I mentioned yesterday that now as a novelist I read differently than I did before I starting writing fiction. I am aware of POV changes (subtle and not), plot devices, foreshadowing, pacing, and more. Noticing these things often makes me stop and think, “Why did the author do that?” I am also extremely busy and have to make time to read, so if a book doesn’t grab me—or makes me stop too often to think about the author—I put it in the giveaway pile and move on. Consequently, I only finish one out of every three or four novels I start. (Which is why I almost never buy hardback books, but that’s another subject.) I don’t mean to imply that all these books are bad or unreadable, they just weren’t right for me.

Also as a novelist, I’m trying to get to know and network with other writers. I’ve made many friends online, and I look forward to meeting all these nice/funny/interesting people in person at conferences. But here’s the sticky part: What do I say if they ask me if I liked their novel and it was one of those I put down? Social training tells me to tell a little white lie and quickly change the subject: “Great writing. What are you working on now?” Let me point out that this causes me great anxiety. I want to like the work of everyone I know. (And I have taken a vow to never ask anyone that question about my own work.)

Here’s the trickier part. I’m a member of several mystery discussion groups, the point of which is to discuss books we’ve read. Other novelists are also members of these groups. How do I discuss a novel I didn’t really care for without offending or alienating the author who may be reading my posts? And what if I signed up to be the moderator for the discussion (before I read the book)? Which means I can’t just sit back and be quiet. I face this dilemma today. I’m supposed to discuss a book I haven’t finished. Technically, there’s nothing wrong with it. The writing is good and many people would find the character compelling. I just don’t care for gun-toting, hard-drinking, wise-ass men. Or stories about the mob. Being the kind of person who can be counted on to follow through, I’ll finish the book, post intelligent questions, and try to be as diplomatic as possible with my own opinions.
But I won’t volunteer to moderate any more discussions unless I’ve already read the book and loved it. Or the author is no longer living.

  1. Love your blog, L.J.

  2. And worse, what if you’re moderating a group and are familiar with the title… and know it could have been a good book with some professional revising and editing. But it’s lukewarm at best the way it went into print. You can’t really say that, especially if the author is participating in the group. It’s tough. You have to skirt the issue. I always wonder if ultimately that isn’t a disservice to the writer. I feel like I’m giving positive reinforcement when I should be giving honest feedback so they can step up to the next level.


  3. You are walking a thin line, I think. It’s not like being in a critique group where the members are people you know and trust, and, therefore, you can take the criticism without getting defensive.

    If you know the authors whose books you saw problems with and want to tell them, I’d say do it in private. For their benefit — and for yours since the Internet isn’t Vegas. What goes on on the Internet does not stay there, hidden.

    For public critiques or discussions, I would say, try to focus on something that you did like about the writing. Or try to offer positive help or suggestions on what your felt should be changed/improved.

    And like they say, if you can’t say something good, then don’t say anything. Which is why I don’t review a book unless I can find something good to say about it.

  4. I agree, a very thin line. Which is why I won’t ever agree to moderate a discussion again, unless I’ve read the book and really enjoyed it. The good news is that I’m liking this novel more than I expected and I have some good things to say.

  5. Perhaps it is being gone about in the wrong way. Perhaps one needs to look at the book the way a lawyer looks at a client: leaving out any emotional attachment to it. If you have an attachment to it you set yourself up for taking their responses personally.

    Be honest, not brutal. Find something that you liked, even it is a minor thing and end the review or conversation on that positive affirmation.

    Maybe some of us authors need that shock of what people really feel about our work.

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