Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 6.5

Because it's not often that the world says, "Here's a real-life example of that thing you're always talking about! Have at it!", I'm doing a little bonus post here for you lovely readers.

The awesome Dear Abby has a letter up that, I think, a lot of people could have written nowadays. And, quite frankly, this exact letter is why I'm writing this series on editing your own stuff.  The full text of the letter (and Abby's response) is below, though the link back to the actual letter is above, so I'm not plagiarizing, I promise.

DEAR ABBY: My friend's husband has been writing a novel for several years. He just self-published it, and it's available on Amazon. He gave me a copy, asked me to read it and enter a great review on the Amazon page. The problem is the book is filled with misused and misspelled words, and there is missing punctuation. He even switched the names of two characters. (His wife, who is a "perfectionist," was his editor.)
Aside from the fact that I don't want to finish the book, I know he or my friend will ask me how I liked it. I don't want to lie because I'm afraid if someone else brings these things to their attention, they'll know I didn't read it or think I should have told them. I know they will be embarrassed if I bring it to their attention.
Frankly, I think it's too late to say anything negative because the book has already been printed. I also don't want to cause hurt feelings because I know how long he worked on this project and he's proud of it. How do I handle this? -- READER IN THE SOUTHWEST
DEAR READER: He's a friend, right? And you're only a reader, not a literary critic whose credibility will suffer if you don't point out every flaw. Find SOMETHING you liked about the book and mention that on the Amazon page. You could call it a "page turner" because you had to turn from Page 1 to Page 2, didn't you?
In a case like this, less is more. And remember, you're doing this in the capacity of being a friend, not an English teacher.
One thing I noticed that Abby's otherwise good response lacks (actually, the whole letter in general) is the knowledge that, yes, you can re-upload a new copy to Amazon. So, if the author of said bad book does come to his senses and have someone who knows what they're doing look at his work and fix it, he can upload a revised copy. And, as I've seen before on Amazon, reviews will reflect that his book is cleaned up.

I feel that I must add that though I don't think there's anything wrong with asking friends or family to read and review, to give a person a copy of a book and request that they "enter a great review on the Amazon page" is far from fair to the reader. It doesn't give the reader any chance to be honest, and immediately tells me that the author will be far too sensitive to any criticism. If that's the case, he (the author mentioned in the article) is in the wrong business. If you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. Just like when you're applying for a new job and asking people if they'd be okay with giving you a reference, never assume someone will be able to give a positive review. But there's nothing wrong with asking for an "honest, and hopefully positive" review. That seems more fair. Or be prepared to take what you get--professional bloggers and reviewers even put something like "An ARC [ARC=Advance Reader Copy] was received in exchange for an honest review" to make sure that people reading their reviews know they were unbiased--and unbought--by the author.

You're probably wondering what tactic I'd take in this situation. That's a tricky one.  I trust most of my writer friends to be completely honest about my work and I'd be honest with theirs.  We also understand that there's a big difference between someone being a bad writer, and someone's writing not being your cup of tea.  Example: I don't read much inspirational romance, but I'd be able to figure out upon reading one if it was well-written or not.  And I know my writer friends can handle feedback. Also, when I say "honest" I mean I try to be tactful but clear if something isn't working. If someone told me I had errors in a completed book, I'd bust my butt to fix them--a few can be forgivable; I see them in completed published works all the time, but a few always slip through the cracks (a few being the key words). Any more than a few, and you need to fix it. Otherwise, the reviewers will tell you, and they won't hesitate. Trust me on this.

"Just keep talkin', Bob. Just keep talkin'."
But back to the letter... Depending on how well I knew him, I'd probably say something to him before posting any kind of review, possibly taking a route that allowed him to save face.  "Hey, Bob, I'm part-way through your book, but I noticed some errors. Maybe you accidentally uploaded a pre-edited version?" Do I really think that's what happened? Not on your life. And if he's smart, he'll take the hardly-subtle hint and fix it.  But he's obviously sensitive to criticism (he asked for that "great" review, after all), and even if I'd said something in my theoretical Amazon review about anything being less-than-perfect, he'd still likely corner me at the next BBQ we ended up at together, grill me (haha, see what I did there?) about what that meant, and then passive-aggressively complain, defending his book and his "perfectionist" wife's editing skills until I start daydreaming about strangling him to death with a rack of ribs.

But what if I just go ahead and write the review and don't say anything?  I'd take Abby's tactic--short and sweet. Find something, anything, about the book that I liked, even if it was a small side character or his overall writing style, and write a very short review based on that. Like, a sentence or two. Hey, he didn't ask for a long review, just a "great" one.  And maybe give it four stars instead of five (three, and he'd see it and we'd be doing the BBQ scenario all over again). Your relatively neutral review will likely be fine with him, and it will allow other readers and reviewers to fill in the gaps you so conveniently left in your own. And they will. Oh, they will.

Does this mean that every book I rate on Goodreads or Amazon with a four-star/short review is because of this? Absolutely not. I'm lucky to be able to squeeze out a few minutes to write this blog, much less review everything I've read lately.  I do my best to, but something has to give. And, like I said above, I'm honest in my reviews. So, if you're looking for something new to read, do what I do--read ALL the reviews (or at least the "most helpful" or "most recent"ones) and make a judgement call for yourself.  What someone loved, you may not; the reverse is just as often true.

Oh, and here are the rest of the posts in this series. If I'm able to help one person with their editing, then I've done a good job.

What do you think of Abby's answer? What would you do in this situation? I'm curious!

xoxo Sarah


  1. "Oh, they will" hehehe.

    I think Abbey's response is right on the money---it's all about the capacity you're operating under. As a friend, I look for the good thing and focus on that, as a crit partner or editor, I tactfully give it to 'em straight.

    You are absolutely right that it's wrong for him to ask for a great review. That would tell me that he doesn't actually care what I thought of it and is only using me to play the algorithm.

    1. Yep, we, as friends, aren't literary critics. I'd definitely expect something difference from a crit partner. :-) Glad you liked the post!