Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Every Writer's Nightmare

This was in Dear Prudence today.  It's every writer's nightmare, but probably not for the reason you'd think:

Q. I Don’t Like My Friend’s Book: My friend recently self-published his first novel. I bought a copy to support him. I really, really hate to admit it but I didn’t care for it. In fact, I didn’t even finish. I got through half of it before I gave up, read the last couple of pages, and put it down. He needs an editor badly and overall, it just wasn’t well-researched or plotted. In fact, he self-designed the cover in Photoshop. He wants to know if I liked the book, and honestly, I don’t know what to say. On one hand, I don’t want to tear him down because I know how proud he was of writing the book. On the other hand, I feel like he needs to know that he needs to improve on a few things. Is there a way to broach the subject without hurting feelings? Or do I just drop the issue and lie to him?
My friend Alan made this cover to my
exactling specifications.  I love it, but
it hasn't helped much with sales.

A: Every author should know not to expect friends—or anyone—to read their book, and certainly not to ask how they liked it. He’s asking for it, but I think you should just offer some anodyne remarks. “Writing a novel is an amazing accomplishment.” “I’m a slow reader, but it’s definitely on my nightstand.” “You are an excellent speller.”

I hate this answer. Prudie's right that, honestly, you should never give your book to anyone.  Really, if you care about society, you should just throw your book in the trash as soon as it's written.  I've done that a few times, and I always feel better about myself afterwards. Inflicting your writing on others is a Crime Against Humanity for which there can be no reasonable excuse.  

And yet, people are social creatures in whose nature lies the need for acceptance and approval. I admit that I've done exactly what Prudie says you should never do--I've given my friends copies of my work in hopes of getting feedback.  It's a mistake, I know, but I've done it.

I'm not proud of it.

I always tell myself that my friends are busy, that they've not prioritized my book, that they don't actively HATE it.  That they'd tell me if it was that bad.

I hope that's true. 

I can accept that not everyone likes my stuff. This is not news.  Literary agents aren't beating down my door; my book isn't some kind of Internet sensation. That could have happened.  It's not impossible.  I do, however, wish that folks who know me could at least feel comfortable enough with me to tell me truth.  Gently, maybe, but still...

"I didn't like your book.  If I'm being honest, I'm not sure how much more effort I would put into this thing."  That feedback is tough but very useful.  As you can imagine, I don't want to hear it.  But I'm a busy guy, and I would at least take it in the spirit in which it was meant.  

God knows, there are other things I could be doing with my life.


  1. I don't think one should ever lie about liking something of their friend's. but there's a tactful way to do it. My friends of over 15-20 years are some of the worst to get feedback from, and we all know it, so I don't do it.

    Over at Paperwings Podcast, there's talk of having a Circle of Trust, peeps that you trust with your work to give you honest feedback and of course, you return the favor. I love my Circle of Trust!

    I'm not a fan of telling someone to abandon their dreams and I'd be suspect of the kind of person that would do that. I'd even be more suspect of the kind of person that would listen to it.

    1. Thanks Alan. Like I said on Facebook, finding good test-readers is like finding leprechauns. They're impossibly rare, and half the time you find them by accident.

      I wish I had time to join a writer's group, but I just don't. There's absolutely nowhere that I could fit one into my schedule. For that matter, if I was in such a group, I'd have to read other folks' work, and while I'm not opposed to that, time is still going to be an issue. There is a lot going on. Look how long it took me to get back to you about your plotline/synposis? That was terrible.