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?

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@JPeaSmith

 

 

Beneath The Skin by Kyla Stone.

img_9495I recently had the privilege of reading this book (out of my own free choice I might add, after reading her blurb) and I loved it. I did not think that I had any interest in the Young Adult (YA) genre after trying a few recently and not enjoy them at all, but this was refreshingly brilliant.
There is absolutely nothing fluffy about this book at all as it tackles some really deep and important issues like cutting and abuse. I don’t take either of these (or the other issues raised in the book) lightly and I don’t like reading about them unless the author is able to walk that fine line between giving enough detail to make the situation real without going so far as to trigger people or frighten them. I started reading another book about sexual abuse recently and I had to put it down after the first few chapters as the details were way too explicit. This book on the other hand was quite different. I know that we each have out own level of triggers and discomfort but I felt that Kyla did a great job.
I am not sure exactly where the exact line is but I think that Kyla treads it perfectly as she pulls the reader in to the emotions created in each situation without going overboard. There are no easy fixes or fairy God Mothers, and there are no short cuts. It is very raw and realistic. A really good read if you are interested in any of these issues or want to get inside and understand the complicated web that creates these messes.
BENEATH THE SKIN is available in print and ebook from Amazon. It is normally $4.99 but is on sale from today through the second of January for only 99c. 
Kyla Stone is the author and you can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
 
Click here to sign up for her Email List for Sales and New Releases, in my opinion she is an author to watch 🙂
When I emailed her to ask if she had anything to add she replied that she would love people to read her book and to remind them that all reviews on Goodreads and Amazon much appreciated! 

Book Review: TWO sons TOO many….

img_5783I have just finishing reading this book by Aidan McNally.

Honestly, I have never felt so conflicted about a book in my life! I have absolutely no idea how to rate it, as every number out of 5 stars feels wrong to me. If you are reading this then I assume that you want an honest answer and quite frankly a number is never going to sit right with this book.

If you want an honest, told-as-it-is, frank, raw, redemption story (of sorts) then this deserves full marks. If you want a well written, organised, well edited, flowing story, …then sadly forget it, as it fails completely on every count. Not just below par, but failed completely.

And yet I don’t feel that he earns a fail on this book either. I have no idea who he is or how he wrote this, but it plays out as if he is sitting there with a dictaphone and a beer, and just tells his truth as he knows it. Warts and all, sex scenes and all, blurring truths and mistakes and a few contradictions to make it a true “pub story”.

A middle of the road rating would be totally unfair, it is nothing middle of the road…

At times it is truly gripping, at others I really had to trudge through a bunch of boring repetitive stories which quite frankly, it doesn’t matter exactly where the truth lies. I expected a book about the loss of two sons, and I was truly moved by all the stories of Aidan’s upbringing and background. But in the middle third of the book there are stories that are basically repeats of the same thing over and over.

I know what it is like to make the same mistakes repeatedly, and I know what it is like to stupidly give someone you love a second, third and even hundredth chance when they “don’t deserve it”. But I think that he could have done well to have condensed some of the repetition and concentrated more on the overall picture of some of the stories.

I felt for this man, and somehow he had me hooked enough to speed read through the bad bits and keep going, …so I have to give him a ton of credit for that. I also have to give him a ton of credit for baring his heart and soul so rawly and so openly. And he deserves a medal for going so far out on a limb and making this book happen when he is clearly not a writer at all. If there is any doubting the facts in any of the stories in it, this book backs up his tenacity and “make-it-happen” attitude. At a very basic level the fact that he has written this book and published it and made it happen, in what appears to be only a few weeks (the story ends very soon before the book went live), shows that he is a survivor and a trooper and that he thinks outside the square.

The two main issues for me are firstly the terrible way that it is written, and secondly the focus of the book not being quite what it is presented to be.

Even the most basic sweep of editing would improve this book dramatically, … although having said that, my hesitation comes in the form of not wanting to lose the spirit of this man, the voice behind his story, and so a basic sweep is desperately needed. So is a deeper level of editing but it would take an expert to do that without losing who Aidan MacNally is.

The second problem (for me that is), is that there is way too much focus on some of the truly boring stuff, and no where near enough on the events that hook people into buying the book and hearing his story. I hate spoiling endings for people so I won’t say what happens, but the things that drew me to the book came very late in the story and while deeply moving and tragic, were relatively skimmed over and there are many unanswered questions which he opens up but doesn’t finish.

More importantly however is that at the very end of the book a completely different agenda appears and I felt as though this is more what he is asking his readers to hear. Yet there is no reference to that in the marketing. I felt as though I went into this with one agenda but that it suddenly switched to another at the end… I would have preferred to have a better understanding of what he was trying to do.

To finish, here are some more up sides: I think that the name is very clever, there are some subtle threads through the story which are encouraging and uplifting and remind me that there is still much good in human beings, and lastly there is something that Aidan manages to bring to the table that makes me simply want him to succeed …in life, in his final dilemma, and with his book. I feel that there is much potential here, but he needs a bit of a helping hand to make it great!

*Please note that this is not a sponsored review. As with all my reviews to date, I paid for the book and read it because I chose to 🙂

Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 8.24.17 AM I’ve just finished the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and my review is very mixed. I personally love historical fiction that is well researched with really thought provoking and interesting topics ….i.e. for me, not politics (boring) or gangs (no one ever wins) or slavery (which breaks my heart too much for me to enjoy), and she does a really good job of both presenting her story and the background information that she presents.

It was a really interesting read for me because my Aunt and Uncle (only family on my Mum’s side) were missionaries in the exact same region for 10 years, and arrived only a decade after the Prices did. So many of the stories are exactly the same as those that I have heard all my life, right down to making peanut butter by smashing peanuts between rocks, and my youngest cousin was born in the village. I found it fascinating to learn soooo much more about the area and politics and so on, and I learnt a lot about the continent that I love and was born on, and it left me feeling terrible sad… but in a good congruent way. I knew bits and pieces so there were no shocks, but this really gave far more depths to some really serious issues.

On the flip side, while the characters in the book are fictitious and the dad is a complete lunatic, I have no doubt that as with all kinds of influential people in the world, many of them are complete fools and do the stupidest things in the name of God, country, family, etc and do soooo much damage!! Therefore coming from a family of missionaries and knowing how beautiful they can be and what amazingly good things many of them did and still do, but also knowing how stupid human beings can be, I spent a lot of time cringing through the book which is also good and congruent I guess.

It is a very long book and I love long books, but this one really dragged for me and I spent the last couple of weeks in bed without the mental strength to read such a deep and complicated book. The chapters alternate between 5 different characters, one of whom speaks only in riddles, so you have to keep thinking the whole time, and really be on the ball.

It’s thought provoking and impressive and beautiful and sad, but in my opinion it isn’t a holiday or recuperating book I don’t think. I love knowing how things turn out for people, even fictitious people, but the last 20% of the book felt like it really really dragged out and I found myself wishing for the end and determined to finish it as I knew that I would never give it another go just to know the ending. There is nothing worse than having three or four other books to read but having to plod through the one that you need to finish 😦