1. k.little90
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    k.little90 Active Member

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    I'd rather carve my heart out with a spoon...

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by k.little90, Aug 10, 2009.

    Ok. Deep breath.

    So I have this friend who is obsessed with writing, much like yours truly. Anyway, she has been trying for years to get a novel that she has written published. Needless to say, she hasn't had much luck. She had sent it to literally hundreds of companies and all of them didn't want to publish it. After a handful of rejections, I told her that maybe she needed to go back and revise her story because there could possibly be something in the plot that she missed that everyone isn't liking.

    She didn't take my advice.

    Because she wanted to get her novel published so badly, she PAYED a company down in Mexico a little more than $5K to publish it for her. And that was only to get a limited amount of copies published (I'm not sure of the exact amount, but the way she was talking, it's very tiny.) Anyway, she is trying to get her novel circulating, so she has now given copies to all of her friends, including yours truly. She was very possessive of her novel while she was writing it, and as a result, I hadn't read even a little bit of it, so I was excited to get my hands on it. Here is the conclusion I have come to: her book is awful. Seriously, to put it nicely, it sucks. The plot has a lot of dead ends and her characters are extremely under developed, not to mention her dialogue is something I would expect from a corny soap opera.

    So here is my question: How do I tell my friend her book is bad? When she gave me a copy of it, it was under the condition that I tell her my "honest to goodness" opinion of it. Should I lie and be nice? Or should I give her the critique that she wants and should have got before she even thought of sending it to a publishing company?
     
  2. Rumpole40k
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    Rumpole40k Banned

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    It doesn't seem like she will listen to you regardless, but I would be honest with her.
     
  3. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ooh! Big mistake! You are so effed. Man, I'd hate to be you.

    On a constructive note, is there anything positive you could say about it before you rip her heart in half?
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    For my part, I would be honest, but back it up with specific suggestions. But there are different ways to present it.

    "Your book sucks" will not win any prizes for tact. How about, "Could I make some suggestions regarding what I think could make your book better?"

    There is a reason those companies are known as "vanity presses." If your friend is really intersted in writing, she will probably listen, even if what you say upsets her at first.
     
  5. k.little90
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    k.little90 Active Member

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    To be fair, it really is a good idea for a story. I think she was so excited to get something published that she rushed through her editing process, which took a lot of life out of it. I will most definitely tell her that if I give her my "honest to goodness" critique. And you're right, Cogito... I'm not gonna win any friend contests by telling her that it sucks. But it really isn't very good. I am a complete reading junkie, and even I had to force myself to continue through the book. It just makes me sad for her, because like I said before, it COULD have been a very good book.
     
  6. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I think if I were in your shoes, I would weigh out how much I value my friendship with this person. Do you really want to be the bad guy? Probably not. You also have to think about how much she actually wants an honest opinion, or is she just looking for ego petting. She obviously didn't research what it takes to get published, she didn't do the hard work that it takes to get published, so she went the self-publication route. This means she probably isn't going to be open to criticism, especially if she didn't have anyone do any type of reading for her before she started sending it out. Instead of going back and figuring out why she was getting rejection letters, she thought there was something wrong with the publishers and that her writing was gold, so she just had to get her name into print and everything would be great.

    In my honest opinion, I'd keep my opinions to myself if I were in your place and I wanted to keep this person as a friend. She's not going to be open to anything you have to say that will be negative. Let someone else break her over inflated ego, don't do it yourself, otherwise you're going to be the bad guy.

    I'd stay with vague things like, "it was interesting" and "you should keep writing." Maybe drop a subtle hint about joining a writing group before she attempts her next piece of brilliance.

    I know I've learned my lesson from trying to critique things my hubby has written...I don't do it. It ruins relationships. That's why it's always better to let strangers tear us apart than the ones we love, because it's not a big deal to hate a stranger, but to hate a loved one for telling us the truth...well it kills love.

    Good luck! :)
     
  7. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, hell dude, that should be easy then. You're not even saying what she's got is completely hopeless, you're just saying all she needs to do is keep the same idea, but replace all the words in her book with other words. If you say it a little nicer than that, any friendship worth its salt should be able to last.

    You just open with "It's a great idea, a great premise, blah, blah, blah," then say "but it's not nearly ready for publication," and list all the things you said she needs to change. If she's so petty that something like that ruins an entire friendship instead of just bumming her out for a while, hell with her.
     
  8. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Really? That's interesting. What earns my ire is when someone only says vague things like "It's fine" or "Keep writing!" just because I'm familiar with the person. My mom is incurably guilty of this, and that's why I haven't shown her any of my writing in months. It infuriates me when people aren't honest with their critiques.

    The trouble is that obviously not everyone is like me. Think hard about what your friend would respond badly to, maybe do a little cautious investigation if you're not sure. But tread carefully, for this is a minefield you walk.
     
  9. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    FMK, I'm like you are. I don't mind if people I know and love gave me their honest opinion...as readers of course, because no one I know and love writes (my hubby does sort of, but that it just too straining on the relationship to ask him.) He on the other hand, like most males, has a fragile ego. I was getting the impression from the OP's post that her friend does too, or that her friend is in such deep denial that she can't see what needs to be fixed and might not be open to negative "honest to goodness" opinions. If she shelled out $5k to publish the book herself she must be in such deep denial about her short comings that she didn't bother to really edit. She's probably not going to be open to hearing that her book needs an entire full rewrite.

    It's all about personalities. Your's and mine are similar. We're open to it as a way of learning. The OP probably is too. But some writers aren't. And if the friendship is important with this person, telling the truth might ruin it.
     
  10. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Cog. If she gave it to you wanting your honest opinion, then hopefully that means she really is looking for helpful feedback. If that's the case, then you just padding her ego and not telling her what you really thought is just going to make her think there's nothing she needs to work on, which means she'll continue writing the way she did for that book rather than learning from her mistakes and improving.
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I find that when I need to give negative feedback concerning someone's baby (you know that they see it as their baby) which I feel is going to be received defensively, I give it in the form of questions. The portions of the the 'novel' which you find objectionable (poor character development, dead end plot points, etc.) could be presented in this way.

    "What was this person's motivation for what happened here on page 35?"

    "Did I understand incorrectly, or was this which happened over here related to that which happened over there, because it just seemed to drop off. I must have missed something."

    I know this might sound a bit of a mambi-pambi way to go, but it seems from you description of your friend and her attitude about her story that she is not going to be receptive to in-your-face challenging.
     
  12. Seppuku
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    Seppuku Member

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    Cog has some good advice, and I'll try to add to it. Being constructive may help her realise, but it will also help her see how she can improve. Perhaps constructive criticism isn't enough, because it sounds to me that she might have a bit of an ego and is perhaps stubborn when it comes to her work and criticism.

    Last month I was reading in a writers' magazine about being a critic for other writers; one of the things emphasised is that you should start your critiques positively and say what's good about it. The reason is psychological; if you start negative, she might go on the defensive. If you start positive she'll feel safer about you pulling it apart. Or at least that's the theory. I'm sure there's something good about her writing.

    It also suggests cushioning the blow helps, with phrasing like "I think" or "I wonder whether", it perhaps sounds less like an attack.

    I don't see you wanting to hurt her feelings and sometimes telling them exactly how you feel without padding can help, but no doubt she put a lot of heart and effort into it, hence he eagerness and it's probably that which has made her blind, so I don't see how it'd help her, after all she'll think you're being nasty or feel really depressed about her writing ability. Maybe having that padding won't make her feel like crap afterwards and that her work can have the merit she wants if she works harder. If she's that eager, then maybe she'll put the same energy into editing it properly.
     
  13. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    Im confused as to why she would pay to have it printed and THEN ask for peoples honest opinions. I would think if she really wanted feedback, she would have asked for it before it was published. I'm gonna guess what she really means is she wants your honest opinion that it is good, because she must feel it is. (dont we all at times?) If there is a way you could slip in a few tips in the midst of some compliments (like throw in, "On your next book you'll want to make the characters a little more complex" or something), I do think it would go over better. But, just in my opinion from the way it sounds, I dont think she's gonna take a bad review well, especially if she paid $5,000 to have it published after being rejected so many times. She must not think there's anything wrong with it.
     
  14. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are several different directions you could go. When I'm stumped, I always analyze the situation first. Does she really want honest feedback or an ego inflation? If you give her the opposite of what she wants, how will she react?

    It sounds like she wants an ego inflation, and if you give her honest feedback she may not be so receptive to it as she said she was.

    Tricky situation. You've got to treat this writer like TNT --if you cross her, she's liable to explode, especially because this is her baby, like Wrey mentioned, her pride and joy, and she spent a lot of time and money on it, even if that time and money wasnt exactly spent wisely.

    What I always do when I'm reviewing someone's work, especially someone I know well and care about, is compile a list of the strengths and weaknesses. I always start off with a positive feature, and I always end on a positive note. Then I fit in a few of the negative bits in the middle.
    Even if it's not what she wants to hear, I usually find people get less angry if you present it in a positive fashion. I mean really --I'm pretty receptive to negative feedback, but if the first words out of your mouth were, "Your book really sucks!" I'd be angry too!

    It also goes without saying that positive aspects dont need as much explanation in a review or conversation --especially with this kind of writer. She sounds like if you say, "I loved your dialogue," she'd take that as an invitation to never change it. But with negative feedback, you generally need "evidence."

    So I do something similar to what Wrey does in this situation; I point out a specific passage (multiple passages with the same error, if possible) and say, "This and this and this I found detracting from the plot." However, I'd try to be more general about it --pointing out the same mistake four times in four different passages and then pointing out another mistake several other times seems almost nitpicky. That's fine in the editting stage, but probably not worth the effort after its publication.

    Whatever negative feedback you give, always give her a suggestion on how to improve. Otherwise it just seems... mean, in my opinion, and I get the feeling she wouldnt react well.

    I also recommend writing out your critique. Everyone is different, but I find most people react better to criticism on their own rather than face to face. That way, she can stew about your comments a bit, but if she's got even a bit of common sense, she will realize that you only want her to improve and grow as a writer. If you're right there as you deliver her the negative comments, things might be said which you may want to take back, and emotions get in the way.

    Remember to always end on a positive note. Ending on a negative note, while perhaps most logical, has always left negative feelings between the writer and reviewer, in my experience.

    Good luck! :)
     
  15. k.little90
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    k.little90 Active Member

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    That's a really good idea, thank you! I'm a very blunt person by nature, so I'm glad I asked for this advice before hand, because if I had gone to her with my initial reaction it would have ended very badly! I just want her to learn a lesson from this writing. She's thinking about doing a sequel and publishing it through the same company, and I really want her to think long and hard about it before she does. She's my friend and paying $10k for two books that need a serious revision is scary, especially in this economy!
     
  16. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's also simply how some people learn. Instead of being told what to do and why to do it, it encourages her to discover it for herself, makes her think about what she has done any if it was the right decision.
     
  17. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I feel exactly the same way. What bothers me is dishonesty. The truth can only make my writing stronger.

    The problem is that your friend seems to have a dangerously inflated ego. All of those rejections should have sent a strong message, loud and clear: something needs to change. But she ignored that completely, thinking her book was gold 'as is'. What we write is never great on the first try, or even the second or the third or the fifth. She needs to understand that before she can begin to improve.

    And like Forkfoot said. . if the friendship is solid, you should be able to be honest. Not insulting, just honest.

    Your friend must be very arrogant to assume that she could publish something without any feedback. Surely some of those publishers who rejected her would have offered some suggestions. I can only assume that she ignored them. Such folly. . .

    If none of those publishers even bothered to comment, the message should have been loud as an atomic bomb.
     
  18. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Wow, she wants to do a second one! Maybe suggesting she use the money instead of trying to self publish to hire an editor to go over her manuscript with her.
     
  19. Faith*Hope*Love
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    Faith*Hope*Love Banned

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    Hmm, thats a pretty sticky situation you got there isn't it. I would be honest, if you were my friend and my book was aweful I would want to be told, but tone down the remarks. Try not to out right insult her, if thats possible.
     
  20. The Freshmaker
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    The Freshmaker <insert obscure pop culture reference> Contributor

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    "Why a spoon, cousin? Why not an axe?"
    "Because it's dull, you twit! It'll hurt more!"

    Ah, I love that movie!

    Anywho...

    What I would probably do, if I was in your situation, would be to type out a critique and give it to her either in person, or send it in an e-mail. For one, it'll allow you to be more thorough. For two, if you're not there when she reads it, it'll give her some time to calm down if it upsets her, and actually consider your critique.

    Be sure to include, as well, all the positive things about the novel.
     
  21. k.little90
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    k.little90 Active Member

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    Bah ha ha! That's awesome you caught that, Freshmaker. I love that movie too :D
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    first of all, she did not get her book 'published'... all she did was pay to have it 'printed'... there's a big difference!

    ...lovingly... and then duck!

    ...not if you're really a friend... kind little white lies never are... 'kind' that is... they only let people go on thinking what is not true... and that is never a good thing, in the end...

    ...to preserve your friendship, you might consider having someone else do the critique... someone who has the credentials to do so with knowledge and experience, but no personal connection to either of you...

    ...i do this all day, every day, for strangers all over the world, so if you want, you can send me the first page plus a short synopsis and i'll give it a look and provide neutral feedback...

    love and hugs, maia
    maia3maia@hotmail.com
     
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  23. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    I love how people ask for one thing when they're clearly looking for another.

    There is a coward's way out of this - pass it on to a reviewer who will then proceed to gut it and hopefully identify some of the more significant weak points.

    Personally I'd take a strong, stern standpoint and break down her mistakes in a way that she could understand: Try to translate a mistake to make it look like someone else's, then when she notices it, compare it to her own.

    Tom: So every single character in this book is in love with Mary-Sue regardless of gender and they all have a Hawaiian cheerleader orgy somewhere half-way through
    Author: That sounds a little... stupid.
    Tom: Yes, well something similar does happen in yours where every single character in the book is in love with Jeremy Blue regardless of gender and they all have a Gothic wrist-slitting orgy somewhere half-way through

    tcol's medicine: Strong stuff. Good for what ails you[/obscure detective pulp fiction reference]
     

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