Sunday, July 13, 2014

If I were Dear Abby...

Recently, I came across a Dear Abby column titled: "Friend Has Hard Time Finding a Few Kind Words for Bad Book." To summarize the dilemma, the advice seeker's friend's husband self-published a book and he asked the advice seeker to write a positive review of his book on Amazon. Problem is, the advice seeker thought the book was terribly written. Dear Abby advised the advice seeker to find something nice to say on Amazon, nonetheless. I've enjoyed reading Dear Abby very much through the years. And I have something to add on to her response this time...

All writers, especially new writers, should be open to opportunities for developing their craft. It would be unfortunate if this author would continue to spend years of his life passionately laboring over more books after this one, and believing all of his books demonstrate "perfection" ...while those around him fear that their honesty would hurt him. Wouldn't this mirror the story about the emperor without clothes? Sometimes honesty can be a gift when it’s packaged with VERY EXTREME tact and sensitivity and consideration to the other person's feelings.  (Being aware of some of the yucky stuff out there online, I want to emphasize that honesty and mean-spirited comments are two completely different things, and should NOT be regarded as synonyms.)  

If I were Dear Abby, I would advise the advice seeker to honor her comfort zone. That is, if she is okay with leaving a positive review for this author, then she should do so. And vice versa. It should also be noted that it is possible to write a positive review about a book while weaving in a little teeny weeny bit of constructive criticism. Regardless of whether or not the advice seeker writes the review, she could also consider how she might help the author grow as a writer. For example, she doesn't have to be a literary critic to gently suggest that the author find a critique partner, someone who is not his spouse.

What would your advice to the advice seeker be?

11 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

So true that the reader could write a review, but it could have some gentle helpful criticism.

Teresa Powell Coltrin said...

I'm an advocate for helpful criticism. I may not like it, but criticism done in a good way is helpful.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I think it's a pretty tricky situation, and the saddest part is, if the wife leaves a review that isn't 5 stars or includes a little criticism, the author is liable to take offense. A friendship could be damaged. The fact is this: Many self-published authors do their research and publish their work with realistic expectations. But A LOT of self-pubbed authors don't, especially the kind that ask their friends and their friends wives to leave reviews on Amazon. (Yes, this has happened to me. The author said we didn't even have to read the book if we didn't want to. Just leave a review, thanks. I chose not to. I had already served as a beta reader for his book, and a quick peek proved that he hadn't changed a single word. HIS wife even said so. "He doesn't like making changes.") So, if I had been Dear Abby, I would have advised her not to leave a review. Better to keep the friendship and hands off the guy's ego.

Pat Hatt said...

Constructive criticism can go a long way to making future books better, rather have that then some generic review any day.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'd say some constructive criticism, but email the review to the person first before posting it online, just to be sure he's comfortable with it.

Suzanne Furness said...

A tricky one. Alex's suggestion seems a sensible one, however, I would always put the friendship first and decline to leave a review if I thought it would cause too much upset.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

This is one reason I don't review books. I don't want to be in this situation!

I also don't want to *put* anyone in this situation. The guy really should not be asking for "positive reviews," especially from friends. It's one thing to put out a general message, "Hey, if you like this, a review on Amazon would be great, thanks," as long as there's no follow-up pressure. Or if a person tells you (unsolicited) they loved the book, you might ask if they'd be willing to put that compliment up online. Or you can distribute review copies and let go of the outcome: good review, bad review, or no review, just accept it.

But I really don't believe in pressuring people for reviews, because the fact is, not everyone is going to like the book.

S.P. Bowers said...

It's hard when a friend asks you to read an already published book. Generally, like Dear Abby I would find one thing I could compliment and leave it at that. Though if they were good enough friends I might try the 'the formatting was wonky, you may want to look at that. I hear it sometimes gets distorted when formatting for ebooks.'

Mina Burrows said...

Excellent post! This is a tough one. I would probably identify people that would like/prefer this type of book, rather that focus on what you did or didn't like about it. Make sense?

Medeia Sharif said...

This is not an easy situation. I'm glad that my writer friends are all in crit groups and active in the community, therefore I don't foresee this issue with them. I actually had a similar problem years ago with a coworker pressing his self-published book on me. I purchased it to support him, but didn't leave a review. I read it, but didn't enjoy it. He wasn't a close friend, though.

posse said...

So nice to see you at the SCBWI conference. I only wish I had longer to say hello!

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