This time around Abby targeted independent writers. This one hit close to home since my wife is my first audience and helps me edit. I also depend on a network of readers to give me input on what I write, so disingenuous comments don't just hurt me in an egomaniacal way, but in a financial way as well. Here's the letter:
DEAR JERKASS: My friend's husband has been writing a novel for several years. He just self-published it, and it's available on Amazon. He gave me a copy, asked me to read it and enter a great review on the Amazon page. The problem is the book is filled with misused and misspelled words, and there is missing punctuation. He even switched the names of two characters. (His wife, who is a "perfectionist," was his editor.)
Aside from the fact that I don't want to finish the book, I know he or my friend will ask me how I liked it. I don't want to lie because I'm afraid if someone else brings these things to their attention, they'll know I didn't read it or think I should have told them. I know they will be embarrassed if I bring it to their attention.
Frankly, I think it's too late to say anything negative because the book has already been printed. I also don't want to cause hurt feelings because I know how long he worked on this project and he's proud of it. How do I handle this? -- READER IN THE SOUTHWEST
How dare you even call yourself "Reader" when you won't even read the work. As a self published writer myself I HATE it when I give a manuscript to someone, ask them to read it, and they come back with "It was good!" when they didn't mean it or read it.
It's not 'too late' to point out errors. If it's self-published it's either a digital book or print on demand and can be fixed easily.
Basically, by sugar coating your answer and possibly the review, you are doing him a great disservice. He may have hurt feelings when you tell him you thought it sucked, but he'll get over it. And if you follow it up with WHY you did or didn't like something he should be able to put on his big boy pants and find out if he needs to tweak anything. That's what he wanted from you. It's a way to refine and hone the craft and take off our blinders.
I once passed an article that I had not written to a friend and asked his opinion. He was very nice and said it was interesting. When I countered him with "Did you not see the glaring issues with the article so-and-so wrote?", he back peddled and said he thought it was mine. He then honestly commented calling it "schizophrenic rantings". The fact he lied to me because he thought it was mine bothered me far more than anything negative he could have said. I decided from that moment on that I would pass on manuscripts and claim they weren't mine so that I could get an honest opinion.
So Reader? If you can't give him your honest opinion you might as well pants him in public, because other people who may not like his work will be more than eager.
Really this boils down to you not wanting to look bad, and not actually caring about his feelings or the work itself so much as caring for how you look to others. So go shove your head in a bucket of water and take a deep breath.
Judas' Advice Column
This is where I take a Dear Abby column, and add my own brand of advice. I started by calling it Dear Crabby, but that's taken and JERKASS seems more fun.