I was over snooping around some aspiring writers’ site and it hit me. People pay big bucks to get opinions on their work. Back in my Authonomy days, I heard of writers spending hundreds of dollars for “critiques” by professional editing services. One author published her critique, which basically advised her to dumb it down and sex it up.
Meantime, other writers at that site (owned an operated by Harper Collins UK, a Rupert Murdoch joint), spend an incredible amount of time trying to make it to the “Editor’s Desk” to get some junior editor’s review. They don’t have to pay anything to get those reviews, but it means clawing your way to the top of a virtual slush pile by reading and often praising other people’s work. If you calculate labor, it would be cheaper to just pay a freelance editor — though getting the opinion of an “authentic” but anonymous industry “insider” has a definite appeal. Often what the editor has to say is not so different from what the more honest readers have been pointing out all along. In some cases, it’s just plan wrong. (HC panned and turned down at least one romance/mystery that’s been a bestseller in UK’s Kindle store for months and garnered much critical praise.)
Other aspirants pay hundreds for reviews by Kirkus Indies (formerly, Kirkus Discovery). For $425, or $575 if you want shorter than a 7-9 week turnaround, someone whose name and qualifications you’ll never know will write an “official” review of your tome. This isn’t exactly like hiring Michoko Kakutani to do the job. But then again, why would you want to? The idea behind Kirkus is that if it’s a good review. you can use it as part of your publicity if you self-publish. People might mistake it for a “genuine” Kirkus review which will boost your sales because they have so much integrity. They are now apparently working with Amazon’s Create Space to sell this awesome service. If the review stinks, you don’t have to publish it, and could theoretically use the critique to make changes or just take up origami or something.
Of course there are other options — creative writing workshops abound and are even available online if you live out in the boonies. Most community colleges offer classes at reasonable rates. Things being what they are, these classes may be taught by “real” published authors. This would be the best way to go if you’ve never taken a class or haven’t written in a long time, though not all published writers are decent teachers, and your classmates may or may not offer useful feedback.
Some people wind up throwing money away, falling for some slick ad, and going to an “editor” with nefarious credentials. This might cost thousands. And despite the “self-publishing revolution”, there are still all sorts making money off the desperate through “author services,” and “subsidized publishing. Fake agents lurk all over the Internet and publishers who promise that you’ll “never” pay a dime will still somehow extract a few thousand before they’re done. Best to check out all offers first!
So here’s my pitch. I have one of those useless MFA’s degrees. I was “real” published long ago, once. I’ve taught writing. I even had a story edited for publication by an infamous and controversial professional editor. (His method was basically to cut the vital organs out of any story that came his way.) I’m now a member of a collective of “independently published” rogue writers; some of whom are extremely talented (though I make no claims for myself).
I could use some money and I’ll undercut Kirkus and other services. So how’s this: I have no publishing connections and don’t work in the industry. I can’t get my own work agented. I can critique your work and give you an honest opinion on plot, pacing, dialogue, writing mechanics and all that jazz. You couldn’t pay me enough to actually proofread or edit it, but I can offer some tips and tell you whether or not you’re anywhere near ready to even go to an editor. I can also tell you whether or not I found it compelling. Believe it or not, the MOST likely reason an agent is going to reject your work, is simply because he or she found it boring.
I won’t promise you that if you do everything I say, you’ll get a contract. The sad news is, you probably won’t get your novel published (by someone who isn’t you) unless you know someone or made sure to include vampires, zombies or some kind of Jane Austen parody involving paranormal romance, or unless you’re a celebrity. If you’re a celebrity, I’ll tell you the truth, which is more than you’re getting from your sycophantic assistant, but I’ll charge you double because you’re worth it, and you wouldn’t believe me if you thought I was cut-rate.
I can tell you if what you wrote is amazing, ordinary or embarrassing. I could be wrong. Most likely I am. It’s entirely possible that you are a genius, and I just didn’t understand your work. But then again, who am I anyway? If I don’t like what I tell you, you can always tell people that I’m a fraud and an idiot.
So let’s say $200 for a five-page crit of up to 300 double-spaced manuscript pages, and $50 for each additional 100 pages (pro-rated). Payable through Paypal with a 2-week turnaround. (Add 20% for rush jobs.) Just respond with a comment if you’re interested. I’ll be waiting to take your money.