Manners Matter: How to Give Tactful Feedback

Dear Mary Pat,


My friend wrote a book and it is terrible. He’s been talking about it for months, so I was really looking forward to reading it. He gave me the final draft and wanted me and a couple of others to read it to get some feedback before he starts trying to find a publisher. I read it cover to cover last weekend and I don’t know what to say to him. Apart from the appalling lack of editing (their, there, two, too, and to are just the tip of the iceberg), it is nonsensical. The plot is so far fetched and truthfully, I can’t find one redeeming thing about it. No, I take that back…the paper that it is written on would be handy for lining my puppy’s cage. If it were a case of me being a literary snob or hypercritical, I would take that into account. But honestly, this is just really, really, really poorly written (really). I don’t know how to give it to him straight. What should I say to him when he asks me what I think?



Burn After Reading

Park Ridge, Ill.



Dear Burn After Reading,


Lots of people fancy themselves authors; some have talent and some do not. Your friend falls into the latter category it would seem. Since self-publishing is so common now, your friend could have every publishing house in the world reject him, but his novel could still appear on the market somewhere, whether it is readable or not.

Unless you’re an English teacher or a writer yourself, I think you’d be safer sticking to the facts and referring him elsewhere. The editing is something that can be corrected. “Your book is so interesting, but I did notice that you could use a little more editing. Have you thought about asking a writing teacher or an editor?” You are being honest without having to tear his book apart. Before you talk to him, think really hard and come up with one positive thing to say, even if it’s just something like, “I love how it is set in outer space…” or Prague or Texas, or whatever. It is good to be direct with your friends, but you don’t want to totally rain on his parade either (in other words, don’t mention the puppy cage liner). He might never be the next Shakespeare, but if he takes some classes he might improve.


Good luck,

Mary Pat


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