Getting Help with Your Writing

Hi Lee,

I got your name from [insert place/person] and I was wondering if…

Sorry, no. As much as I’d like to help, as much as I’d love to read your manuscript, query letter, or excerpt and give you some pointers on how to improve it, which publishers to approach and whether there is any market for it, I really can’t.

I hate having to say this because I love speculative fiction. I love reading love YA and middle grade and horror. And I’m extremely flattered that you have sufficient trust in my skills and experience to approach me for advice and encouragement. Yes, it’s true that occasionally, I take on clients. For everyone else, I’m afraid I have to decline. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. My to-be-read pile is higher Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower, with new floors being constructed daily.

Yes, it’s an exaggeration, but as a working writer I need to stay current, which means reading widely in my preferred genres ‒ and I write in several genres which means there is a lot to cover. I also have some reviewing gigs, and my writing research usually involves a fair amount of reading, too. Sometimes I like to read for my own enjoyment, although this happens less than I would like.

  1. It’s complicated.

You’ve probably already heard it said that there are no new stories, just fresh angles on old tales. This means there’s a good chance that I could be writing, or have plans to write, something where the characters/setting or premise resemble the characters/setting or premise you happen to have included in your work. I don’t need someone accusing me of stealing ideas from a manuscript I was kind enough to read.

  1. Manuscript assessment and editing are professional services.

An average book takes me around ten to fifteen hours to read. More, if I am taking notes and line-editing. Reflection, re-reading and writing a report or email sucks up even more time. So asking me to read your book is asking for two to three days of my professional time. For free. Call your accountant and see if they have time to complete your tax return for free, I think you’ll find they’ll say no.

  1. Because I am a kind-hearted idiot.

The thing is, I do really want to see emerging writers succeed, so my tendency is to jump in all guns blazing, often at the expense of my own writing. If there are to be more Taine McKenna action adventures and more Penny Yee cases to solve, then I have to prioritise my own work and I’m not very good at saying no, so please don’t ask.

  1. And anyway, my lawyer says I can’t.


That said, there are plenty of sources of help:


If you’re a writer seeking feedback on your work, I suggest you join a local writing group, or online critique group. These groups require reciprocity, so don’t join unless you’re prepared to offer considered in-depth critique to others.

Another option is to join a professional writers’ organisation as many of these offer subsidised (and sometimes free) mentoring and appraisal services for their members. In New Zealand, the New Zealand Society of Authors is a good place to start your search. Speculative fiction writers might try SpecFicNZ or the Australasian Horror Writers Association. (HINT: I provide mentorships for these groups).

If you’re looking for publishers of speculative fiction, here is an excellent list with links: Another trick is to attend conventions pertaining to your genre as many of these offer pitching sessions with publishers and literary agents. Conventions and conferences also provide excellent networking and professional development opportunities (and are tax deductible).

For short story markets, I subscribe to Duotrope. The professional bodies listed above also advertise markets of interest to their membership ‒ another good reason to join. If you’re active on social media, look for writers’ forums in your genre as members sometimes share new market information. Genre magazines also list markets.

For a literary agent, I suggest going to Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog for how to draft a query letter that a publisher can’t refuse. Writers’ Digest regularly updates contacts of literary agents in various genres and are worth a look.

I’m sorry I can’t read and comment on your work, but I hope you find these suggestions helpful. I wish you every success with your project.


background 300x188 Getting Help with Your Writing

Lee Murray

Lee Murray is an award-winning writer of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. She lives with her family in the Land of the Long White Cloud where she conjures up stories for readers of all ages from her office on the porch. When she has time, she also provides assessment services for selected writers.

3 Responses

  1. Brilliant. And well said. Sure, we’d like to help everyone we can, but professional services require professional compensation. Not sure why some (#notallwriters) believe this should be given away free. Go you!

  2. Justin Bell says:

    Great advice! In my current position, I’m much more likely to be the one asking for help rather than being the one being asked for help, but working in IT for 20 years I’m only too familiar with being asked for free support because I must “love computers”. It can be difficult to say no, but it’s important to set that expectation right up front. When it comes to creative endeavors, I can only imagine that being even more critical!

  3. I’ll double-up on your recommendation for writer’s groups; the process of giving advice can be a good learning experience just as getting advice can. SpecFic has a few writer’s meet-ups around NZ, if you’re local-grown, and from those you can often find or form your own critique groups. There are also writer’s courses that teach you how to write and give critique sessions on a WIP (cost money but often well worth it).

    One of the reasons I tend to not want to give people advice on their manuscript is that often new writers want to hear how amazing it is. I have experienced a resistance to actual critique approaching 90% across my sample size, which makes the whole thing wearisome 🙂 I generally encourage people to find a peer group and get used to feedback first before spending time with them. Sounds harsh, but life is short 🙂

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