I could of course just type 'no', but (for reasons that are actually quite hard to pin down) that would put people's backs up.
One of the least pleasant things about being an author is having to say 'no' daily to people who want me to read their work. Even that, or at least saying it gently, takes up more time than I have spare.
In addition to the NO TIME thing, I'm advised not to read unpublished work - if I happen to be writing a book about killer robot ducks and with my agreement you send me your robot ducks that are killers novella ... then all of a sudden my work's down the toilet because you've got a potential claim that I just ripped your duck-related genius from the page.
Add to this the fact that if I do put in the time and effort (often for a complete stranger) the simple truth is that 99% of people just aren't ready for criticism and 25% of those 99% will get angry about it. Having no way of knowing what the situation is with any given person and having no interest in making random enemies, I would do what most people do in that situation and say "it's great" ... which is no help to either of us.
Let's examine what's happening here though:
I'm being asked to read a book, some chapters, a sample and ? Well, you can bet a significant pile of cash that if I said 'yes' and came back three weeks later saying, 'I read it.', the conversation would not end there.
There would be three main reasons the person would want to know what I thought:
i) The pleasure of sharing and of receiving compliments.
ii) The desire to put a semi-well known author's seal of approval on the front of their book.
iii) The desire to get some feedback that will help improve the work/writing.
Those three are not necessarily in order of likelihood, and many people will blur all three of them into one.
Either way, I'm being asked for my time. Quite a big chunk of time if you want even a relatively small portion of a book read with care. An enormous chunk of time if you want a book-sized piece of writing read with sufficient care to give constructive feedback.
It's a bit like seeing that someone is making their living as a gardener and asking them to come and either (i) admire your garden (ii) admire and recommend your garden (iii) do a whole bunch of yard work for you.
A number of authors offer editorial services as a sideline. Saladin Ahmed is one such. He charges $200 per 10,000 words for a thorough critique. That would be $2000 for an average debut fantasy novel. That's a very reasonable price.
So make no mistake when someone I've never spoken to before starts messaging me on Facebook and within 5 or 6 strikes of the return button says 'I know I'm being cheeky but could I ask you to...' the fact is they're being more than cheeky - in many cases they're flat out asking for $50 or $100 or more of my time (and that's not valuing my time at a particularly high hourly rate!).
I'm not writing this blog to embarrass or shame the people who hit me up to read their stuff. It's incredibly hard to get noticed and very easy to type the request into a window. I'm writing to try and share how it feels from the other side of the equation, and to defuse some of the lingering resentment I sometimes sense (imagine) after the conclusion of these exchanges.
Yes it's always nice that someone values my opinion but it seems as though they've forgotten to value my time too.