Monday, April 7, 2014

F = Friends Are Not Always the Best Critics

Friends—if you wish to keep them as friends—are best left in the “cheerleader” category when you’re writing. When a writer finishes a book, she will often ask friends and family to “read my book!” Seriously, folks, this could lead to the breakup of longtime friendships, estrangement from family members, and the end of the world as we know it. 

When you ask a friend to read your book (after publishing) and tell you what he thinks of it, you’re putting him in a precarious place. In the best-case scenario, your book is good, he likes it, and he offers to post a review of it online. Worst-case scenario? There are two of them. Both can result in awkwardness and discomfort, premature wrinkling, and gastrointestinal distress. 

On one hand, the friend reads your book and doesn’t like it but is afraid to tell you because he doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. He lies, says your book is great, but feels uncomfortable whenever you call upon him in conversation to promote it to others, review it, or speak about it at all. 

On the other hand, if he reads it and is honest with you about not liking it—due to plot, creativity, punctuation errors, lack of editing, or cover design—you may become defensive and angry, vowing to never ask that no-good former friend for anything, ever again. Even if you smile your way through it, you will never look at that person the same way.

Friends don’t ask friends for book reviews.

55 comments:

  1. Haha! Love this! I can see how that could drive a wedge in your friendship!

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    1. For many people, it's a no-win situation.

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  2. We ask each other for book reviews because we've reached the point that we can be totally honest with each other and don't take things personally. With that said, yes, this is still 100% true. This is especially hard for me because I can't lie to people. I once had an old friend who looked me up on Facebook because he knew I was a writer. He sent me his "book" to see if it was worth publishing, and it was without a doubt the worst thing I have ever read in my life. I am not kidding you. It was crude, it was written in half-caveman speak, and everything was horribly misspelled (it was about a mannuken, or "mannequin" to you and I).

    I just never wrote the guy back and deleted him from Facebook. I had to. It was either that or crush his soul with my honest feedback.

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    1. I love your solution to the book review. Deleting him from Facebook was probably easier, in the long run, than changing your own name and having reconstructive surgery.

      Maybe "mannuken" was his own special spelling, like how fantasy writers throw in all those apostrophes for excitement (m'annuk'en). You may have deleted a Super Genius author-in-the-making.

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  3. I am unlike other people. When I ask for honest criticism I truly mean it. I know not everyone will like the book. My friends are always brutally honest, like my family. They also expect that from me. That being said I know I am the exception not the rule. I have learned that on Goodreads.

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    1. Oh, my...our combined Goodreads experiences could be a book in itself, don't you think? Not many people want to hear the truth when they ask for it. I think that's one of the things I like about you.

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    2. "Th-Th-Thanks," he replied weepily, wiping a tear from his eye. Oops wrong letter

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  4. I think a lot of what you are talking about comes from insecurity. A true author, wishing to grow in his/her craft, will take all criticism and try to use it if it is useful. Although I would assume your point is still very valid as this is probably the case in many situations. If you find a friend you can be honest with and have them be honest in return, hang on tight.

    Brandon Ax: Writer's Storm

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    1. Honesty doesn't have to crush who we are. It's only a reflection of our work. No different (in my opinion) than someone not liking a recipe I prepared, or a blog post, or a craft I made. But then again, that's me. My favorite people are the honest-but-still-nice-about-it ones.

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    2. Yes everyone should be nice when critiquing. I always felt people who were mean about it just had something miserable going on in their lives. Also I am missing Coffee Chats, but I am really enjoying your A-Z.

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    3. It did feel strange for Thursday to go right on by without a Coffee Chat, but we'll be back in no time, and you can take the extra weeks to stock up on our favorite foods.

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    4. Linda, if someone doesn't like your blog post, just let me know and I'll send my associates to do a little "marketing."

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  5. Maybe you should make a bumper sticker with that line on it!

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    1. Ooh, you're on to something, Sherry. I bet I'd sell a lot of them!

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  6. A former fiancee -- #2 in a series! Collect them all! -- used to save a copy of whatever I wrote. Never read any of it. She knew it had to be good because I wrote it. Talk about useless praise.

    I've also had friends who gave useless advice because they didn't "get" my story. "Is that character a ninja? He could be a ninja." "You should write something there making fun of Barney the Dinosaur..." "Can dogs be vampires in this story? You should have a vampire dog!" Stuff like that.

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    1. Laughing at the "collectibles" fiancee. If you ever became famous famous, she would claim she had all the "in the vault" materials.

      Oh, and the people who read your stuff and suggest things that are in no way related to your story (or perhaps anyone else's)...vampire dogs...hahahaha

      You're in good company. I was on a forum once where author Diana Gabaldon was told by a reader that she should have one of her characters have super jujitsu skills (she writes time travel/18th century stuff) and she was like, "Um..., no."

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  7. I'd like to avoid the premature wrinkling if possible! I never show my unpublished writing to friends. Editors, agents yes.

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    1. Yes, it's a surefire cure for premature wrinkling. You have to still be cautious of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome acting up, though.

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  8. I think this is great advice. I always think I want an honest critique but it's hard to hear someone doesn't like something I've written, particularly someone I care about. I think my biggest struggle as a writer is developing a thick enough skin to take criticism and use it to improve.

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    1. Maybe the trick is to ask the people you know love you enough to truly be honest because they want what's best for you and are willing to risk telling you the truth.

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  9. That last line made me chuckle.
    My test readers are both friends. They have my permission at that stage of the manuscript to tell me if it sucks or not.

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    1. Good friends like that are worth keeping!

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  10. "Friends don’t ask friends for book reviews." Love this line! I think I mya embroider it on a pillow for my couch!! lol!

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    1. A pillow sounds nice...and that way, you can hit someone with something soft if they ask you anyway.

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  11. LOL Love it: "Friends don’t ask friends for book reviews." And...no, we surely do not want the world to end as we know it...especially with gastrointestinal distress. But you know I do have this coming out and if you would please....what? No? Fine!

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    1. lol. Every six seconds an author is developing IBS. You know I will always be honest, it does help that I love your work.

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    2. OMG glad I had to come back here. Let me edit first: "I do have this BOOK coming out..." O_O

      And, Brandon, you better be honest...or else...I might lie to your face too? lol #backhaving man! #backhaving!

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    3. Yes, I wondered what you had "coming out" right after talking about gastrointestinal distress. I figured you'd tell me if it was serious. O_o

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  12. LOL. I guess it's true. If someone I know picks up my book and reads it, then tells me they love it, I can have confidence in that, rather than forcing them to read it and waiting for a reaction. Thankfully I do have some objective readers close to me.

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    1. That's the best scenario: they read it without your foreknowledge. You'll know the review is truthful, because if they didn't like it, you would never need to know they'd read it at all.

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  13. Whew, ain't this the truth. I once made the mistake of asking my wife to read my (extremely) rough first draft of my WIP, then told her she was "nitpicking".

    "But, that's what I'm supposed to do, right?" She asked and, of course, she was right....lol.

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    1. I'm laughing because I do that with my husband. Not with writing, but with other stuff. He'll give feedback and then I proceed to make excuses, line by line, of why he's wrong.

      I thank him later, but still feel I have to justify whatever he's critiquing.

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  14. Friends don’t ask friends for book reviews. Good point. I'll have to remember that for the future, lol. Thanks, Lynda.

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    1. Sherry Ellis suggested bumper stickers. She may be on to something!

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  15. Yes this is a tenuous position to be in. I suppose it's possible to have the right kind of friend who is knowledgeable about writing who can provide helpful criticism, but it can present a sticky situation in friendship. I don't think I'd ever ask any of my friends to review a book that I'd written--unless they read it without me knowing and they liked it. Then review away!

    I am now following your blog.

    Lee
    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

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    1. Often, when I find an author I think is interesting (through blogs or Goodreads), I'll pick up his or her book without mentioning it. This way, I don't feel the time crunch of having to read it right away—I've often picked up a book, only to not have the free reading time I thought I would have—and if I think it's written poorly, they are not waiting for a review from me.

      Thanks for following my blog! I've already followed Wrote by Rote and will have to check out your other blogs. I can't imagine how you keep up with all of them!

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  16. hehe, good advice. I hate it when someone I know is all happy and eager to buy my book (that's not the part I hate. Wait for it...) and then because life is busy and my book is not the center of their world, they feel guilty for not having read it yet and act all guilty around me. Next book I might not even tell anyone of my "real-lifers" about.

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    1. Lol "...and my book is not the center of their world..."

      I am so far behind on my TBR pile and always feel like the authors who have specifically asked me to read their books somehow know what order the books are in, and I can't go out of order. I keep telling myself I will say NO "next time" but end up saying yes in a weak moment and regretting it.

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  17. Excellent, excellent advice!

    I do wish more people understood this. The author is jeopardizing relationships by putting friends or family in a difficult position. They know you are a writer. If they want to read your books, they will.

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    1. Yes! And heaven forbid if the book isn't so great, I agonize over how to phrase constructive criticism. I sometimes take longer to write up an editing eval than I take to actually do the sample edit. The same situation happens when I review a book. I retype it over and over until I think it's helpful but not offensive but not untruthful but...but...ugh.

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  18. I absolutely love my friends, but completely agree with you. They aren't always the best to run stories by, because the love me and will love what I do -- even if it's not great. And if they don't like it, they won't want to tell me so. That's why I never ask friends or family to read anything, aside from my CPs who I know will be honest -- and know that we'll still love each other anyway.

    Great advice!

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    1. Sounds like you've got it worked out well. CPs can be friendly but there are no hurt feelings at stake because you know WHY they're reading your ms to begin with: to critique it.

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  19. I am happy and lucky to have a wonderful critique group for editing. As for friends, should I ever finish my book and get it published, I would hope my friends would read it. Is your suggestion that I never ask them what they think of it?

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    1. I think Elle Todd (above) put it well: they know you're a writer. If they want to read it, they will. The trick is not to make them feel they *have* to read it and review it. If they ask for it, then by all means, go for it!

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  20. This is actually very true. I am asked quite often by friends to read their writing, because I am a published author and they want my opinion. Most times than not it ends up being awkward. Sometimes I do ask them too, but I usually say (I learned this from one of my storytelling professors) that "this is really fresh and fragile and this point, so please only tell me the things you liked so I can make sure to keep them." That usually works out better.
    Thanks for stopping by! Cheers!

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Tales of colors
    MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...

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    1. We're definitely aiming for "not awkward" here!

      I hadn't realized you had a second blog. I'll have to check out MopDog today. Happy A to Zing!

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  21. So very true but it is hard to not want your friends like like what you write!

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    1. I think I would arrange for another friend to mention it to them, like, "Heyyyy...did you know Lynda wrote a really great book? Did you read it yet? You should!" and pretend I knew nothing about it.

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  22. I think it depends. I only have a handful of friends who I can count on being honest with me. When I ask them for an opinion about my story, I want them to be completely honest and I wouldn't mind if they were being a little harsh on me. I haven't reviewed another friend's story though, so I don't know what's it like being on that side of the spectrum.

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    1. It's probably all about knowing ahead of time which friends will really be willing to tell you the truth. For critique (pre-pub) purposes, those people would be few and far between. As far as reviews (post-pub), it's just a bad idea to put someone in the position where they "have" to read your book, whether they would have chosen to do so or not.

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    2. I don't know who else to ask for an honest opinion. Who do you usually go after?

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    3. If you're talking pre-pub, I'd go for someone who likes your genre but who isn't a close friend. Perhaps include a list of questions so they know what you're looking for. It's something I offer, actually, as one of my services (a manuscript eval, but only up to 20k words), but I don't want you to think I'm trying to sell you something—if you can get a quality evaluation from someone for free, do it! Usually when I do a free editing sample/eval, I'll offer advice as well as the cost estimate if I see problems ahead, but that's only dealing with the first 2k words and not the plot, characterizations, etc. If you have a completed manuscript that needs looked at prior to editing, I also have a friend I recommend who does a wonderful job (also listed here). Once it's published, connecting with others through Goodreads or other social media to find people who like your genre might give you good avenues for honest reviews.

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  23. I don't have any friends left after I forced them to read Captain Smegma and the Tranny from the Sewer of Sorrows. Even the ones who didn't stab their own eyes out or drank bleach, their friends and spouses have blocked access.

    Tell me, it's not that bad, is it? https://amsterdamassassin.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/warning-immature-content/

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    1. I would tell you, but my spouse has blocked my access.

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    2. Damn, I just can't catch a break.

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