Critiquing a friend’s book… how do you tell them it doesn’t work?

Ever had the feedback dilemma? Here’s the goss on how to do it:

Nail Your Novel

I’ve had this interesting question from Jan.

A friend has finished drafting her first novel. She asked me to proofread before she sends it to agents. I explained she would up her chances if she got it edited too, so she asked if I could do that.

I’m reading the manuscript and have found what I feel are fundamental issues. For instance, I’m 57 pages in and nothing dramatic has happened, I still don’t know the theme of the book, or what any of the characters are driving towards. There is a lot of description, but I haven’t been able to discern its purpose.

I really want her to have the best chance, so how do I essentially ask her to rewrite from scratch? She’s proud of the manuscript; (she should be, she wrote 92,000 words and had the dedication to stick to it). I’m trying to work out the…

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26 thoughts on “Critiquing a friend’s book… how do you tell them it doesn’t work?

    • Do people do that? I tell the truth when I’m critiquing, but it still offends people. It’s not personal, it’s the work, but people think they are their story, or that the story is their baby. And, more than anything, I think we all have that thing in our heads that keeps saying, ‘it’s the best thing ever, it’s perfect, they’re going to love it,’ until we get the feedback that says it amateurish, lacking, and unstructured.
      It took me many years to find one person who gave honest feedback (I don’t like sugarcoating), and the most common feedback is dead flat silence – from which we learn nothing.

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  1. When I put my first extract up for critique in a ‘proper’ writer’s group, I got a lot of ‘this has got legs’ type comments. It took me months to understand that that comment essentially meant ‘this is shit, but I reckon you can make it better’. 🙂
    Years later, I gave a manuscript to two friends to read through, which they did, and gave honest feedback. However, it wasn’t until I sent it off to be professionally assessed that I got what I needed: comprehensive—but not brutal—feedback about all its flaws (and there were a lot!) and a pointing out of some of the good bits, too.
    My opinion? I don’t think friends can adequately assess a manuscript. There’s too much water under the bridge.

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