Your favorite writing buddy with whom you could chat all night long finally sends you their novel. You start reading and…
No, it’s not appalling. Writers who are really serious about their writing put so much effort in their works, that it’s impossible for them to release something appalling. But, judging a book as mediocre isn’t any better. It means: “I liked this, but that ruined it completely. The overall effect is not truly impressive.”
Your writing buddy is waiting to get your feedback, hoping you will praise them. They take praise as a form of support. They also had people who didn’t believe they could. They also had people who made them lonely. They see someone important in you, and so they gave you their book, praying for you to validate their talent, their story, their journey.
If you say the truth, you might lose their trust. They will stop believing that you have their best interest at heart. It’s like you told a fellow parent that their child is not very smart, or lacks manners. Even if you think like that, you don’t want to say it, for the sake of the friendship.
If you lie and praise a book you hated, it will have consequences. Your friend will continue sending you their flawed writing, and they will never improve. Because they won’t know where they should improve. They don’t see their book the way that you see it.
Whether to tell the truth or stay silent is a huge dilemma faced by lots of authors every single day. For this reason, I chose to write an article about it.
In general, the best option would be to avoid these sorts of situations. For example, if the book is not in your genre, explain that to your friend. Pass their book to someone else, and if you don’t know anyone, then just promote it on your website or social media. It’s just a few clicks and later you can delete the post.
If you already landed yourself in this sort of situation, where a friends waits for you to review their mediocre book, here are my suggestions:
STEP ONE: Do not trash talk them in public.
The book sucked? Okay, maybe it did. Which doesn’t mean that you have to suck as a friend and write about it online. You will chase your friends’ future readers away, and that is a horrible thing to do to another author. If you have to write them a review because they are your friend, try to give them a good rating – if you can’t give 5 stars, give 4, and if you can’t give them 4, don’t leave any rating. If you leave a 1-3/5 star review to your friend, you are showing them that you value your own opinion more than them and their dream – and that you are not wishing them well (because you are basically telling their future readers, ‘stay away from this book!’). Follow the savoir-vivre and refrain from reviewing your friend’s book online if you really dislike it. Readers will figure out anyway if it’s good or not.
STEP TWO, OPTION A: If you know that writer well, talk about the problems behind closed doors.
And start with the positives. Say, “I liked the setting, the atmosphere, the characters. But. I think that you need to work on … . If I was writing about it, I would…”. Be very delicate and use your words really wisely. People are incredibly easy to hurt. Always assume that you are talking to someone incredibly sensitive. Reread your message before sending and think about how you would feel.
STEP TWO, OPTION B: If you don’t know the writer well: help them silently.
I do believe in honesty between authors, but if you have just met them, the bond between you is very fragile. If at the beginning of friendship you will tell them that they did this, and that, wrong, they are not going to like you. They might think that you are envious of their book or want to lower their self esteem. For this reason, talking openly in here is not the best idea. You should help them, but do it in a different way: for example, if they are struggling with character development, wait some time, and then send them articles on how to create better characters.
- WHY DO PEOPLE SEND THEIR BOOKS TO FRIENDS?
From my own observations: usually, if people are showing you something, they are not interested in your ‘honest opinion’. Instead, they want to be praised or validated. We all know that joke about the wife who had already chosen the color of the dress (purple), but asks her husband for opinion, and when he says green, she gets angry. Cause she hoped that the answer would be purple.
Same is with authors. Why are we giving out our books? Because we want people to love them, not hate them. If you knew someone hated your book, would you send it to them? Probably not.
- WHO ARE WE TO JUDGE OUR FRIENDS’ BOOKS?
Two years ago, I started a review blog about classical literature. I decided I would read Booker Prize. I rated the first book 4/5 stars. The second one got 3/5 stars. Was it bad? For me yes, for Booker Prize jury – of course not. We all have different opinions. Who is right? Who is wrong? Nobody knows! Everyone’s perspective is different! I might think that that Booker Prize book was horrible, but was it really, or was it me who couldn’t appreciate it, because, for example, I wasn’t the target reader, of I know too little about literature?
- WHO SAID THAT ALL PIECES OF ART MUST ADHERE TO THE SAME RULES?
Writing is not mathematics, it’s art. Does art have to stick up to all rules that are out there to be appreciated? Not really.
- ARE MINE AND THAT AUTHOR’S GOALS THE SAME?
Maybe the characters are flat because my friend can’t write them… Or maybe, maybe my friend did them like this on purpose, cause they wanted to make them universal.
Maybe the descriptions are dull. Maybe without them, the story would be too fast paced and impossible to read in one run…
Who knows what they were thinking when writing?
- SHOULD WE TEAM WITH AUTHORS AGAINST READERS, OR WITH READERS AGAINST AUTHORS?
Again, this is a very subjective question. To me, supporting a friend in their writing career is more important than proclaiming what I think is the Ultimate Truth. Especially when I know that what is the Ultimate Truth for me, might be very subjective and even false in a broader context.
What are your opinions on this big dillemma? Share them in the comments below this post! Thank you!
And last but not least… related articles:
- When constructive criticism becomes destructive: is your beta reader a bully?
- How to make a writer like you
- Friends won’t read my writing: what to do about it?