Book Learning

19 Jun

Letterbalm BookDear LetterBalm: A friend just self-published a novel. I’m a writer and editor, and I review books on several indie book publishing sites. He asked me for a review and sent along hard and electronic copies. I told him I would pass it along to another reviewer. I said it would be a conflict of interest for me to review his book because we’re friends. It’s a good thing I read the book first. It’s a mess – badly written, poorly plotted and full of grammatical errors. I feel I must say something to my friend, but it will devastate him. He spent years writing it, and no reviewer in his right mind will grant a positive analysis. I feel a responsibility to tell him the truth. What do I do now?

–In a (Book) Bind

Advanced diplomacy is called for here. Sit down with your budding author friend for a quiet, private talk. (Don’t do this on the phone.) You want him to understand that this is difficult for you because you’re his friend, you respect the effort he put into his novel, and you are torn because you must give him bad news. Ms. L.B. suggests you select several positive things about the book. Is the plot idea interesting? Does he describe certain characters or neighborhoods well? Is there a humorous vignette? Lead with upbeat observations. Then, depending on how well you know him, you might provide notes on areas of improvement, telling him that even seasoned writers and actors accept notes from experts. Tread carefully, however. Writing a book is a personal endeavor that exposes one to the judgment of the world, and everyone’s a critic. Try something like this:

Len, I decided to read your book before I passed it on for review. What a massive undertaking. I respect all the work you did. I really liked [cite your positive findings in some detail here]; I was impressed by [cite more positive factors]. Clearly, you did enormous amounts of research to create the world of your characters. I’m torn, though, because I have to give you some negatives. I know you’ll want to hear them. After all the work you’ve done, your book has some grammatical and plot problems. This is tough for me because you’re my friend, and I know how much this means to you. But I wouldn’t be a good editor if I didn’t tell you the truth. There are ways to strengthen your book, and I can give you some guidance, but you have to do the work yourself. So, when you present your book for review, you know it represents the best you can do. Would you like my help?

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