So I just passed on a mixed review/critique of a colleague's novel. I don't know his reaction, really, because his email reply was polite but brief. The thing is, when someone asks for a critique, I really believe you're doing a disservice if you don't give the book a serious read instead of a cursory one and that you're doing an even greater disservice if you're not 100% honest in your critique.
In other words, the things that aren't good, say so. The things that rock, say so. Delivery is important, but don't couch the criticism too carefully or else the weight of it may be lost upon the author.
In this case, I read the novel at a time that I was also trying to finish up a first draft on a collaboration novel, while I was receiving proofs from the publisher for my textbook with hellacious turnaround times and I was taking two master's courses online...while working full time in a demanding position. Throw family in there, too. So I was busy. But...has anyone ever read one of my books when that person was just as busy as I've described? Or more so?
Yes. So you pay it back and you pay it forward.
Plus, the author is a nice guy, a true gentleman and friends with one of the classiest guys I've ever not met (Internet only friends from halfway across the country).
So you make the time. Which I did. Upon finishing, I did have one major criticism and a few smaller ones to go along with the things I liked. I was blunt and direct, because I don't think any of us have time for euphemisms, but I wasn't mean. The danger of being honest, though, is you run the risk of hurting someone's feelings and the friendship. My philosophy has always been that honesty is always worth that risk. Not just what do I think about your book, but on anything in life. You tell your friends the truth, even if it isn't what they want to hear right this second.
I think this guy's book was a good book, but I did point out the warts. I hope that, upon reflection, he sees where my heart was in this process, whether he agrees with the criticism or not. That is, I cared enough about the guy to tell him the whole truth -- the good and the bad.
Ironically, I received an email recently from another writer who asked me about performing some paid editing. I'd edited a small portion of a work for her at a workshop earlier this year and she wrote in her email, "I appreciate the direct voice that you have."
So I must be doing something right.
In a case of double irony, one of my books got a mixed review this week from a fan. I discovered it about an hour after I had sent my critique to the author I mentioned at the beginning of this entry. Here's the link to the review. Give it a read and come back.
Incidentally, for those of you who may agree with this reviewer's take, Beneath a Weeping Sky is an anomaly within the series. Most of the books, including And Every Man Has to Die, are shorter and more briskly paced. And no crazy people. But BaWS is exactly what the reviewer says -- long, and it examines the human condition within the context of a procedural. Some people may like it, some may not. I don't apologize for it -- it is what it is, and it is true to its own (intended) nature.
But isn't nice to read someone's honest review that isn't meant to be harsh? Yeah, not really nice. Just better than a slam. But I like the honesty part. I'd better, or I'd be a hypocrite.