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wizard tim
05-26-2011, 01:16 AM
I'd like some Roundtable advice.

An acquaintance asked me to critique his novel, which he hopes to have ready to query in the next few months. In my opinion, the ms is very raw and it was hard for me to even point to a central plot. I've tried to advise him to change specific things, because if I told him everything that was wrong it would be overwhelming.

I don't want to crush his dream here, and it's entirely possible I'm wrong. So should I just tell him to go ahead and query? I think the lit agents will reject his work, but they may not provide him any feedback.

This is tricky. What does the Roundtable think? Thanks for the help.

Amadan
05-26-2011, 01:20 AM
Advise him to seek out an online critique group (like here). Let people who don't know him overwhelm him and crush his dreamstell him he's not ready to query yet.

gothicangel
05-26-2011, 01:49 AM
Personally, I would prefer the brutal critique. But that isn't to say that would be your colleague's preference.

NicoleMD
05-26-2011, 01:49 AM
I'd pick three or four major things that you think should be addressed, and stick to those (as well as some positive things). Really, it's all subjective anyway, and an agent could love it for all of the reasons you don't.

Nicole

JoNightshade
05-26-2011, 01:58 AM
Is he saying he's interested in querying? Asking you for advice and such? If so, I'd just tell him straight out that you don't think it's ready for that yet, and he's going to have to do some serious work to whip it into shape.

Kitty Pryde
05-26-2011, 02:03 AM
Agents won't give anything but non-helpful form rejections for a MS that's a big mess. In your position, I'd come up with some nice things to say about his work, like "I like the lady ninja character" and "I can tell you're really passionate about telling this story", and then break down the work's biggest problems and be honest with him that he's a long way away from query-ready. I like to say, rather than, "Boy, you suck a lot!" something like, "There are a lot of concrete things you can do to make this story much, much better!" which is empowering rather than insulting :) And if you give him a handful of stuff to work on and then help him with more things once he gets a handle on those first problems, you can help a lot.

If you were him, would you want your friend to let you waste time querying a disastrous first novel, just to save your feelings?

happywritermom
05-26-2011, 02:08 AM
I would forget the line-by-line stuff and just tell him you think it needs a good, solid rewrite along with some reorganization before he queries. Give him some specific examples. Encourage him to join a writing group and submit a chapter or two at a time for critique.
If he brushes off your advice and still thinks it's agent-ready, then let him. The ability to take and use criticism is critical to success as a writer. If he can't do that, no amount of advice in the world is going to help him succeed and you're wasting your time. No need to be brutal. Just honest.

Karen Junker
05-26-2011, 02:19 AM
This is a really touchy situation. I've critiqued over 50 novels/opening chapters for people I've met through AW -- and I try to be kind but honest.

There have been a couple where I've straight out said I don't think the work is ready to query. Usually, I don't even hear back from those people.

What I'm saying is that by telling your friend you don't think the work is ready, you risk offending him/her and damaging your friendship. I agree with those suggestions above that you might recommend a writing group or even AW as a place to get a variety of opinions about the work before it's ready to query.

Libbie
05-26-2011, 03:18 AM
Definitely refer him to AW. We're much better at doing the dirty work for you. :) And what's nice is that he'll likely hear a lot of the same feedback here from many different people, instead of just one (you)...which could help convince him that he really does need to put more work into it.

OneWriter
05-26-2011, 03:42 AM
I'd like some Roundtable advice.

An acquaintance asked me to critique his novel, which he hopes to have ready to query in the next few months. In my opinion, the ms is very raw and it was hard for me to even point to a central plot. I've tried to advise him to change specific things, because if I told him everything that was wrong it would be overwhelming.

I don't want to crush his dream here, and it's entirely possible I'm wrong. So should I just tell him to go ahead and query? I think the lit agents will reject his work, but they may not provide him any feedback.

This is tricky. What does the Roundtable think? Thanks for the help.

I feel for you. You're in a tough spot.

When somebody gives me a ms, I tell them up front my duty is to be honest. However, if you go this path and tell the author what you think, be ready to lose that friendship because it might happen. But, if the author is smart and really wants to succeed, then he/she has to learn to be open to criticism. So, telling them the truth is the best way you can help them out. So go for it. If they're smart they'll thank you!

I have a friend who reads all my stuff and she's brutally honest and I love her dearly for being brutally honest. My first draft, two years ago, she told me, "Sorry, this doesn't work." I was crushed, but I went back at it, worked really hard, researched, polished, rewrote, and one year later, when the ms was finally ready, I started querying and got lots of requests and eventually signed with an agent. So yeah, the best way you can help out is by being honest. Whether or not your help will be appreciated is up to the author. Good luck! :)

PEBKAC
05-26-2011, 10:05 AM
The problem now with referring him to AW is that he'll see this post from you ;)

friendlyhobo
05-26-2011, 10:17 AM
The problem now with referring him to AW is that he'll see this post from you ;)

Is that a problem or a solution? :evil

Sirion
05-26-2011, 10:18 AM
Direct him to this thread.

STKlingaman
05-26-2011, 10:31 AM
No agent (one you don't have yet) is going
to critique his work, They're going to hit
*command/control/# - and send off the
'You're just not what we're looking for at
the moment, but best of luck to you.'
form death letter.

dpaterso
05-26-2011, 10:55 AM
On a positive note, your acquaintance may never ask you to read anything of his again! I've had this happen to me a few times, and it brought a tremendous sense of relief! :)

If you attract him to AW, and if you think this thread might cause you embarrassment, contact a moderator -- the thread can be made to disappear.

-Derek

Kitty27
05-26-2011, 10:59 AM
Personally,I prefer brutality. I want someone to tell me the raw truth and not pussyfoot around. I don't mean being cruel for the sake of it,but a thorough and honest critique of my work. If someone gets that upset and refuses to speak to you for being 100,how in the world are they going to cope with the publishing industry?

You can refer him to AW or a credible crit group. Your friendship will remain intact and there won't be any crushing of dreams.

seun
05-26-2011, 12:38 PM
if you think this thread might cause you embarrassment, contact a moderator -- the thread can be made to disappear.


Scene: A dark office. Derek sits at a desk, smoking a cigar. In the background, police sirens can be heard before they fade into the distance. Derek picks up a phone and dials.

Derek: "We have a problem with a mutual thread. It has caused us some problems."

Shady character: "Perhaps our mutual thread could have an accident."

Derek: "A terrible accident?"

Shady character: "The worst sort of accident. It will be a shame, of course. I understand the thread has a wife and children, but this is a cruel world."

Derek: "Indeed."

Shady character: "And perhaps the wife and children will also have an accident to ensure there are no more problems."

Derek: "Cruel. Very cruel. But I imagine the accidents will all be quick and quiet. I don't like mess."

Shady character: "Understood. The thread will be taken care of."

Scene: Derek hangs up. He lights another cigar. More sirens fade in the background.

Mr Flibble
05-26-2011, 01:00 PM
Somehow that totally fits my image of Derek...

You have to be honest. You'll do no favours otherwise. BUT, and it's a fairly big but, you can still be tactful and supportive while you do it. Make suggestions etc. Also suggest that agents rarely sign unless an MS is pretty top notch and that almost all writers think they are ready to query before they actually are. (Hands up, who among us did that? o/)

Oh, and send him here. Mainly cos I'm sure Derek is just waiting for that kill order. 00*, license to delete.

Theo81
05-26-2011, 01:36 PM
You begin your critique with the words "I don't think this is ready to query yet.". Outline what you think the main problem/s is/are and let them know you're happy to give them some more feedback if they want you to.

This gets your opinion across (which is what they have asked for), but also keeps it light enough that they can brush you off without having a hissy fit at you.

I don't think you're capable of crushing their dreams. If their dreams can be crushed, they are more fancies than dreams.

vivalalauren
05-26-2011, 02:26 PM
I'd be brutal. If it were me, I'd be disappointed learning later that my friend had tried to spare my feelings.

folkchick
05-26-2011, 03:20 PM
You can be honest without crushing anyone's dream. For example, I asked a former library colleague to read over the first few chapters of my book early on and she found tons of mistakes. She was very thorough with pointing out where I could fix things, but also told me places she enjoyed. In the end I was thankful for her honesty and left hopeful from her praise. It was nice knowing she enjoyed doing the critique. My book was NOT ready to query, but . . . she didn't say that. I was smart enough to figure that out from the mere fact she'd highlighted a million things on every single page.

MJNL
05-26-2011, 08:01 PM
I'm in the "honesty is the best policy" camp. If you tell him it's great and that you think he's ready, he'll think he's ready and stop improving his work. That's not helping him. If you're worried it'll put a strain on your relationship if you give him a full-on crit, I advise as others have: direct him towards a crit group. Let him know you think it still needs work, but say you don't feel qualified (or comfortable, since that's the truth) giving him advice. But you can still help by directing him towards those who can.

Sugar coating never helped anyone. He'll need brutal honesty if he wants to succeed, but you aren't obligated to be the brutalizer.

Spared feelings lead to "But, my mom loved it! Why do you hate me?" types of attitudes. And that's not healthy.

Hope that helps. :)

wizard tim
05-27-2011, 12:07 AM
Kitty Pryde wrote, "If you were him, would you want your friend to let you waste time querying a disastrous first novel, just to save your feelings?"

Lots of good advice on this thread, but that one really made me stop and think. Thanks Kitty.

Also a shoutout to dpaterso and seun for the 'take care of this thread' offer. Hilarious.

I gotta say, when IdiotsRUs wrote, "BUT, and it's a fairly big but" I laughed out loud. Because I have the maturity level of a drunken 7th grader. And now I have that Sir Mixalot song in my head...

Thanks all!

Mr Flibble
05-27-2011, 12:14 AM
I gotta say, when IdiotsRUs wrote, "BUT, and it's a fairly big but" I laughed out loud. Because I have the maturity level of a drunken 7th grader. And now I have that Sir Mixalot song in my head...


We aim to please :D

Soccer Mom
05-27-2011, 06:33 AM
Scene: A dark office. Derek sits at a desk, smoking a cigar. In the background, police sirens can be heard before they fade into the distance. Derek picks up a phone and dials.

Derek: "We have a problem with a mutual thread. It has caused us some problems."

Shady character: "Perhaps our mutual thread could have an accident."

Derek: "A terrible accident?"

Shady character: "The worst sort of accident. It will be a shame, of course. I understand the thread has a wife and children, but this is a cruel world."

Derek: "Indeed."

Shady character: "And perhaps the wife and children will also have an accident to ensure there are no more problems."

Derek: "Cruel. Very cruel. But I imagine the accidents will all be quick and quiet. I don't like mess."

Shady character: "Understood. The thread will be taken care of."

Scene: Derek hangs up. He lights another cigar. More sirens fade in the background.


You...you listened in on my conversations with Derek? How could you?


*Shady Mom changes identity again*

rugcat
05-27-2011, 07:11 AM
I've been in that situation. Never be brutal. I once did that, and the person simply stopped writing. And they had promise; I thought I was doing them a favor, but I wasn't.

Since then I've learned how to be honest and yet encouraging at the same time. Almost everything has something about it that has merit. And although initially disappointed, almost everyone I've critiqued for has come to sincerely thank me later, after they've learned a bit -- sometimes telling me I wasn't harsh enough.

But you don't want to crush anyone. It's not helpful -- far worse than the sin of enabling, which is easy to avoid if you're supportive but direct.

seun
05-28-2011, 04:58 PM
You...you listened in on my conversations with Derek? How could you?


*Shady Mom changes identity again*

I didn't listen in.

You know that lamp in the corner? That was me in disguise. :evil

PorterStarrByrd
05-28-2011, 05:16 PM
Take care of this BEFORE you beta read. Find out what the writer wants.
You can deliver your verdict in that scenario.

As a writer I value, pretty much in this order
1. Does the first chapter keep you reading (hook you)
2. Did you like the book enough to be happy you read it
3. Are there places where you were bothered about the content
4. Are there places where you were bothered by the writing
5. Editing suggestions
6. How the beta reader would have changed the plot. (if this one is checked BEWARE.) I sometimes get that kind of (usually)unhelpful feedback.

Give this sort of a list to the writer and have him check off what kind of detail he want's from you. This can written or verbally. Just make sure you know what he wants.

Whatever he chooses do that HONESTLY, reminding him or her that you are not a professional editor (unless you are) but an example of a potential reader. Be nice, telling him what you like as well as what you don't, but be as truthful (brutal) as you need to be in order to give all the help you can.

If an ego boost is all the writer really wants, you're both wasting your time. Avoid reading those samples at all costs.

skylark
05-28-2011, 08:38 PM
"in the next few months" suggests to me that he's not exactly thinking it's perfect as-is.

I would definitely want to be pointing him at a site like this one. Not just because I was afraid of getting yelled at if I put red ink on his baby, but because I'd be worried that he was treating me as the big expert and if/when he got rejections down the line it would be seen as my failure to spot the problems so he could fix them.

If you think he wants an ego boost, I would read a bit of it, tell him it's not a genre / style / voice you feel qualified to comment on, and still point him here.

Rufus Coppertop
05-29-2011, 09:38 AM
Two years ago I was about to start submitting.

First though, I popped by here with a raw preliminary draft with lots of info dumps, headhopping and stuff and put some of it up for critique.

I honestly expected hearty praise with a few snippets of advice and one or two very slight flaws pointed out.

:ROFL:

So here I am about twenty pages from finishing the preliminary draft of another novel set in the same world, also raw but much less info dumpy and head hoppy.

I won't be ready to submit anything for about a year at least. Too much work to do and you know? I wouldn't have it any other way.

Your friend might benefit similarly, especially if their work is as unready as you say.

wizard tim
05-29-2011, 08:53 PM
[QUOTE=PorterStarrByrd;6189257]Take care of this BEFORE you beta read. Find out what the writer wants.
You can deliver your verdict in that scenario.

Porter makes a good point here. I really should have thought about the writer's expectations -- what sort of critique does he want from me?

Maybe if I can clarify that, I'll be able to give him an honest opinion without totally crushing his dream.

Thanks all!