Commonly Asked Questions by Aspiring Writers

By Shelia M Goss

I received an email from a guy thanking me for publishing advice I gave him. He wanted to send me an autographed copy of his first book. To be honest, I don’t remember communicating with him but I must have. Most of us try our best to respond to every email that we get within a timely manner, but with deadlines and re-writes and life, we get busy.

Below are commonly asked questions received from aspiring writers. Hopefully, it’ll answer some of your questions. If you’re not a writer but know someone who is interested in becoming one, please refer them to this post.

I have a good story. I’m learning fast that people don’t or won’t help you. Why is that?

I don’t want you to have the misconception of authors not wanting to help…many of us do. You also have to keep in mind of your approach. Have you ever contacted this particular author before? Have you ever bought one of their books? My question is, why would you ask for advice from an author if you’ve never purchased or read one of their books? I don’t ask for advice from just anyone. You best believe any writer I approached in the past, I’ve read their entire book; not just an excerpt off their website.

Will you read my unpublished manuscript and give me feedback?

For legal reasons, a lot of authors will not read the work of people they don’t already have a relationship with in some capacity. As a writer, we have to protect ourselves because there are too many “sue-happy” folks out there. Please keep that in mind the next time you ask the question and don’t get the response you want. Don’t hold it against the writer. Also, most writers do not have the time to read other people’s manuscripts because they are too busy working on their own and trying to meet deadlines. I would suggest joining a writing group where some of the members may be able to assist with critiquing your work.

Can you help me write my life story?

Yes, for a price; but most people don’t want to hear that. They expect you to do something for free. Writing is a passion for most of us but it’s also a business. Don’t get upset if you get turned flat down because you’re not willing to pay for the writer’s time.
Also, keep in mind that if you live long enough, there’s a story within all of us; but not every life story is meant to be told (meaning, just because your life is interesting to you doesn’t mean we all want to read about it). That’s one reason why I write fiction. Nobody wants to hear about the ins and outs of my life (that’s what blogging is for…lol).

Will you write a blurb for my book?

It depends. Have we ever communicated before? Belonging to literary groups is great for networking so don’t forget to join a few online and offline. You don’t have to wait until your manuscript is finished to do it.
Depending on the author’s schedule, he or she will want to read the entire manuscript before attaching their name to your book. At the very least, they will want to read several chapters if they are unfamiliar with your writing style. If said author doesn’t write a blurb, do not hold it against them.

I’ve finished my book. What’s next?

This is a dreaded question. Why? Because there are so many things you could do next. #1, I would ask, what do you want to do next? Are you looking for an agent or a publisher? If you are looking for either one, you will need to know about the submission process. Most require a query letter, synopsis, and the first three chapters.

Are you looking to self-publish? If so, then there are other things you need to consider. For example, will you outright self-publish or will you be using a Print on Demand (POD) service.
Be sure you’ve done your homework and know exactly what you want to do. You will probably get more responses if you ask specific questions, such as “How do I write a query letter?” or “How do I get an ISBN?” than asking a generic question.

How can I find an agent?

Agents are found via conferences, referrals or by using other resources such as books like the Writer’s Market and online websites. Bookmark the following website because it gives information on what agents are looking for and their contact information:
Be sure to only send them what they are requesting.

When should I start marketing my book?

I would start marketing the moment I knew the book was going to be published. Once you have an official publishing date and your ISBN from your publisher, I would suggest submitting your galleys to print publications and reviewers. The goal is to inform or make book readers and book buyers aware of your book. You want them to be familiar with the title so once it’s released and they see it on the shelves or while browsing on the Internet, they may take a chance and purchase it. Click on the link below for more information on promoting your book.

Does paying for reviews help or hurt your review rating?

I’m really not sure. I submit my book to publications and sites that read books in my genre; whether their actual review of my book makes it to the publication or site is at their discretion. I don’t, however, pay for book reviews. Most of the reviews I’ve received lately are from individual readers who purchased the book and either liked or disliked the book. I personally tend to shy away from review sites that charge; however, there are several reputable sites that do charge. Hopefully that answered your question.

How do you find time to write?

I don’t. I make time. Life is what it is. If you wait to find time to write, you never will. Something can or will get in the way if you don’t make a conscious effort to fit writing into your schedule. You have to make time. Set aside a certain amount of time a day or a week to write. Even if you only write an hour a week, you’re closer to your goal than waiting to find time to write.

Please note: The Internet is your friend. Use any one of the search engines and it will pull up a ton of information on any topic.

The more specific you can be when asking a question to an author, the better chances you’ll get a response. It shows that you’ve done your homework and you’re really interested in pursuing a writing career.

Shelia M. Goss is the Essence Magazine & Black Expressions Book Club Best-Selling author of Delilah, Ruthless, My Invisible Husband, Roses are Thorns, Paige’s Web, Double Platinum, His Invisible Wife, Hollywood Deception, Savannah’s Curse, Montana’s Way and the teen series The Lip Gloss Chronicles: The Ultimate Test, Splitsville, Paper Thin and Secrets Untold.  Besides writing fiction, Shelia is a freelance writer. She’s also the recipient of three Shades of Romance Magazine Readers Choice Multi-Cultural Awards and honored as a Literary Diva: The Top 100 Most Admired African American Women in Literature.


  1. what if you are very familiar with the author you are asking for a little help from, but still get no answer? I never asked an author to read my full unpublished manuscript, but just the brief synopsis. I’ve recently contacted Brenda Jackson on Facebook to review my synopsis and to give general feedback because she’s an established Kimani Romance writer and that’s the line I hope to publish my story with. But before I send in the manuscript, I was hoping for a little general critiquing from someone familiar with that particular line. She never contacted me. What would you suggest for a person in my situation?

  2. Deanna,

    I can go out on a limb and say that Ms. Jackson simply doesn’t have time to read other people’s stuff right now. She’s a prolific writer who has back to back deadines. Most writers under contract don’t have time to read others works, however they may set aside a certain time such as what I’m doing now by opening up the Q & A on my blog or doing workshops such as what Dee Savoy does to offer feedback. After this week, I will be on a self-imposed deadline to finish 3 books by the end of the year.

    In order to get critiques back, I suggest joining an online writing group. Most groups require participants to critique at least one piece of work per month. Another idea is if you’re in a romance readering group–yahoo or Facebook, send a message out to avid romance readers and ask if anyone is available to critique your work. I’ve gotten several test readers for some of my unpublished works like that.

  3. I forgot to add. Be on the look out for a free workshop I will be putting on in the Fall. First chapter critiques will be part of the workshop. Space is limited.

  4. You have answered these questions with such careful and insightful words!


  5. Shelia, you’re one in a million. Even with your imposed deadline you’re making time in the fall to help aspiring authors. Very good information here.

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