and his.) “However,” I suggested, “you have the right idea. It would be an excellent move to have a few friends read the manuscript, take notes on their comments, spend some time considering them, and then STOP BEING SO CHEAP and pay, yes, PAY a professional to have that dog-eared, oft-mailed, constantly-rejected magnum opus BRUTALLY evaluated.“ I could give him some names of reviewers, I thought, but he didn’t ask if I knew any.
Hold the Latex Gloves. No Manuscript Doctor Required!
You’ll notice I am not talking about a “manuscript doctor.” I’m talking about a person who will evaluate the manuscript without any requirement for multiple office visits and ongoing resections. No rewrite. No edit. No dragging the old blue pencil through page after page or turning on Microsoft Editor for a line-by-line edit. A read. A thorough read from cover to cover, even if the person reading your manuscript has to strap on a brace to keep her head upright and eyes open in order to survive to the final paragraph.
Two, No, Make It Three, Reasons Wannabes Don’t Hire Book Reviewers to Tear Into A Manuscript.
There are only two reasons I can think of that a wannabe author would not hire a professional to assess the potential of a manuscript:
1. Too cheap to part with the money. Are you kidding? How much of your life did you put into this manuscript? What’s the dollar value of that time, effort, and heartache? Ask the people who had to mow the lawn for you because you were too busy writing your book in the evenings and all weekend for THREE years. They’ve invested, too.
2. Afraid of the answer. Gulp. Aren’t we all? Yes, you can go around describing yourself as a struggling, downtrodden, intrepid author whose manuscript has received multiple rejections. You know what? After a certain amount of time, you are not an author, struggling or otherwise, and you are not kidding anyone. (Long face: Yours!) Maybe you just have to hit the delete key and chalk that manuscript up to a “learning experience.” What you will find out, however, from the paid reviewer is whether you have some latent talent, rather than no talent. And THAT is worth finding out, the sooner the better. On the other hand you might — you never know — have a winner and (with permission) you can grab a few lines from the professional reviewer’s critique and run with it to the nearest literary agent.
Oh, wait, there is a third reason writers won’t pay a reading fee:
3. Bad press. Everywhere you turn on the Internet publishing pundits scream: NEVER pay a literary agent at a literary agency or an editor at a publishing house to read your manuscript. If they ask for money upfront, they are thieves! I agree that you do not want that kind of review! You do realize, however, that it is routine for agents and editors to farm out manuscripts to freelance reviewers and editors to evaluate or edit. You do know that Publishers Weekly pays a stable of reviewers to cough up 250-word reviews routinely, and, in fact, has commissioned reviews for over 100,000 books since 1987. (The Wicked Witch does her homework…sometimes.) So it is just fine to hire an independent book reviewer. Just fine.
If you’ve got the dinero, you can get the review.
How Do You Get a Book Reviewer to Jump Through a Hoop of Fire? Can you spell C-A-S-H?
Ah hah, get ready for the big surprise. I made a few phone calls and fired off a few emails to very qualified publishing and writing professionals, including Frank Wilson, blogger and book critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, who described book reviewers as a “dying breed” because of disappearing outlets in which to ply their trade. He and other reviewers confirmed that if you offer a reviewer $300, in all likelihood that reviewer will jump through a hoop of fire to get the job. (Happy face: the reviewer!) Remember, book reviewers have to work for ever decreasing wages these days. The squeeze is on. Oh, and don’t forget to insist on samples of their published reviews before you commit. Pay more…or less, depending on the length of your manuscript. Think about just how much time will be involved.
What you want is a hard hitting, unflinching review between 500 and 750 words long. Don’t give any background info on yourself or a synopsis a reviewer can use like Cliff’s Notes. (What!) Make it clear that you are paying for a page-1-to-THE END read. Shell out half upfront. Half on completion. Or better, 100% upon completion if you can pull that off. You’ll put the match to the hoop of fire!
Yes, you might get bad news. (No hope…sigh.) You might get good news. (You’re flying high now, Baby!) More likely, you’ll get something in between. (Dial 911! Time to call a manuscript doctor!) Most important, what your $300 has bought you is a reality check. Cheap at twice the price, I’d say. What a deal!
Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing ™: I do not read manuscripts. I am quite happy with my Get Published business, which concentrates on polishing the book submission package that literary agents and editors will see. What I will do if you are interested, is pull together a list of people I respect and put you in touch directly. Send me a private email. You always have the option, of course, of making your own contacts. You could start with the Department of English & Comparative Literature at a local college or university and ask for a referral to a book reviewer-for-hire. You’ll get some leads, maybe even the head of the department! Alternatively, email or call your local newspaper’s book critic. Money talks!