Have you ever come across a book that’s so badly written you would rather cut your arm off than turn another page? That’s how I felt last night! Let me explain . . .

I was contacted by an American author who asked me to review her book for Amazon UK. She hadn’t received any reviews on my side of the pond and was keen to change this situation. I agreed and she sent me a free copy in return for a review. I added it to my list and began reading it Thursday night in bed.

Astounded by how immature the writing was (and bearing in mind I was really tired), I put it down telling myself it had to get better. WRONG!  I picked it up again last night and after half an hour I couldn’t stand to turn another page. This is what I found:

>          The book had either been self-edited or edited by someone who wasn’t professional and didn’t really know what they were doing. Whoever did edit it should be pinned against a wall and shot!

>          The characters were like cardboard cut-outs and one dimensional. There was no emotion SHOWN whatsoever. The reader is TOLD someone is happy/sad/hurting/angry, but there’s no emotional connection so you can’t empathise with the character. You can’t imagine what they’re feeling because there’s nothing to hook into.

>          There was no description used anywhere. When the characters were in a tropical location I wanted to SEE the golden sand, HEAR the waves lap gently on the shore, SMELL the salty air, ADMIRE the lush scenery with its colourful blooms, WONDER at the indigenous people’s customs. I didn’t want to be TOLD the place was ‘beautiful and peaceful’ I wanted to SEE and IMAGINE it for myself through good use of description.

>          The dialogue was stilted and unrealistic, even robotic in places.

>          The plot moved on, but because the writing was so bad, you couldn’t get a sense of where it was heading.

>          Part of the book is set in Eastern Europe yet the characters don’t have names typical of their Iron Curtain home, they have English/American names. The author obviously hasn’t done any research on the country and very little on their customs.

>          If I didn’t know better, I would say the book had been written by a six or seven-year-old as the style is like, “The cat sat on the mat”, and “He was a coward and his name was Fred”. I think you get the gist!

In the right editor’s hands, this book could possibly have been made into something half decent, but it would have meant scrapping it and starting again.

Anyway, here’s where my dilemma comes in. I’m not one to publicly trash another author’s work – I would hate to have it done to me – yet she’s asked me for a review. I won’t normally review a book unless I like it and am therefore reluctant to post a one-star review with nothing positive to say about it. I could email the author and give her a private critique, explaining why I don’t want to publish a review, but my instincts tells me she won’t take it in the right spirit. I think she’ll (A) blow off my critique because she thinks she’s such a good writer and her crap doesn’t smell (I’m sure you know the sort I mean), or (B) bad-mouth me for daring to criticise her work, or (C) run a hate campaign against me and try to smear my good name, or all of the above.

I’ve worked hard to build my reputation, both as a writer and an editor, and the last thing I want is to have my name tarnished.

So what would you do? All opinions very gratefully received coz I’m really stumped!!



26 thoughts on “Dilemma

  1. Carlie the same thing happened to me a few months back. I had made a connection with a writer on Twitter whose blog I liked because it was about the funny things her kids did or said. They were little ones and the perfect audience for my bedtime story LUCCI-The No Smoochie Poochie. We got to talking and agreed to swap books for reviews.

    Her book was a personal account of a disability she lived with on a daily basis. Had it not been for our agreement, I would have stopped reading it at the third chapter in because it read like a personal diary, with ad nausium accounts of the day in-day out drudgery of doctors’ visits, managing around the home, and scads of anecdotes that had nothing to do with the price of tea in China.

    LUCCI takes about a nano-second to read, so she speedily posted a good review. I was stuck! I literally  became depressed while dragging my eyeballs across the wealth of pages that was her book. When I finished, I struggled the same way you are struggling now. (The book had redeeming qualities and could have been revised to be a handbook for folks who were recently diagnosed.)

    Here’s what I finally did. I don’t post reviews for books that I would rate at one or two stars exactly because of the reasons you mention. Instead, send the writer an email with the points you have listed here, and offer her the choice of whether she wants you to post a review or not. It’s a critique versus a review, but at least she’ll receive instructive points to use in a possible revision. Then she can take it or leave it, and you don’t compromise a thing.

    Unfortunately, the writer never replied to me, but she did not un-friend me and a hate campaign did not follow. I hope this helps Carlie. Follow your gut.

  2. I’ve had the same experiences in critique groups. I value honesty above all things, so I ripped the work apart and told them all the things wrong with it, as much or more than what you told us. Everything was told not shown with very little dialogue. Everything, setting, characters, and events were all flat and typical with nothing interesting or unusual.The characters had stereo typical accents when they did speak that was nauseating. Scenes were not transition properly. NONE of the reader’s questions were anticipated, asked through dialogue or answered. He just plowed through the story like it was a college paper that he was forced to do. In the end he just ignored me and tried to publish the trash anyhow. (This was an English teacher) I left the group and never went back.

    I’m a creative writer who has spent years studying the craft on how to carefully plan my story world, characters and foundation. Everyday I learn something new and read books on writing. But the one thing I have learned is, a GOOD editor is expensive, and WORTH every penny. Before I publish again I will pay the thousands I know it will cost me to have it edited. Why, because all of the hard work I put into it. I want it to have a chance for success. As a writer you can only self edit so far. You have to have a pro make it better, because you are too intimately involved with the story to be very objective – I try.

    Tell her, it was interesting, challenging and truly a piece of work the likes in which you have never read before; that it surprised you in ways you never imagined. /wink 🙂

    • Hi Shay,
      You’re absolutely right about every writer needing a good editor. Even though I’m an editor myself, I still employ one for my writing – I’m not stupid enough to try and edit my own work!
      I love your closing paragraph – it made me chuckle! Thanks for your comments.
      Carlie 😉

  3. Carlie – I too have faced this dilemma, because of my book-review blogs. I think Donna has given you the only possible soulution.

    This is why I don’t accept gift manuscripts – I fear the fallout when an author who is unable to accept or hear gently worded criticism receives a less than stellar review.

    As an author, there is no pain like that of discovering that your dearly loved masterpiece is a gutter-dwelling vagrant who could do with a bath and charm-school. You get hurt. And then angry. And then….

    As a beta-reader and editor, I notice speedbumps and flat dialogue. I don’t mind a tiny bit of ‘telling’ but too much does ruin the story. I have been trhought he editing process with you and while it was gruelling (for both of us) we developed a close working relationship. FR grew and became better because of that. EVERY BOOK NEEDS AN IMPARTIAL EYE cast upon it before it leaves the nest.

    The way I now head this situation off is to never accept a gift manuscript. It is the coward’s way out, but there it is.

    I’m a coward.

    • Hi Connie,
      Well, I’m definitely going to be a coward from now on, so you’ll be in good company!
      I have to say it wasn’t gruelling at all working on FR – I loved every minute of it! It was intense because I set myself quite a punishing schedule for completion of the edit, but what has come out of this is well worth the long hours spent, especially our great relationship!
      Thank you for your input.
      Carlie x

  4. I think I would send an email with what your critique would be (in the softest and most politically correct way but still honest) to this author. This way hopefully the will use the advise you give them but not have a one star review out there. Good luck.

  5. I agree with Donna. I would offer the writer your feedback (which is great, and she should be very happy to have it) and tell her if she wants to completely rewrite and edit the book, you will have another look.

    You are doing her a favor, since you are offering her a chance to improve her book.

    It’s accepted policy in book review world, and it’s a far better option than leaving a 1 or 2 star review – or worse, a DNF (Did Not Finish.)

  6. Excellent advice from those who have already replied, Carlie. This has happened to me several times and I’ve done exactly what Donna and others have suggested. It’s not easy though. I no longer do “review swaps” for this very reason.
    The quality issue is undoubtedly the major challenge facing the Indie publishing business right now. Unless we can collectively do something to raise standards, then the reading world is going to drown in mediocrity and worse. I’m very attracted by the approach taken by the “Awesome Indies” website – http://awesomeindies.net – where books are submitted for review based on very well defined standards. We need more of this kind of thing!
    Well done for posting this, BTW. It certainly needs airing.

    • Hi Stuart,
      Yes, the quality issue is a challenge for Indies. I’ve heard a few horror stories and seen poorly edited books (yet all the stories had more positives than negatives), but I have to say this is the first DNF I’ve ever had! I’ll check out the Awesome Indies – thank you for bringing this to my attention.
      Thank you for your support and for taking the time to give me your views.

  7. Yep, I totally agree with the advice offered. I never post a low star review, I will send an email and explain why I’m not posting, and offer a critique if the writer wants one.
    Ball back in her court.
    I totally understand your fears, and it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility for one of those negative situations to come about, but this is really the only fair option available to you.
    Good luck with it.

    • Hi Deborah,
      I like the idea of throwing the ball back in her court! I have friends who’ve been subjected to hate campaigns and they’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve it. I don’t want to have even half the problems they did!
      Thank you for your comments and good luck wishes – I have a feeling I might need them!

  8. Agree with previous advice. Honesty is the best policy. If you have trouble taking criticism then writing may not be the career path for you, because making mistakes is how we learn. I’m sure we’ve all written stuff we’ve had to learn from, and may yet write things that are less than perfect (heaven forfend) but you’ve gotta take this stuff in stride, especially with the publishing industry being the way it is. It’s a tough situation, but you’ll be doing her a favour.

  9. Hi, Carlie. Yeah, that’s tough. I try to avoid drama at all cost. I figure that when I love something I’m going to shout it from the roof-tops. However, when I don’t, I’m going to scurry away and hope no one remembers what I had been reading. Good luck to you. I’ve had a couple readers now explain that my work just wasn’t their cup of tea. Never wanting to burn a bridge in this business, I simply thanked them for their time. I hope the same happens for you, my friend.


  10. Carlie- It is never easy giving a negative critique, However, SHE asked you for a review. I think you owe her the truth as you see it. publishing a very negative review of someone’s work in public is not a good idea. In my opinion, give her a private critique that is as constructive as possible and call it a day. It is up to her how she takes your comments. The idea of having someone critique your work is to improve as a writer. the choice to follow anyone’s advice is up to the author. Good luck.

  11. Hey you!

    I think the only thing you can do is be honest in the nicest possible way. I think you should email her to say you can’t post a review that you don’t believe in and you don’t believe in posting a negative one.

    You could put the ball back in her court and ask her what she wants to do about it? I guess you could give her two options (1) you both leave it and pretend nothing happened, put down the keyboard and step away so that nobody has to get hurt or (2) she can have an email highlighting all the things that you would consider needed addressing to be much better than it currently is. It means that if she’s having a particularly bad day or is feeling insecure in her writing she can save herself the pain of some honest feedback. Alternatively, If she’s the robust type that can take it on the chin, she can get herself some good advice and work with it.

    Good luck!

    • Hey Jess,
      People who know me well would say I’m not the type to be anything but nice when giving honest feedback. Even when I’m editing someone’s work, I always couch my comments in a kind way.
      Thank you for your views and good wishes.

  12. Hi Carlie. I sympathize with you; it’s hard to give less than stellar news when you don’t know how the person will take it. I’ve found that how I feel about a book depends on whether I’m reading it wearing my writer hat or my reader hat.

    I recently read a two-book series. The reader in me thought it was a charming story, not great but fine; the writer in me had some issues with it. It was disjointed and didn’t flow well. There wasn’t a lot of action but always the promise that it was coming which proved to be anti-climatic when it finally did get around to it. The main character was portrayed as a ferociously independent woman who then proceeded to do everything the other main character told her to do without question. It was actually a pretty good lesson for me as a writer on what to avoid.

    Would I recommend it based on how I felt as a reader? Sure. But the writer in me was glad I didn’t have to review it.

    As a fairly new writer I often have trouble getting honest feedback. I’m prepared for it, really. It seems that I can only find either the websites that rip you into little bloody pieces for a wayward comma, or they absolutely love everything about every story. I try my best to give gentle but honest and helpful feedback and it’s met with silence (they won’t review my stories anymore), disbelief (this from a person who didn’t use dialogue tags but insisted they did), the rare thank you (great!) or they will then review every subsequent story of mine using the aforementioned ripped into little bloody pieces technique, which would actually be fine with me if they said something useful.

    I agree with jesssturman’s suggestion. I wouldn’t review it but ask/offer the author the things you did like about it along with what didn’t work for you, both as a writer and a reader.

    Will you please let us know what you decide so we can put that in our writers bag for future use?

    Thanks and good luck.

    • Hi Karen,
      Thank you for your comment. I think it’s so sad when people are deliberately cruel when giving feedback – it makes me wonder what sort of people they are and why they feel the need to be so destructive. I always strive to give honest feedback that doesn’t leave an author feeling deflated.
      The biggest problem I have with this particular book is the fact there is really nothing positive I can say about it, either as a reader or writer!
      I’ve received some great advice and am grateful to everyone who has posted on here – I’ve got plenty to think over!
      Yes, I will post what course of action I decide upon.

      ps As well as being an author and editor, I also beta read. If you would like me to give you honest but kind feedback on any of your work, let me know. I can supply references! 🙂

      • Wow! Thank you so much for the kind offer. Right now I’m doing a lot of short stories of different genres but I do have a couple stories in the works that will be longer and would love to have someone read them.

        Thanks again!

        • You’re very welcome, Karen. If you want to take me up on my offer or discuss it privately, my personal email address is on the About Me page.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s