Tonight I followed a conversation about whether or not to offer constructive criticism on a manuscript. Some recommended being brutally honest.
I tend to disagree. Everybody has different tastes and as such a different opinion. You may like a sweet and sappy story, someone else may hate it. You may like a murder mystery and think ‘the bloodier the better’, someone else might prefer something a little more subtle. So criticizing someone’s work should always be done with extreme caution.
Take into account that this person has worked on his manuscript for weeks, maybe even months. It started with an idea, through bouts of inspiration it took shape, with hard work and perseverance it was finished.
Since finding a literary agent or publisher is extremely difficult, the author then proceeded to self-publish, because he’s proud of his work and feels he has something to share.
Having read hundreds of books and followed several critiques, I can honestly say that I put no stock whatsoever into what a critic has to say. What he gives is his opinion of the book, which may or may not be the opinion of the general public.
The same with movies and plays. How often have you read a raving review about a movie and were thoroughly disappointed when you saw it yourself? By the same token, how often have you seen a movie the critics slammed, and loved it? There is simply no accounting for taste.
Keep in mind that even J.K. Rowling had to take a certain amount of criticism and rejection when she approached literary agents and publishers with the first Harry Potter book. Whether you like or dislike the Harry Potter series … today J.K. Rowling is richer than the queen of England. Can you say as much?
Other than that, authors are only as good as their editors. Open any book and read the acknowledgements, each and every author will thank her editor(s). They are the ones who read the original work, slashed unnecessary details and advised what should be expanded upon.
But even with an editor’s help, a book sometimes is not all that it could or should be. Take “Duma Key” from Stephen King for instance. In general people rave about Stephen King. I only read 35 pages on “Duma Key” and tossed it. In those 35 pages the main character did nothing but swearing and shouting. Okay, so he was angry. Mr. King didn’t have to devote 35 pages to that emotion, I understood the man anger in one or two pages. Couldn’t King’s editor have advised him to slash 33 pages?
In the end it’s all about personal choice. What’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. If you have to offer criticism, think before you speak. How would you like to hear someone trash your work?