2/5/08

Nice to Meet You. I Hated Your Book.

I had another post scheduled for today, but this question came in this morning and I had to bump it to the front of the line. (The line of questions, btw, which is getting shorter and needs to be pumped up by you dear readers...)

I have recently begun reading more LDS fiction, and I have found some works that I really enjoyed. I look forward to meeting the authors and sharing my appreciation in person.

However, I have also started several books that have been thrown across the room in frustration and then abandoned. I wonder just what I should do when given the chance to meet one of these authors. Do I avoid them? Pretend I've never read their book? Lie about my opinion? Or just present them with the brutal truth?

You must certainly find yourself in similar situations on occasion. How do YOU handle them?
You have no idea how often I find myself in these situations because I socialize with many authors and publishers, and I am really, really picky with fiction. Plus, being an editor by trade, my eye picks out all the mistakes. I can't stop myself. Even in mostly perfect books, I find things I would do differently (ergo, "better"). So I try to avoid that conversation entirely and when a friend asks, I say, "Well, you know me. I don't like anything..."

This is really tough. Especially if they are one of the better selling LDS authors who churn out title after title and actually make money for their publisher. Apparently someone (many someones) is reading and enjoying their work so they're not going to listen to anything I say.

However, over the years I've found many diplomatic ways to say positive things without lying about my true opinions. Things like, "I'm so glad for you, that your books are selling well..." or "You've got a great cover on that book..." or "What an interesting concept. Books that address that topic are really needed in the market..." 99% of the time, that suffices. And it's also true.

If pushed for an opinion, which I rarely am, I tell them that I can't really offer an opinion on books published by my competition, as that is a conflict of interest. You may not have that as a out but there are any number of ways you can answer that question diplomatically. Simply smiling and nodding works well in a group situation. I never, ever, ever would give anything but superficial comments to an author in a public situation.

On the rare occasion, if an author approaches me privately and assures me they want my honest opinion, I will give it to them. I start small, with typos and things like that. If they respond maturely, then I move on to plot holes. If that goes well, then I give them the dirt, no holds barred—but I also point out the things they did well.

On the other hand, if I'm doing a book review, then I feel an obligation to the reader, the person who will be spending their cash on a book. Then I tell the honest truth, pulling no punches. But that, too, can be done in a kind and respectful way.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

How does a writer get such honest reviews?

Writers generally want to improve, but how does that happen if they can't get honest feedback?

Anonymous said...

Dear Friends ,,,, on an unrelated topic that requires our attention....
Recently a friend in our fold brought this "film" to my attention.
Her son apparently was sent this web link from someone.
this is NOT a joke,,,, I've been told that some people
question my intentions.
It's a movie clip (that has been recently released, or is about to,,, I'm not sure),,
anyway, it depicts Mormons as flesh eating ghouls, and it is just awful. www.thebookofzombie.com
PLEASE don't go to this web site,,, please just make note of it,,,,,

On behalf of myself and my husband, and our Mormon friends,
I would like to make sure that young people are NOT subjected to this terrible conception of true faith.

please let me know if you are able to help.

regards, Betty Toms

Melanie Goldmund said...

I sometimes give feedback on fan fiction stories. Fanfic is a great way for the budding author to grow and learn, and I try to encourage them because I know it takes guts to show your work to the world. Unfortunately, some of the budding authors are not, shall we say, the brightest stars in the grammar firmament, and it can be a challenge to find something nice to say to them. I usually comment on parts of the story and gloss over the problems. For instance, without mentioning the many errors in spelling, pacing, and continuity, you can always say, "I loved the part where the cat came running in with a dead squirrel in its mouth and dropped it at the heroine's feet just as she was getting out of the shower. I could just imagine how she screamed when she realized she was standing on its bushy tail!"

Although this could be difficult if you're actually face to face with the author and you threw their book across the room after reading page two because you just couldn't stand it any more. In that case, perhaps a genuine, "I thought it was a wonderful idea for a book!" could be the ideal solution. (You don't have to mention that somebody else might have done a better job with that idea.)

Danyelle F. said...

I've done editing and reviewing for both writers and authors. I've found that pointing out all the good portions, then showing the "needs work" portions is a good formula.

I recently edited a MS that needed tons of work. I also knew it was the writers very first novel and she never had anyone else look at it. Even though it wasn't anywhere close to "ready for submission" stage - there were many good aspects of the novel. After showing her the things she was doing correctly, I was then able to point out areas that needed improvement. Later she emailed me to say that even though she knew there were several things she needed to research and change, she came away from the review feeling ready to tackle the project rather than wanting to toss it into the recycle bin. I think good editors are able to be honest without ripping a writer to shreds. I also feel that a writer needs to be willing to receive feedback without being offended. Both are balancing acts that can be difficult to perform.

But if I were in a public setting - I totally agree with LDSP - I'd give general positive feedback.

Thanks for the great blog!

Tamster said...

I've heard before with criticizing anything, you should sandwich it--positive, negative, positive.
Good suggestions! :-)

Christine Thackeray said...

I recently sold my first novel which is coming out next month. The big surprise for me is that my editor was only focused on grammar. I was hoping for help on polishing but she feels its good to go.

When you write virtually alone and your editor loves everything you do, where does the feedback come from?

I can't wait to hear people rip apart my first book so my second is one hundred times better.

Annette Lyon said...

This is where a good critique group is invaluable. They tear me to pieces, and I love them for it.

I tend to be really critical of books as well, but I also know a ton of authors. I don't think I've ever been in a situation where I had to lie about how much I did or did not like their work.

Fact is, in my experience, if an author genuinely wants constructive criticism, they'll ask for it directly. Otherwise, if we run into each other in at a conference or other setting, I keep it positive and/or vague like you've recommended here.

After all, once a book is on shelves, they can't change it anymore, so critcism isn't nearly as valuable as in the drafting stage anyway.