August 5, 2011

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell of Writing

I recently read a work of fiction that I thought was, well, how do I put this?

And that’s my problem. How do I give a bad review? How does anyone tell someone what they really think about their product? Kimberly Weisul wrote an article How to Ensure People Tell You Bad News. She states that in order to get people to be honest with you, the consumer, you have to ask for honesty.

This is a problem for me because with this latest work of fiction, no one asked for my opinion. However, I could see numerous problems with their MS. Part of me finds myself wanting to tell this author, "Hey, you need to go back to the drawing board. Take this MS, cut it, revise it, and fix it." I could almost go page by page telling the author all the confusion it has caused.

But, that only leads to another problem: what makes me qualified? (Would I even be soliciting this advice freely if I had the literary degrees and diplomas to make money off of it? Yes. Absolutely.) I am a reader, I read the book, and I had issues with it. That makes me a qualified reviewer, maybe not in a literary standpoint, but in a sales standpoint. I am your readership, and a readership needs to be pleased.

I'd love to do what this site suggests as the number #1 rule to delivering a bad review and be personal. For me, that means I'd buy you a $5 cup of coffee at a local coffee shop so that we could sit and discuss the issues. This would be ideal, but unlikely in our Internet age.

I preferred what I found in Christopher M. Knight's article. His philosophy was the band aid tactic, just do it quickly. But just like ripping off a band aid, you have to be prepared to sit there until the crying has stopped and listen.

While reading these articles, I noticed a tying theme. They were all business articles. I chuckled to myself when it finally hit me. Writing IS a business. But, unlike selling Avon or most other retail merchandise, writing is selling yourself.

It's not like telling Steve Jobs that the iPhone antenna sucks or that it freezes up from time to time. If you tell a writer that their signal is not reaching their readers or their book froze up, to the unseasoned writer, you may have just caused a major drought.

Writers need to be upfront about the critiques they want on their work. I, personally, prefer the give and take approach. Tell me what sucks and tell me what works. If you don't tell me what didn't work, I can't fix it. If you tell me what works, I'll know what I did right.

Either way, when you give someone your work, tell them up front what you are looking for. Otherwise, like Kimberly Weisul pointed out, you may be setting yourself up for lies. Give your readers permission to give you honest feedback. If you want to know the plus side too, you have to tell your readers that too.

I frequently tell my readers that I don't like the phrase, "I liked it." It seems like a cop out. I'm buffered for the worst, now give it to me.


  1. Good advice to us new writers, thank you.

  2. So true! I once received feedback from a friend that all he did was go through it like an editor, never mentioning what did work for the piece as a whole. But I wasn't upfront with what I was seeking as well.

    This was very helpful advice.