1. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA

    Breaking "bad" news to an author

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by heal41hp, Jan 2, 2014.

    A co-worker of mine asked me to read his novel to see if I want to edit it. He wants it polished before he self-publishes through Amazon. I just finished reading it yesterday and... I've extremely little positive to say about it.

    I intend on being honest with him, as gently as I can, but there are some potential complications involved. Based on what I've read and some of the things I've heard him say, I think he's sexist. He has 20-30 years on me and seems to put high value in age. He's often emphasized that if this isn't my "thing," that's okay and I don't have to worry about editing his work (notably, he said that in response to me pointing out how cliché a character was). He's arrogant and thinks he's clever, but I see no basis for these beliefs in his writing.

    He clearly wants to write and takes it seriously, but I'm afraid he's not going to take me or anything I say seriously. He needs the help, and I think I can help him if he'll listen. I don't think he's ever received serious feedback on his writing before. I was in his shoes 10 years ago...

    Has anyone else experienced such a situation in critiquing or editing? Does anyone have advice for tackling this?
     
  2. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,604
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Well, as a nurse mentor of mine once said to me when I had to discharge a pediatric patient back into an awful environment, "you can't help all of them." Unless you are obligated to this person in some way, give your opinion briefly and if he rejects it and publishes crap, oh well, you can't help them all.

    I try to critique people at the level they are at. Is it all telling and no showing? That's an easy call. Do you just not find yourself caring about the characters or being pulled into the story, so say so. I would still try to find something positive to start off with, even if it was to say, this is promising but not ready for publishing without some work.

    There's almost always a way to start off with the positive.
     
    heal41hp likes this.
  3. Fitzroy Zeph
    Offline

    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2013
    Messages:
    747
    Likes Received:
    269
    Location:
    Canada
    I haven't but this was posted on WF a while ago. It may give you an idea of some of the problems you are headed for.
     
  4. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    You can always quote A Few Good Men: "The truth? You can't handle the truth!" Then smile. And then say, "Seriously, if I do this, I won't do it as your friend. I will be brutally honest where brutal honesty is called for, and I won't waste time on flattery. If that isn't what you want, better hand off to a stranger instead."

    And then start reading, and forget who the author is. Don't spare the red ink.

    My daughter has asked for critique of her own writing, and I have given it under those terms. We are still on good speaking terms. :)
     
    vera2014, jazzabel, KaTrian and 5 others like this.
  5. Lewdog
    Offline

    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2012
    Messages:
    7,530
    Likes Received:
    2,825
    Location:
    Williamsburg, KY
    Do it just like ripping off a bandaid, quick and hope the pain goes away quickly as well.
     
  6. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    My best advice is to be honest. Even if you have nothing positive to say, honesty will not hurt you if you are gentle. I would probably say something like, "I don't think it is ready for publication for reasons a, b, and c. I'm sorry if that's not what you were looking for, but I want you to put your best work forward. If you want to talk about these things in detail we can (assuming you want to to), or you can get another opinion."

    I usually pass my bad reviews off as me nitpicking, or offering suggestions to fix what I thought was a problem. Good luck!
     
    KaTrian, jannert and heal41hp like this.
  7. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,604
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    This is a guy from work. I assume you owe him nothing and will have to work with him after. I think that makes things different from how we'd give a review if we had a more critique-like relationship with the person.
     
  8. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    That was my first thought. He gave you an out and I'd take it.
     
    obsidian_cicatrix likes this.
  9. Lewdog
    Offline

    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2012
    Messages:
    7,530
    Likes Received:
    2,825
    Location:
    Williamsburg, KY
    ...or you could say you posted it online for people to review and that some guy named Lewdog said it stunk, I'll take your grenade.
     
  10. A.M.P.
    Offline

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,024
    Likes Received:
    1,125
    Location:
    A Place with no History
    I adored that article.
    Thank you for the good read :D

    For the OP; just be honest with him.
    If he takes it bad, no big loss. He shouldn't ask for critique if he can't handle it.

    Or just refer him to the article Zeph posted.
     
  11. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    Good stuff so far. Thanks, all. :)

    And that's right. I owe him nothing, and we haven't agreed to anything other than I would read the thing then take it from there. He did, though, offer to put me on as a co-author if I end up doing anything substantive... I'm pretty sure I don't want my name attached to this, though. At least not in this form.

    I'm up for the challenge of trying to help him, as I maintain that my intent in editing is to foster writers/authors. I guess the best I can do is my best, and be willing to accept defeat if it comes to that.

    I think I'm going to have to go back through and take notes on the positive things. They are so few and far between... They are also inconsistently integrated, making me think someone suggested them and they just got stuck in at a convenient location.
     
  12. RaeRae
    Offline

    RaeRae Member

    Joined:
    May 21, 2012
    Messages:
    86
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Beaverton, Oregon
    I used to get a critique and cry my eyes out then never touch the story again. That was then. Now, I want that brutal honesty so I can...again cry my eyes out..then get cracking on fixing the darn thing. It sounds like no one has really done that for him so you may be in for a rough ride. As Oprah would say, "If the answer is maybe, then the real answer is NO." Read it, take the out and carry on with your life.
     
  13. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    as both an provider of editing services and a mentor of aspiring writers, i'm faced with this on an almost daily basis...

    what i do is make it clear from the start that i am always 100% honest in my assessment of a person's writing, as i firmly believe that to be anything less is not being helpful...

    so, if they're looking for praise, they've come to the wrong place, because what's okay with their writing is not what they need to know... they need to be shown what's not ok, so it can be made so, if their ultimate goal is to become a successful published or produced author/poet/screenwriter/playwright/lyricist/columnist/whatever...

    the good news is that close to 999 out of 1,000 i tell that to are grateful for being shown all that's wrong and helped to learn how to make it right and not continue the bad habits... most will say it's been hard to impossible for them to get an honest opinion, because so many people are afraid to hurt a writer's feelings and either sugar-coat the awful truth, or avoid telling it altogether...

    my best advice is to do the same... hope this helps you somewhat...

    love and hugs, maia
     
    Macaberz and heal41hp like this.
  14. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Woah. If you take it on at all, make it clear you will offer critique, not editing, and avoid a co-author status like the plague!
     
  15. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    Two questions.
    1. What distinction are you drawing between editing and critiquing?
    2. Why so adamant about avoiding co-author status?

    And thanks, maia. Great advice there. Do you still suggest starting off with some sort of good thing I found, so as to ease into the critique, as others have? Or just jump straight to the "warning" and the meat of the issue?
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2014
  16. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    Keep in mind editing and critiquing are very different. A good critique is a constructive criticism which provides a way for authors to see the flaws in their writing and (hopefully) a few comments to help them get going in the right direction. Editing someone's work is not critiquing, but reading, interpreting and making/suggesting specific changes that can be used in the final product. Editors don't just say, "here's what I think, fix this, consider revising that. blah blah blah." An Editor will say, "okay this is wrong, this could be better, this could be clearer, let me fix this, add a touch here, and rearrange this... Voila!"

    There are many reasons to avoid co-authoring a book, but I think the chief reasons are personal association and legal agreements. You may not what your name attached to certain works, as they may affect your reputation. As a co-author of a book, you will have to work out and write out all of your agreements and understandings for the business side of marketing, publishing, and potential profits (not to mention the amount of sway you have on the writing). It can get messy.
     
    heal41hp and jannert like this.
  17. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,783
    Likes Received:
    7,298
    Location:
    Scotland
    Oog. I feel for you @heal41hp! :eek: I had to do this for my BOSS at one stage. (A doctor, one of 4 in the practice I worked for.) He had already self-published (many moons ago, when self-publishing meant 'vanity print-outs,' not Amazon Kindle and its ilk.)

    I read through the book at home, and while it wasn't a total loss, there was SO much that needed fixing! His continuity went wonky many times, some of his background setting information was wrong, his characters behaved inconsistently, etc. Fortunately his grammar, spelling and punctuation were fine, so it was just story flow and characterisation that needed work.

    I went to him and said "do you want me to critique this in a serious way?" He gave me one of those enigmatic grins of his and said "well, just tell me what you think." Urkkk. So I went off and wrote a 10-page critique, and I was honest about what I thought was wrong. I also offered potential solutions to every problem I unearthed, so it wasn't just a load of negativity.

    He thanked me profusely, and it certainly didn't damage our relationship. I think he was flattered that I'd taken so much time to delve into it, and we did discuss the story itself afterwards. However, I also don't think he ever did anything more about it either. His wife told me that he 'hates editing' and never does any! Pity, as he has potential as a writer. But one of the first things a writer needs to learn is that first drafts are never perfection. I'll go out on a limb here and say 'no, NEVER.'

    I think the key when doing a critique for anybody is to always offer potential solutions to the 'bad bits.' Pretend it's your own writing. How would YOU make changes to improve it? If you can make the writer see the possibilities for improvement, rather than just point out the mistakes they've made, I think you're on the right foot. Whether they take your advice or not is another matter.
     
    T.Trian, KaTrian, heal41hp and 2 others like this.
  18. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    Final drafts are never perfection. Published works are never perfection. That doesn't mean first drafts can never be submission ready. ;)
     
  19. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    400
    Likes Received:
    280
    Location:
    Uyumbe
    If this is someone you are going to see every day at work, I would figure out the most comfortable way to decline any editing. Based on what you have written already it certainly seems that nothing good will come of it.
     
  20. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,783
    Likes Received:
    7,298
    Location:
    Scotland
    Well, yes, that's what my doctor boss thought...
     
  21. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    critiquing is telling someone what you like/don't like about their work and may include pointing out problems

    editing is fixing whatever needs fixing

    i don't know what cog means, but i always caution anyone helping someone or asking for someone's help with a piece of writing to never write a single word till they have a good, tight collaboration agreement signed and sealed... to do otherwise is to court disaster of too many odious sorts to list here...
    you can do what you find most comfortable...

    as a mentor and professional editor/rewriter/ghostwriter, i don't have time to waste on things that need no attention, so i stick to what does...
     
    heal41hp likes this.
  22. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    And there are a lot of good, successful, published writers who agree with him. :)
     
  23. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    This'll be a great exercise for me. I find it hard to fathom coming across a worse manuscript, so it should be quite the challenge to try whipping it into shape should the author be willing to listen. I'm starting to get a little psyched for this now.

    We have different jobs, and often our schedules don't even align, so I might see him for a cumulative five minutes any given day. I don't expect that aspect to be nearly as troublesome as others. :)

    I understand. Unfortunately, I have little vying for my time currently. I hope one day to be, more or less, what you are, and I aspire to having that kind of time restriction!

    Thank you, everyone, for your responses. This feels more manageable now. Just have to wait for him to come back from medical leave...
     
  24. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,783
    Likes Received:
    7,298
    Location:
    Scotland
    Fish not biting...! ;)
     
  25. prettyprettyprettygood
    Offline

    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2011
    Messages:
    452
    Likes Received:
    46
    Location:
    Edinburgh
    If it were me, I'd give some broad brush comments on the key areas for improvement, and just say that I'd be happy to go into more detail if he likes, to avoid wasting time on something that could be ignored or cause bad feeling at work. And if you really want to carry on helping him I'd definitely say something positive, even if it's just that the idea is intriguing - if he's unused to receiving critique he could easily misinterpret it as being negative for the sake of it (especially given how you've described him), so something to indicate you're 'on his side' might help him listen.

    Good luck!
     
    heal41hp likes this.

Share This Page