How Do I Tell Them Their Writing Sucks?

IMG_2074How do we support fellow authors when we feel their writing is not of a standard that we would be proud to share?

Today’s question is a lot more sensitive than usual as none of us wants to hurt the feelings of fellow tribe members. But the reality is, we come up against this problem all the time, and we need to put it on the table fully and purposefully if it isn’t going to become the elephant in the room very quickly! Ultimately it will only going to get bigger, and we need to clean up all that poop! So let’s sort it out now before it settles in.

I am no expert on this subject and I find it extremely difficult to tackle. So I’m just going to throw out some thoughts on this one, and hopefully, you can all build on it?

First and foremost I want to stress that being given the opportunity to read and review and critique the work of another author is a huge honour and one that we need to be very very careful with. This is sacred space we are treading on, and no matter what we do, feel or say, we need to tread with a massive dose of humility and an even bigger dose of grace! Anything short of that is always going to go badly!

Here are some real-life examples:

I once read an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of a book which from page one was filled with errors. I would have put down the book immediately but I had offered to read it for a friend and didn’t want to let her down. So I read a few pages more to see what was going on and soon realized that there was a beautiful story underneath there and that without the errors, it could be a success. So I put on the most humble hat I could find, wrote her a carefully worded message which was the least accusatory or judgemental that I could possibly write, and apologized profusely for being the bearer of bad news.

But I told her straight out, that I saw great potential in her story, and that I also saw some quite bad mistakes. I shared with her that in my own personal, totally subjective opinion, the mistakes appeared to me to be simply a translation issue (the book had been written first in a European language) and I gave her some advice on how to fix them.

I went to bed worried, but needn’t have. I woke the next morning to a beautiful thank you message, and over the next few weeks we put our heads together to come up with a solution. She sacked her translator, postponed her launch by a few weeks, and we combed through that manuscript over and over again. She ran it through Grammarly time and again, and I cheered her on from the sidelines every step of the way.

It was a great honour for me to be a small part in that and loved watching her beautiful story emerge!

Here is another real-life story:

I bought a book that looked great, and while it was a much heavier story, with all the things that I am passionate about (abuse, survival, tribes and so on), there too was an amazing story in there. The author wrote in a way that I felt brilliantly walked that very fine line between laying bare the truth of unspeakable abuse without having to go overboard and become gory or voyeuristic. She somehow kept the integrity of the abused child and later adult, without shying away from the horror that she endured.

But I also found the story a little jarring. Instead of building through to crescendoes and solutions and resolutions which built slowly and unpacked over time, the story moved from beautifully written tragedy to beautifully written tragedy with very fast solutions in between which came out of nowhere. I wanted to know how those solutions evolved and came into being, how trust was built and I wanted to live with the main character through her fear of failure with so much on the line. I wanted to rejoice with her triumph but it was a triumph that I couldn’t connect to as the reader was not taken on that particular journey.

Again it was my personal perspective opinion on the story and it was very subjective, but I wanted to share my thoughts with the author in the hope that they could take her writing to the next level. I still believe that she has huge potential as a world-class author, but that this potential blind spot could hold her back for some readers.

Her response was not as welcomed as the other author and she told me I was wrong. I have no doubt that I am wrong, who am I anyway, and it was just my opinion. But it laid out for me the question of how do we navigate this space of sharing our opinions and helping? I was honest with both of them and had completely different results.

And in both cases I believed in the authors and would read ALL of their books and be a huge Brand Ambassadors for them for the rest of their careers if they would learn from what I see as their potential blind spots.. I am not the boss of how successful anyone is, but I do follow authors I can get behind totally, but don’t want to read books that leave me feeling as though it could have been so much more.

Then again what would have happened in each of these 2 cases if behind their meagre blind spots, there wasn’t an amazing author there? What if those stories were boring or badly written, or mechanical or going nowhere no matter what efforts and “fixes” were thrown at them?

I invested in those stories and those authors because I LOVE their work. But there have been others where I simply don’t. Is it me? Is it them? Who am I to say. But I simply don’t have the time, energy, or know how to help them in any way that I can see will make a difference, and it’s best to walk away. Isn’t it?

So my only thoughts and experiences come to these conclusions:

  1. If I have the honour of reading anything for review or critique, then I do so remembering that this is sacred ground I have been given the honour of walking on. I need to treat it as such.
  2. If I LOVE it and it is perfect (how often does that ever happen LOL), then fabulous for me and fabulous for them! Woohoo!! I become their number one fan, write a great review, and become a brand ambassador for them FOREVER!  ….YAY!
  3. More likely, however, is that especially for a relatively new author (less than 5 full books under their belt) there will be a few blind spots that they would hopefully want to be aware of. Most authors want to be better and to know how to improve. But again, we are on sacred group here, so all feedback should be given with as much grace and humility as possible.
  4. How the author responds is about them not me. If I have been constructive, humble and gracious, that is all I can do. If they don’t want anything more then that’s fine and I honestly do feel for them as no one likes “constructive feedback” so they are entitled to feel a bit yuck. But whether they use that feedback as a stepping stone or not is up to them.
  5. If I can’t find the fluent, flowing author and his or her magic in there anywhere, regardless of mistakes big or small, then this is where I struggle the most. It doesn’t mean a fabulous, incredible author isn’t in there, or that their work is not magnificent, but some writing styles don’t speak to me, some stories I cannot relate to, some language grates on me rather than sings to me, and sometimes I can’t even unpack it that succinctly that I can put my finger on the “problem”. It’s just for me and that’s the end of that.

What are your experiences and solutions to this dilemma?


Where you can find and follow Jennifer:

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Flatline or Sky High?

All authors love Am8zon reviews. And not because of vanity or approval, but because in many ways these reviews have become the modern measure of authory success, the virtual currency of the trade, the key to certain otherwise closed circles, and the gold stars of literary approval. They are needed if one is to succeed. Period.

And so I see people asking, even begging, for reviews, and have been known to stoop so low myself. It is so frustrating and most readers don’t understand the power that they hold in that 1-second click on the star chart, and 30 seconds of writing to send off a review.

So the internet is filled with ways to achieve another review. You are not allowed to pay for reviews, you are not allowed to swap them, and nor can family or friends give them. And so one has to find other ways, which can not only be nigh on impossible but quite deflating and soul destroying. You can send out emails to reviewers, you can join groups who create round robins and so on, but still, the effort involved is huge, and often so is the cost.

The return rate on emails, Facebook posts, groups joined and so on, is less than half a percent. And those numbers drop even further to even a fraction of that pathetic number if you don’t individualize your requests, make them genuine, and put homework into every single one. Then what do we do when we eventually get one? We have no choice but to move on to the next 100 emails, the next round of social media begging, and to trawl through Google to find another fifteen groups to join, introduce oneself, buy more books we don’t like, review 14 other people’s books and put ourselves through the ringer again! And all the while we could have been writing our next book!

This feels to me a little like flatlining. With the odd blip on the chart when you manage to score a review. Honestly, unless you’ve done this yourself, you cannot imagine how soul destroying it is! It’s heartbreaking and most authors aren’t skilled in these social areas. Quite frankly, it leaves me feeling just a little bit ill.

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 9.19.06 AM

The chart above shows the green line down in the grass. The gold stars are 4 successful reviews, and you can see that each time one is achieved, they then have to go back to square one and work on finding the next one. They grow in numbers slowly, but each review is what I call “touch and go”. Success but move on to trying to find the next one. To me, this is lonely and awful.

But what if you wanted more than a flat line that continues year after year, book after book, each one with the hope that it will be the kind of review that kickstarts a trajectory to “real” success? What if each review, instead of being a solo exercise, was a way to “level up”? What if each review came with something more than just a few words from a complete stranger and nothing more? What if the same 4 reviews helped you to reach for the sky just a little bit?

Our greatest recommendations don’t come from reviews believe it or not, but from recommendations by people we trust. People we know personally, or personalities that we believe we trust. These are what we need to build trust in our writing and ultimately sales and more reviews.

Rightly or wrongly, as humans, we trust tribes and communities more than we trust individuals on their own. We all believe a bunch of rubbish if the whole village is behind it before we believe the truth from a leper on his own in the wilderness! So we need to create villages around our books and our authorship. Villages that are appealing to the outside, villages that make outsiders feel welcoming. Villages that leave readers feeling drawn to, and outsiders and lepers busting to get in.

Reviews don’t build villages, brand ambassadors do, and next time I will be writing a whole post on what a BRAND AMBASSADOR is and does. How you can be one, and how you can help your friends, families and communities to as well. ou cannot expect others to be your ambassadors unless you can be one yourself. And it’s not just about “paying it forward” or “do unto others” either. It’s about the laws of nature and human beings. We were created to be in communities and we need to behave as if we belong to communities if we want to draw others in. If we behave like lone strangers then we will be treated as such.

But you cannot expect others to be your ambassadors unless you can be one yourself. For your own brand, and some of their brands as well. And it’s not just about “paying it forward” or “do unto others” either. It’s about the laws of nature and human beings. We were created to be in communities and we need to behave as if we belong to communities if we want to draw others in. If we behave like lone strangers then we will be treated as such.

Over the past year, I have read some fabulous books and written some great reviews. I get that for the big writers with thousands of reviews I am merely a drop in ocean, however, many of these books have had only a few reviews. The authors are relatively new and would still be thrilled to receive my added reviews. I have become a brand ambassador for them, taken screenshots of their books, posted them and tagged them across all social media, and without being a crazy stalker, I gave them what I would give my eye teeth to have someone else do for me! It’s good for them and it’s good for me.

At the “best” end of the scale, some have said thank you. But that’s it! At the “worst” end of the scale, they have completely ignored me!

To me, they were handed an opportunity on a silver platter. They accepted my “follow” on Twitter and followed me back, they “liked” my post etc. But every single one, bar none, has proceeded to do NOTHING more with that. And all but 3 have unfollowed me a month later. As authors, they had the chance to level up… but they didn’t. They were so busy chasing the next review, that they ignored me.

A recommendation by another person is always a thousand times better than us blowing our own trumpet! We should share that other person’s recommendation and share it lots! We need to interact, build a level of personal interaction, and you both may soar just a little bit! Soar with half a dozen people and it can take you to the next level. Outsiders watching flocks and tribes soar together want to a part of the action. They look on longingly.

Soar with half a dozen people and it can take you to the next level. Outsiders watching flocks and tribes soar together want to a part of the action. They look on longingly. We become inviting in numbers!

There are two sides to this coin. We need to build villages rather than be alone, but we also need to remember how to treat those who come into our spheres. How to leverage their recommendations!

So for anyone who still doesn’t understand why I believe so passionately in tribes and communities, I hope this goes some way to explain that!

If anyone wants to build a village around their authorship, get on board! It’s free, you will be welcomed with open arms, and we can soar together!!!


Where you can find and follow Jennifer:

YouTube |Blog | The Mighty | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon