Unsolicited Advice

An indie writer and I became friendly online and I anxiously awaited the release of her first book. I planned to review it for her but once I started it I knew I could not. I barely made it halfway through the first read. I desperately wanted to be supportive of her writing but found the manuscript poorly edited and the characters underdeveloped. She knew I was reading her work and I didn’t quite know how to best handle the situation. In hindsight, I probably should have kept my opinion to myself, but instead told her what I thought she could do to improve her story. She has never spoken to me since.

It’s plenty easy to find people who will tell you how good you are but not so easy to find someone to tell you the truth. Since writing is our product and most of us aspire to make a living at it, an honest opinion is the only way a storyteller can improve. Let me be clear that I’m not talking about the story itself but the proficiency of writing the tale.

You might have concluded that I have learned my lesson from the above experience but in an effort to truly support fellow writers, most especially indie writers, I’m going to go out on a limb and do it once again. What I am about to say is not from on-high as a writer but as an avid reader of fiction. When I read, I get lost in another world and will consume the story as if living on the written word and not come up for air until finished. That is if the book is well written and captivating.

I recently started to read two books that I downloaded from Amazon.  Although I am traditionally published, I support all authors equally and hoped to offer some positive reviews of the books as requested. Both seemed edited okay but each broke the cardinal rule of good story telling: SHOW DON’T TELL. I gave the authors 20 pages to draw me in and it did not happen.  In neither book did I meet the antagonist or find out the conflict of the story. You can chalk it up to preference and maybe that’s all that it comes down to but there are certain fundamentals that I think all writers should aspire to.

As a reader, I want to be drawn into the novel immediately. Please don’t pack the beginning of your book with backstory. You can intersperse the pertinent information as you’re getting on with the real story. Help me understand, in the first few pages, who the protagonist is and what makes him or her different and why I should care about them and what they’re experiencing in relationship to the antagonist.

Have your book professionally edited. Traditional publishing usually includes professional editing and indie authors, in my opinion, should aspire to the same standards. If at some point in my career, I decide to independently publish or my husband does, I promise you, we will get our work edited.

Not everyone will like any one story, even the ones that sell millions of copies so it’s easy to blow off my advice which is your right and prerogative, but don’t.  I know people don’t want to be stuck in the editing process forever but writing a great work of fiction does take many steps and I think we fail our audience when we rush it.

Will I offer unsolicited advice on a personal basis again?  Probably not.  I know in my heart my intent was good and pure but I lost a budding friendship in the process.

I’m still hunting for that newly published novel that blows me away so I can post a review of the story right here on my blog.

Come back next week to read my lighter blog on blowjobs. 😉

Please share your comments.

Warm hugs,

Blakely Bennett

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16 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice

  1. Great post! I too have given unsolicited advice in the hopes of being helpful and both times was blatantly ignored. The first was for a book trailer that the author asked for opinions on through Facebook. Since mine wasn’t the raving reviews all the other posters were stating I sent a private message instead. I gave reasons for my opinion and a link to an example. I received no response whatsoever and as far as I know the trailer was never changed.
    The second was very unsolicited. I followed a link and could barely make it through the blurb. There were grammatical errors and it was just poorly written. So, I sent the author a message through FB trying to be as helpful as possible without sounding like a snob. I said she could, of course, completely ignore me but I was just hoping to help. Nothing.
    After that I decided not to waste my time. If someone asks me I might still do it with the disclaimer that I’m always very honest.
    As readers all we can do is try to give our honest feedback. If an author chooses not to see it that only hurts them in the end. Unfortunately, I rarely spend my money on Indie authors because of this. I hate to be that way but have had way too many bad experiences.

    • Thank you Missy Jane. I did wonder if other people had the same experiences. I tend to download the stories when they have their free weekends or free days. Thanks so much for sharing your comments.
      Blakely

  2. For me it’s frustrating. I’m a new writer and I have friends that read my poems all telling me how awesome they are…but are they really?
    I know I’ve read things others have written and been kind and gracious in my feedback while at the same time knowing it was a chore to read!
    I welcome honest feedback. And don’t tell me if it was “good” or you liked it…tell me what was good and why you liked it…or why it wasn’t. I’m not going to be shattered and welcome real criticism. I haven
    ”t been honing my skills for years…honestly I just kinda fell into it.
    But if I am going to go forward with considering a future as a writer I would rather know now that my writing is crap than continue trying to force it down peoples throats…
    After all,,,nobody wants to eat a shit sandwich….and especialy don;t want to be force fed one!

    • If it makes you feel any better Mike, just remember that there is a shitload (pardon the pun) of crap out there that sells big time. Regardless of whether you’re poetry is good or is not good (It’s all subjective anyway, it depends who is reading it) your stuff may as well take up “space” as much as any other.

      Here in Ireland the poet Seamus Heaney is treated like a god, but for the life of me i don’t get his greatness. He’ll visit schools and people will fawn over him like he was the Queen from England visiting. The poetry I’ve read of his seems lacking in any passion, yet he is considered one of Ireland’s greatest assets. Is it my fault for thinking he is just average? Possibly. What part of his fame is hype? I am unsure.

      If you love to write, then write with all your heart. I know that sounds like a cliche and it probably is, but i think it’s important to do what you enjoy. Making money at writing however…that’s a difficult one. I’ve always been told (and read this same thing in the writers and artists yearbook in the UK) that poetry doesn’t sell very well. It’s heartbreaking to think that long hours can go into the making of your works and no one (well, mainly the book publishers in my honest opinion) believes you are worth being paid. I write this from a jaded position though, having been burned by a traditional publisher a few years ago due to royalties/promotional problems.(mine was art related though, not poetry)

  3. I had a similar experience – when I first self published I was told about the site authonomy. Mostly, I though it was dreadful. A load of authors telling each other that they were all brilliant, in the hope that they would each put their book on their ‘top shelf’, whatever that was, little realising that outside the actual site no-one gave a hoot about what shelf their book was on, as no-one looked at them apart from the authors themselves. One girl, who I met on twitter, asked me to look at the first few chapters of her book. It read like the first draft from a person who is not very good at written English. I offered to help her with it; she ignored my offer of help. All the other authors told her it was brilliant. I told the truth (though not as brutally as I have here, and in a way that offered constructive criticism). Next thing, all the other writers were ploughing into me, tearing my book apart, even though I hadn’t asked for their opinions. I took the book and myself off the site. A few months later my book got into the Amazon top 100 (paid). I don’t think the girl in question writes anymore. Oh, well. :)

    • Thank you so much for commenting. When I first posted this blog, I worried that I might offend some people. Instead, what I have been hearing are stories like yours and mine. I think being supportive is great but the truth is far more helpful if the person is open to hearing it. I believe as writers we should strive to tell the best written story and although the truth can hurt, lies certainly don’t help.

      Blakely

  4. Both sides : I asked for solicited feedback, and paid for an editor. She was new at fiction, but had years of experience in non-fiction. She did exactly what she thought was appropriate and corrected every word of dialogue where I had used dialect. ;-( Every voice sounded exactly the same. LOL I was asked to read over the first three chapters of an unpublished manuscript and make “any” suggestions that I cared to share. I did and the response was a total justification for not changing to “any” of the suggestions except for typos. She hasn’t spoken since. I think there is a vast population that write for social praise rather than sustaining a small business. I want to write for a living and it’s not easy work at all, but it is my bliss.

    • I can see that it works both ways but since writing is our product I think it behooves us to present the best well written product we can. Finding the best editor can be tricky.

      Thanks for the comment,
      Blakely

  5. It’s a difficult one. Constructive criticism is a valuable thing…but so too is praise, and if an author (or anyone) were to receive both constructive criticism and praise from their friends/family/readers etc, then the initial criticism naturally gets a bit watered down. You therefore take the constructive criticism as an opinion like any other, since most of us are aware that it is near impossible to be objective about something we love. I am primarily a visual artist and have been traditionally published under a different name. There is many kinds of art in the world that do nothing for me, though i particularly like Mucha and Renoir. Others enjoy Picasso and Pollock (which leaves me scratching my head as to why). The fact that these paintings sell for millions by default makes them great to the art world, but it is only a price tag that people have conjured up for trade purposes, since many of these artists were in poverty throughout their lives. Today many people wouldn’t want any of those paintings on their wall if they felt they were worth nothing financially.

    I really feel that writing is an art form as much as a physical painting is, and every author/artist has their own unique view of the world. Most, naturally, will want to follow a tried and true method of storytelling, but with so many books out there i think there is a slight bit of worry that our very own “baby” we’ve nurtured for years will end up very sameish and subsequently forgotten about.

    I personally enjoy the writing style of Ernest Hemingway. I really feel that if someone were to write a book in the same way that he wrote Old Man and the Sea, it would fail to be published, yet there is something nice about it. It feels raw, rebellious possibly in that it is not very “precise”. It reads sometimes as though you’re old Uncle could have written it, which has a bit of charm to it. It reminds a regular writer, like myself, that there are all styles of writing and it is OK to veer from a tried and true method. Another writer I admire is Tolstoy. In Tolstoy’s case it really may be down to the fact that i am reading an English translation of the Russian original, and also the time period it was written.

    Unfortunately some people are not cut out for criticism, like the people that love to sing but fear being on stage. Some, sadly, equate criticism with hostility, possibly due to memories or things that have happened in the past. Like I say, it is unfortunate, but if your heart is in the right place then I think it is a good thing to give out advice.

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  7. I urge all my readers to give me their HONEST opinion of my book. I think that it is important as a writer, to know what your readers expect of you. I commend you for giving your honesty to this woman, and hope that when the initial shock wears off, she apologizes for her poor behavior. If she was ever truly a friend, she’ll return to your friendship. :)

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