Please don’t ask me

14 Aug

This is the first post of a rolling blog tour on the topic of Asking a Professional Writer to Critique Your Manuscript.  To read previous tours, please see my posts on Plots That Refuse to Thicken, 10 Must-Have Books for Every Writer, and  The Case of the Stolen Idea.  At the bottom of this post you’ll find the remaining participants in today’s tour, and a link to the next article in the series.

“You are not owed a read from a professional, even if you think you have an in, and even if you think it’s not a huge imposition. It’s not your choice to make. This needs to be clear–when you ask a professional for their take on your material, you’re not just asking them to take an hour or two out of their life, you’re asking them to give you–gratis–the acquired knowledge, insight, and skill of years of work. It is no different than asking your friend the house painter to paint your living room during his off hours.”

Josh Olson, screenwriter

There’s a question I dread.

“Will you look at my stuff and tell me if I’m on the right track?”

Early on in my writing career, I was flattered to be considered a good enough writer to be asked my opinion. Eleven years later, after publishing three novels and teaching creative writing at my local community college, I’m not flattered anymore. I’m irritated.

I don’t want to sound like a bitch. I was paid for the hours I taught in the classroom, but I wasn’t paid for the many hours I spent critiquing the homework I gave my students. So when a student would hand me fifty more pages of their work-in-progress, I would grit my teeth and marvel at their cheek.

I guess they figured I had lots of spare time and reading their work was some kind of honor. I don’t know. But I do know how doctors, lawyers, accountants, horticulturalists, pick-any-profession-you-want-and-put-it-here – must feel at parties when people approach them and ask – ‘can you take a look at my – back, custody case, budget, backyard garden – and give me your opinion?’

Professional opinions cost time and effort, which translates into compensation. Professionals should be compensated for their time and effort. Money is the common form of compensation. Enough said.

To find out why I eventually quit teaching, visit:

To learn how other authors feel about critiquing for free, check out the next stops on the blog tour:

Mollie Bryan at

KT Wagner

Kathleen Kaska

16 Responses to “Please don’t ask me”

  1. Kathleen Kaska August 15, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    I support you, Nancy, in having to put your foot down and say ‘”no.” Writing is a business and a time consuming one at that. It is not a hobby we do in our spare time. You made some great points.

  2. karenselliott August 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    I support you, too! I am a professional proofreader. I blog proofreading and editing tips all the time. I share links. I share other blogs. I share my knowledge. I share with comments or ideas or “my take” on LI, FB, other blogs. But I’ve finally put my foot down about giving line-by-line critiques and proofreading expertise. I used to do it – for exposure, experience, to make a few friends. But those friends (most of them) have paid me back in spades. Just like the painter has to pay his bills, so do the editors, proofreaders, writers, and so on. I do occasionally do a “give-away” but I think that’s just good PR and a great way to get people to post a comment!

    • nancyelizabethlauzon August 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

      You’re right, it is good PR, and it’s good practice to occasionally mentor out your expertise (speaking at a library about publishing, giving away a few books) but it amazed me how often students I taught took advantage of our relationship. Thanks for your comments!

  3. Bernadette August 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    I agree. To seek a professional opinion is a business proposition.

    • nancyelizabethlauzon August 15, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

      Yes, it is a business, which many people forget. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Holden Robinson August 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    Excellent, excellent post! Even as a newbie, I’ve been asked this over and over. “Will you look at my stuff?” Like others, at first I was flattered. After a while, I was like, “seriously? I hardly have time to look at my stuff!” This post has confirmed for me that others feel the same.

    • nancyelizabethlauzon August 16, 2011 at 8:55 am #

      Yeah, it’s hard to imagine having time for somebody else’s stuff when you barely have time for your own. Thanks for stopping by!


  5. kathrynmagendie August 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    I think people do this out of just not knowing better (at least most of them do) and have no idea the awkward position they may be/are putting the author/editor in. I receive requests for many things, and I usually try to briefly explain why I can’t do something, but at the same time, I try to let them know what they may consider doing to find help – guide them to websites, or whatever. It does take up time answering their ‘queries’ in this way, but I hope it will educate people. I remember when I was like a deer in the headlights and I bet I made faux pas right and left! 😀 There will come a time when I am no longer able to answer every mail/email request/message/twitter/fb/etc that comes my way, and that is looming ahead of me now.

    Of those few who still may stubbornly think we should do these things for free, they would not dream of asking their hair stylist to cut their hair for free (or even shampoo it), or a mani-pedi for free, or even a palm reading from a New Orleans palm reader for free, but will pay for those things happily and gladly. It’s a manner of writers/editors valuing our work and then having others value it as well. (Even as I write this, I bet there are those who DO ask for free haircuts and palm readings and mani-pedis! Laughing!)

    • nancyelizabethlauzon August 16, 2011 at 8:59 am #

      LOL – probably! You’re right that we should try to educate. I remember a lady emailed me and asked if I could look at her novel (groan). She was miffed because she’d written and asked a well-known humor writer the same thing, and he never wrote her back. I politely explained the reason he probably didn’t write back, and sent her an estimate on what I charge for critiquing ($4 per page). Funny, I never heard from her again


  6. KT Wagner August 16, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    You make good points – I am particularly wary of people who want something for nothing. Unfortunately, they are not rare. Personally, I am fine if the writer looking for the critique returns a favour or pays it forward.

    Sadly, there are many vampire individuals out there and we have to be on our guard. They suck our creativity, our time and our goodwill.

    I love the video Nancy!


    • nancyelizabethlauzon August 16, 2011 at 9:00 am #

      Thanks, KT!

      Great analogy, about the creativity/time/goodwill-sucking vampires! Authors, beware!



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