Those of you who follow InquisitorM over on FiMFiction may have already seen his latest blogpost--and if you haven't, I'll link to it at the end of this. But first, I want to get in a few words about asking for help, both generally, and with fanfiction specifically. Click down below the break for more.
One of the nice things about the ponyfiction community as a group is that it's remarkably easy to find editors, critics, pre-readers, and whatever other flavor of assistance you desire. There are literally dozens--probably hundreds--of FiMFiction groups and outside forums and websites where an author can take his story, and get feedback on it. Granted, not all of that feedback is made equal, but the point is that there are plenty of resources available.
I'm not here to talk about that, though. The thing is, all the help in the world won't do any good if you aren't willing to ask for it--and for some people, asking can be pretty hard.
This is something I deal with literally every day at work. There are some students in every class who are very... vocal when they're having trouble. Whether it's asking out or asking for help, you at least know that they're struggling. But other kids will sit quietly, nod along, and you won't realize they haven't heard a word you've said until you get the first quiz or homework assignment comes in. Sometimes they don't realize what they don't know, but more often, they realize they need help; they just won't ask for it.
There are a lot of reasons to be afraid to ask for help: fear of looking stupid for not getting something right away, wanting to not be a bother, or "just" self-esteem issues. Any of these can stop a student from raising her hand--or a fanfic writer from asking for help, even if she realizes her story's not perfect and wants to improve.
In a school setting, one of the teacher's (many) jobs is to make sure that those students don't get lost in the shuffle. In fanfiction, there's nobody who's "responsible" for the writers--we're all just here as hobbyists, after all--and so those writers are left to fend for themselves. Some screw up the courage to go ask another person to look at their story. Some get an unsolicited offer to help from a reader who sees the potential in their story. But the majority just do without, because asking for help is hard.
I don't do a whole lot of editing/pre-reading, and what I do is usually by request. I haven't made a real effort to expand beyond that; while I enjoy doing it on occasion, the reviews I do on this blog take up most of my designated ponyfiction time, and that's something I like keeping up. When I do edit for someone, I usually warn them that I need some flexibility, time-wise, because it's expressly something I do in my free time, and real life has a way of getting in the way.
But maybe that's reassuring to some people. When folks "don't want to bother" someone, maybe it's useful to say "Hey, don't worry about that! If it was a bother, I wouldn't do it, and if it becomes a bother, I'll stop and suggest someone else to help you." Maybe that would give a few people who know they could use a second set of eyes the assurance they need to make first contact.
In any case, you all can always ask me to offer an opinion on your story by e-mailing me. I don't promise I'll be able to help in a timely manner (or at all, for that manner), but I do promise that, whatever you do and whatever you ask, it will be literally no inconvenience to me. I'll do it because I enjoy helping, or I'll help you find someone else, and either way you won't have caused me any trouble.
Now, go read Scott's post on the subject. And if you're in need of a pre-reader but afraid to ask, hopefully there's someone in the comments who you can screw up the nerve to PM. I don't think you'll be sorry if you do.