In addition to being asked, "Is this (fiction) book about you?", another frequent question authors get is "Hey, could you read this for me?"
I totally understand. Those aspiring to be published want to learn, and get feedback, from those who have been published. Not that we're experts -- or I should speak for myself.
I remember back in the day, l-o-n-g before I was picked up by a publisher, I was a real Samantha Jones/Blanche Devereaux with wanting SOMEone, ANYone to read my work. It was like "Ring the dinner bell... spread the pages... come and get it." And I was surprised when people/writers I thought would salivate at reading my early work... didn't.
Now that I'm on the flip side of the game, I understand... to a degree. On the practical side, while I love mentoring and helping others with their aspirations, time doesn't always permit me to work on my writing and read/feedback others' work. On the "afraid of lawsuits" side, I don't want to get sued by anyone who might allege that I've copied any work they've let me read/feedback.
There are exceptions. And these tips might help those wanting others to read and feedback their work.
I do read and feedback the work of people who are in my writers groups -- whether they are paid or unpaid writers groups. I also share with the people in these groups. In these groups, trust is built. We understand that as writers, we're there to help each others' craft. We don't, for the most part, have aspirations to borrow from others' work. That's because our professional integrity and "saving face" are at stake.
So I'd advise trying to find a writers group, paid or unpaid, class or non-class setting, where peers can critique and read each other in a mutually supportive environment. Local independent bookstores are great places to find posting for such groups.
I also do read and feedback the work of personal writer friends or students with whom I've developed a trusting relationship. I also share with these people at times. Because I do believe in the mentoring aspect, helping out a peer writer, developing relationships.
It might be good to go to book fairs, reading/signing events at bookstores, or other related events to meet others who share the same interests in writing and being published.
I also read work referred to be by a personal friend or student.
A complete stranger... that's a weird situation. Have to put my "crazy-dar" on to see -- always have to keep the "crazy-dar" on. But published writers, for the most part, are generally advised by their publishers and agents not to read any work at all.
I have mixed feelings about aspiring writers posting their work at online sites, listserv groups, etc... I am on a few lists where people post their work for open feedback, and I cringe sometimes. Partially because the probability of the work being "borrowed" by others is high. Also, because you don't know people's motives in their critiques and feedback (is it to help you? or is it to tear you down so they feel good? are they bitter writers? do they even KNOW you and what you're trying to accomplish?).
I generally don't post any work online until it has been bought by the publisher, and generally that's an authorized excerpt -- the publisher has guidelines on how much can be posted online or excerpted by a magazine, reviewer, or my own website.
It's a tough dilemma. Writers, what are your thoughts?