Fortunately, I'm a member of the RWA (Romance Writers of America), so I got on their website and checked out their list of agents. There are many places to find lists of agents, but I felt confident that the agents listed on the RWA were knowledgeable and trustworthy. I studied the names and found one who'd sold numerous books to publishers I recognized. I decided to send her an email. I inquired if she was taking on new clients. To my delight, she was willing to read a sample of my manuscript.
It's a scary thing to send your book to a professional. I've discovered that writing a romance novel is an intensely personal experience. It's easy to take it personally if someone doesn't like something that you've poured your heart and soul into; but I've discovered that it's important to take the risk. Sure, I've felt embarrassed and hurt if someone says something negative about my work; but more often than not, I learn a great deal from their constructive criticism. After all, these people know publishing. They know what the market is looking for, they know what constitutes a good plot, they know how to help a writer to become published.
I'm extremely grateful for the correspondence I've had with this particular agent. She has been extremely helpful, and I know that even if she ultimately decides not to take me on as a client, she has already made my work stronger, thanks to her willingness to show me what needs to be improved in my manuscript.
So, if you've got a manuscript, it's okay to be afraid to let someone else read it. Be recklessly brave. To be certain, there are so many agents and editors who just don't have much time to give feedback for all the manuscripts that cross their desks. However, there are lots of other places to find a helpful reader. Take a chance. Ask someone else to read your work. You might get lucky and find someone who will give you advice that will make you a better writer.
Places to find a reader:
- Local support groups for aspiring writers
- Writers who are published in your genre (they may be able to recommend affordable editors)
- Creative writing classes (at the YMCA, Community Colleges, libraries, etc.)
- Writing students at a nearby college (perhaps they'd offer feedback for a nominal fee)
- English teachers (particularly during the summer - I'd offer to pay a teacher for her time and input)