copyright Aaron Paul Lazar,
If you’re a published author, chances are you’ve been asked a
hundred times to critique or review a newbie’s book. They might ask to send you
a first draft, or sometimes they’ll ask you to endorse them by writing a blurb
for their book cover. Frequently, they may be angling for an introduction to
your publisher or agent.
How do you respond? You were in that position once upon a time.
You remember how hard and confusing the whole industry was to understand. How
scared you were of rejection and failure.
So, if you have a little extra time, you might be willing to take
a look. But be careful what you promise, because no matter how great or awful
you expect this book to be, you could inadvertently fall into a time-consuming
I love to help new writers. I really do. And I try like heck to
make time to read and comment on a few pages of their manuscripts. I usually
ask to see a page or two before I make any promises to review or endorse. But
sometimes I’m just in a nice mood and agree without thinking. This can be a
mistake if the writing ends up being abysmal.
When I’ve read the first few sentences, I’ll know if I’m dealing
with a well-trained writer or a rank beginner. When it’s the former, I read on
with glee, making small suggestions where necessary. When it’s the latter, I usually
put in an hour or so with deep edits, adding careful comments about grammar,
sentence structure, skills needed, etc. It’s a lot of work, but I do believe in
giving back after so many writers helped me in the beginning of my career, so
it’s all good.
I have done this more times than I can remember, and I believe
(hope) these efforts have helped.
It’s really hard when both the story and the writing skills are
lacking. But I always try to find something nice to say, followed by a gentle
but honest list of suggestions.
Here is an example of a recent letter I wrote, trying to
accomplish what I referred to above. (all names are fictitious)
Thank you for letting me take a look at the first chapter of your
book, The Biggest Boy on the Block. I
know it takes a great deal of courage to "open up" to the world after
working so hard on your book, and I am honored that you trusted me to do so.
I've gone through a few pages and marked them up with writing
advice. I've suggested grammar, sentence structure, and alternate word choices,
etc. Please don't be discouraged by all the markups, because in the beginning
all writers need to learn these skills, and it just takes time. It took Dean
Koontz time, it took me time, and it'll take you time, too.
You have a wonderful imagination, and I can see your mind is very
fertile! You've created fun characters and an interesting setting. Although I
don't normally enjoy urban street crime novels, it was interesting to see how
you set it up. I liked the way you moved your readers into the story through the
old man’s memories.
Now for the hard part. Please take this in the generous spirit
it's intended, okay?
Your book (including formatting) needs quite a bit of work before
you think about submitting it to agents or publishers.
You might consider a few things to help you move to the next level
where you'll be able to compete with the thousands of authors also trying to
"break through." Following are some possibilities.
1) Join some writing forums and ask for critiques from fellow
writers. But be careful of this, however, because sometimes there are very
nasty people who like to tear down other writers. Check it out and see what kind
of comments they make. Be sure they are decent people involved who use
2) Befriend a few writers in your genre and swap chapters or books
with them on a regular basis. You can learn from each other and this is a
win-win situation if you choose the right partner.
3) Hire a writing coach (if you can afford it), or better yet,
take some community courses on creative writing.
4) Read constantly. Find and read at least 50-100 books in your
genre. With Kindle deals these days, you can probably find most of them for
free or 99 cents. I have newsletters I subscribe to where you can sign up to
get daily notifications of free or discounted eBooks, targeted to your genre.
Let me know if you want the list. I get these “deal alerts” in my email inbox
and search for the most interesting books I can get for free or cheap, even
though as a writer it sometimes bothers me that it's come to this. But as a
reader, I love it. LOL. I would recommend you spend the next year or two
devouring books as fast as you can. Listen to the voices of these authors and
learn from them. (Another way to accomplish this is #5.)
5) Audiobooks. You can download the files to your Kindle (Fire),
iPad, iPod, PC, laptop, smart phone, etc. just like music files. No more
messing with CDs or going to the library to pick up and drop off. You just join
Audible.com and you're in. That way you can listen while you drive, work, do
dishes, exercise, etc. I even listen while I do laundry. I now get many more
books in my head every week, thanks to audiobooks.
6) Last of all, I would buy some basic grammar and writing books.
Better yet, visit The Grammar Girl's website to use her free articles on
grammar whenever you have a question. She is great! My favorite writing book of
all time is Stephen King's ON WRITING. It's fantastic. You could also consider
listening to my writing guide, Write Like the Wind
(3 short volumes). You might pick up some new tips there as well. No pressure,
naturally. (btw, I am revamping the eBooks for this series and they'll be out
in a few months.)
7) When you are ready and feel your book is as good as it possibly
can be, I highly recommend hiring an editor for your final manuscript before
I'm happy to keep offering advice - I love helping new writers. So
please, let me know what you think and if you have any questions. Hard work
will get you there and your wonderful imagination should fuel that process.
How’s that? How would you feel if you received a letter like this
when you were starting out?
In the beginning, I think I would have crumpled, in spite of the
“nice” comments that precede the truth. It would have killed me. Matter of
fact, I did get a few aggressive critiques in my early days, and it really took
me ages to grow a skin thick enough to handle such criticism. But I needed to hear
the advice back then, and I’ve become a better writer because of it.
I encourage you all to help out newbie writers whenever possible.
Be kind, be helpful, and give them sound advice.