Share This Page

Wannabe writers perplex editor

| Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, 11:40 p.m.

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

What if you are a book editor and expert on the current market, and friends, family and acquaintances are frequently sending you manuscripts? Or asking you to forward them to another publishing contact who could be interested?

Usually, I try to sidestep this by telling them to find an agent first, but then I'm asked about agents I know, and ... their stories are never good enough that I feel comfortable with that.

Is this an instance where I just have to be honest about their quality of writing? How do I tell people I love that they're not good enough?

— Unsupportive

You tell all of them that you receive too many manuscripts and other publishing queries from people you know and love to give them all the attention they deserve, so you've had to make it your personal policy not to field any of them.

Or, that you have a personal policy not to mix business and friendship.

Or, that you have a personal policy not to make yourself miserable, but maybe that's a little more honesty than your friends were bargaining for.

Re: Unsupportive:

I understand the idea that telling a family member who's a writer that his/her work is terrible would be harsh, but if you're an editor, and you think it's terrible, there is a good chance other editors might feel the same way. Why not be honest and say, “I personally don't like this; I don't think X works, or that Y is written well; etc.”? What are you really saving them from by lying about it?

— Anonymous

I don't think anyone's saving anyone, and I don't think anyone should lie, nor did I advise that. I just think friends and lovers should stay out of the business of critiquing each other's work, except in cases where it arises organically — say, when they established that critiquing rapport before there was romance, or when both parties truly feel comfortable giving and receiving each other's constructive criticism.

I also think one critic, even a good and informed one, isn't even close to the last word. Just think of all the mega-novels lately that a good chunk of the population finds unreadable. If any of these unimpressed readers were the loved one asked to give an opinion, said cash-cow novel might be in the bottom of somebody's drawer. Let the people on professional footing do the truth-telling (or, I should say, their truth-telling).

Dear Carolyn:

You wrote in a past column, “She needs you to recognize that you all mistook her good behavior for emotional maturity.” Emotional maturity is a term I see a lot, but how do you define it in this case?

— Anonymous 2

I don't think it has “cases.” I think there's a general definition: Being emotionally mature means you're not reliant on external approval to feel worthwhile, and you're able to manage feelings well enough to take thoughtful actions instead of just reacting and lashing out.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.