Last post I covered the reasons a published author might say, "No," when you ask him or her to read your manuscript. Now I'll switch the focus to how and why a published author would agree to read your unpublished book for you.
1. You are friends. I met Emilie Richards at the Ohio River Valley Conference many years back. I had no idea she was a super-star among authors. But I did notice she was a nice person. We chatted and enjoyed each other's company. We went to dinner together. She asked me what I was writing, and I told her I was trying to work on a mystery. She knew my background in scrapbooking, so she suggested I use that in my book. Later, when I'd written the first few chapters, she was kind enough to read them. So...if an author is a buddy, if you've met under congenial and collegial circumstances, she might be kind enough to read your work and comment. Please know, Emilie was careful first to make sure I was serious. I told her I could handle criticism as well as praise. And I did. She was kind about the first draft, but suggested that it lacked something. I changed POV, and she loved round #2.
2. You are in a critique group with them. I meet every week with Judy Moresi and Donna Ross. When we started meeting, Donna had just won a contest to have Jack the Ripper in St. Louis published, and I had just sold my series to Midnight Ink. I have no doubt that Judy, who is already published in magazines and such, will join us with her books. We all started on about the same playing field. Over the months, we've grown to trust, appreciate and understand each other. I just finished reading the galley of Jack the Ripper for Donna to help with the proofing--and I can tell you, it's as imaginative and wonderful a book as I've ever had the privilege to read. I'm reading one of Judy's books now--and I'm tickled to say, she's got a real winner on her hands as well. Don't expect to instantly hand over your book in a critique group. The etiquette is such that you usually start small and work up to that. Besides, I've heard stories about folks who are "hit and run" critique group attendees. That's poor form. We had to work up to this level of trust and commitment...but it's been incredibly worthwhile.
3. You develop a mutually beneficial professional relationship. When I met Shirley Damsgaard, author of the wildly successful Ophelia and Abby series, we were "like hearts." Almost immediately, we began sharing thoughts about writing. Shirley had already authored three books. She was wrestling with book four. She and I bounced ideas back and forth. Next we shared whatever articles we came across on writing. Later we moved on to chat and share marketing thoughts and ideas. Since Shirley is a favorite with bookstore owners around the country, I've had the opportunity to watch her from the sidelines--and learn! I was able to make a contribution to her work by being her sounding board on the phone. She read the first chapters of my new YA novel and told me where she thought I'd gone astray. We started as professionals, sharing and talking. Now we're best buds. And we read for each other. (By the way, she was right about my YA. I made changes!)
4. You pay to have an author read your stuff. I desperately wanted to meet and get to know Elaine Viets. She's a legend here in St. Louis. I emailed her a fan letter, and she generously responded. She suggested--based on what I'd told her about my "career"--that I should come to SleuthFest in Florida and to her critique session. I did. (There's a small extra fee for the critique sessions at SF. The money goes to the Florida Chapter of MWA.) After she read my work, Elaine became a constant source of encouragement. She even signed her books to me with a note: "Don't ever give up. You are too good." Was it worth it to go to SleuthFest and pay for Third-Degree Thursday and the special critique? EVERY cent of it. This is the simplest and most straight-forward way to get your work read. I highly recommend it!
5. You are members of the same professional organization. If you are not a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, or Romance Writers of America, you need to be. You will meet other writers at various stages of their careers. Now here's the trick to getting someone to agree to read your manuscript: Act like a professional. Yup. Too many folks mistake the casual, creative, self-employed nature of writing for unprofessionalism--and as a result, they are judged accordingly. What's professional behavior? 1.) Keep your promises 2.) Dress appropriately 3.) Be on time and 4.) Act like a grown up.
Okay, I can already hear you saying, "GEEEZZ, Joanna, what do you think I am? An idiot?"
Let me tell you about the halo effect. Whatever your actions are, they create an aura about you. If the aura is that you are professional and trustworthy, folks will ascribe to you other positive qualities--even without proof of those other qualities. It's sound psychological fact. (Psychology was my minor in college.) So, yes, I've just delivered a lecture on professionalism. In an industry where we work alone, where we live inside our heads, where drama is part of our tool kit, where so much of what we do is totally subjective, professionalism is incredibly important.
See you on the bookshelves!