But in buying and reading each other’s books, we’ll inevitably come across books we don’t like. That’s just a fact of life. We won’t like all books all the time.
We might not like the subject, the writing style, the plot, the development of the story, the typos, the characters. There could be a hundred and one reasons why we don’t like a book. And that’s okay.
But what should we do about the negative reaction we have to a book? Particularly when the book was written by an author who happens to be an acquaintance or friend? What should we do when that particular author knows we read his or her book (and is perhaps waiting for word on how we liked it)?
Let’s face it, as more of us publish our books (either traditionally or self-pub), we’ll continually have more writer friends’ books to read. How are we going to handle the books that don’t resonate for one reason or another? How can we offer our support to our fellow writers when we don’t like the book? How do we tell them our true feelings without hurting their feelings and/or our relationship?
When we read a book we don’t like, here are several possible scenarios:
- We lie totally and completely. We tell our friend we liked her book and think she’s a good writer, when in reality we couldn’t finish the book.
- We tell a half-lie (if that’s possible!) We fudge just slightly. We think of the positive aspects we liked about the story and tell the author those things (like how well they used commas), but refrain from telling her how much we disliked the rest.
- We’re politely honest. We give truthful but tactful feedback. We figure from one writer to another, our friend will want to know her weaknesses so she can improve. However, we make sure to point out the positives too.
- We’re brutally and painfully honest. We decide if the author thought it was good enough to publish then they need to get a backbone and be able to take criticism.
- We find ways to support the author, even if we can’t support her book. We praise and uplift the person, but don’t say anything about the book in particular. We reason that writing is subjective, and just because the book didn’t resonate with us doesn’t mean others will dislike it.
- We don’t say anything at all. We opt for silence. We live by the mantra, if we can’t say anything nice, then we won’t say anything at all.
I’m quite positive fellow writers have used all of the above scenarios on my debut book. I have no doubt friends have lied to me so that they wouldn’t hurt my feelings. And I’ve also received outright negativity to complete silence, and everything in between.
But what is the best way to handle sharing our feedback with writer friends? Which of the above scenarios is the best? Which is the most supportive? After all, we truly do want to support fellow authors—at least that’s my goal.
I’m not a personal advocate of lying, but neither do I believe in being brutally and painfully honest. I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle.
In deciding what and how to share with fellow writers, it’s important to keep in mind one key fact: Writers tend to READ more critically than non-writers. The more we grow in our writing skill the more faults we begin to see in the books we’re reading.
In fact, if you’re like me, you may have a difficult time turning off your pesky internal editor when you’re reading. It’s the writer’s curse—being unable to enjoy a pleasurable reading experience without stopping to analyze the writing technique or plot development or the dialog tags or whatever.
But we need to remember most readers don’t view books with the critical mindset we writers do. Most readers will enjoy the story, skim through our mistakes, and are often much more forgiving than fellow writers.
Writer friend Naomi Rawlings said it well, “Do you remember being a regular, normal reader who didn't write and just liked to read? I do. Once in a while I found errors, but they DIDN'T pull me out of the story, though they do now . . . Writing a publishable novel takes a lot of hard work, and I refuse to be publicly critical of someone's effort."
So how honest should we be with one another in our feedback on each other’s books?
1. Decide upon the level of your relationship. The closer we are, the more trust we have, the more right we have to share our feedback.
2. Refrain from passing judgment too quickly and too publicly. As writers our reviews and feedback will likely be more critical than the average reader.
3. Remember no writer is perfect. Not me. Not you. No one. Show some grace.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to giving reviews of books and sharing feedback with fellow writers?
*Photo credit: flickr kxlly