The Hardest Question People Ask Me


I don’t know about you, but I get asked hard questions all the time. When our son was small, I was weeding a portion of our garden. He was playing, and I was cursing the weeds and snails. Zachary stopped playing and came over to me. He watched me for a short time and asked, “Why don’t snails eat weeds?” That was a tricky question, and unfortunately, I had no answer.

I’ve been in publishing for nearly forty years, and throughout that time, I’ve been asked many difficult questions by authors, retailers, and readers. For me, the most challenging question that comes my way is, “Would you read my manuscript and tell me what you think?” This question makes my skin crawl.

Now, in all fairness, I read manuscripts for a living. Yes, I get paid to read and work on people’s manuscripts, so I get asked this question many times a month. What makes it difficult is understanding what the person asking needs or wants. Do they want a critical review or confirmation that their book is the most remarkable book ever written and they are another Hemmingway? Are they ready to hear from a professional how to improve their book, or do they want a pat on the back? Are they prepared to hear about how they will sell their book or how it differs from the other five million books on Amazon?

Recently someone asked me to read their book. The author hoped to produce a book about their past circumstances and help people with similar problems. However, the book was a diary of cathartic “I” statements and offered no hope, but only hurtful and unending timelines of events shrouded with anger. It wasn’t publishable. I gave the author a critique, and they were genuinely offended. Now, I’m not saying my manuscript suggestions and comments are directly from Mt. Sinai. I’m saying that if you want your manuscript evaluated by any qualified publisher or editor, don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve. Aunt Martha can give you kudos and hugs about your work if you need them.

So what should you do when you ask me, or someone qualified to read your manuscript? Here’s my thinking:

  1. Be open. When I read a manuscript, I’m looking for how readers will respond to your work and the marketability, or saleability, of your work. I’m hoping to find nuggets of new or unique material that help the reader. I’m looking at sentence structure, content and story development, and logical flow. So, my advice is don’t be rigid, be open to critique and learn from it.
  2. Be prepared. It’s best to be sure you’re giving me your best shot. Double-check your spelling and grammar. Ensure your citations/footnotes are correct and you’ve followed the basic rules of footnotes. Identify chapters, headings, sub-headings, etc. Most of us don’t have much time to make those corrections for you, nor do we want to work our way through obvious grammar and spelling errors.
  3. Think about sales. When you send me a manuscript, let me know (or whomever) how you plan to sell the book. Who will buy it? What makes it different from others in the genre? That thinking will help you and the reviewer target not merely the content but how the book will get into the hands of readers. Answer the question, “Why would someone, a stranger to me, want to read my book?”
  4. Realize we want to help. My goal is to help authors, not harm them. Those of us in this business want to help authors produce the best book they can. Your attitude as an author is to read the comments with this realization firmly in your mind. Our words aren’t personal; they are professional comments to help you.

Some final thoughts. First, keep writing. Don’t be afraid of professional guidance and counsel. Let us help you create that remarkable book, even if it takes many iterations and changes. Let us help you create something unique that will delight your readers.


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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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