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July 03, 2012


Lance C.

Yes, actually, I would. By the time I've shot my MS out to you (or an agent), I've already had at least one critique group turn its flamethrowers on it. If I still haven't fixed the problem, I need to know about it, and the more explicit the statement of the problem, the better.

"Not right for us" doesn't give me anything to work with. Bad query? Wrong genre? You have too many like this already? Too weird? Not weird enough? Or is it one of the things you mentioned in your post? I can use that kind of information.

Then again, I've developed a fairly thick skin in the various businesses I've been in. This may not work for some of the more delicate souls among us.

Thomas Pluck

Don't say something nice, tell the truth. If you want to sugar it with an honest compliment on what worked, that's always appreciated, but the comments you posted are actually constructive, if rather blunt.
Do you think readers will be forgiving of a boring protagonist? Hell no.


As a reader, I would ask "does it matter?" Thinking of this ghastly (I gather) 50 Shades of Grey that is breaking all records - or other rubbish that sells so well. Sometimes I despair at the level of prose in the books I pick up to read that have had good reviews...I can't believe the ignorance (or lack) of editing, etc. I care, but do most readers?

Lexi Revellian

Advice can be very helpful, as long as you recognize which bits are worth taking and which to ignore. Just because a comment is honest doesn't make it true, or indeed useful. It's one person's opinion, that's all.

As to whether you should embrace total frankness, Agatho, authors are an insecure lot, with a minority of fruitcakes who will demand an honest opinion then, when it turns out not to be unmitigated praise, get very nasty indeed.

Ziv Wities

Yes, yes, absolutely yes.

I've done my rounds reviewing published work, critiquing WIPs, and heck, reading judgmentally. And I've been on the receiving end too. Frankly, I'd have to be an idiot NOT to expect my work to be panned. I've seen the sausage machine, and I know I'm not a special unicorn.

I will say that with my work, I get my feedback in several stages - working my way up from the handy-and-casual to the pro. By the time I get up to agents and publishers, I might get rejected, but I'm reasonably confident I've gotten beyond utter crud.

Ziv Wities

(Of course, I hope you're bearing in mind that this poll is self-selecting for writers with enough savvy and awareness to be following a publishing blog - and one of the awesome ones, at that :P)

Alan Orloff

Yes. The truth and nothing but the truth. If I want oohs and aahs, I'll give my work to my mother.

Ed Wyrick

When I was twelve, I spent a week with a friend and his family in a cabin in the Pennsylvania mountains. Early one evening, we were riding around in a convertible and my friend yelled, "Look! Over there! One, two . . .a herd!" I've never forgotten that. It's easy focus on the outliers. Just two or three seem like a herd, but they aren't. Please give us your honest opinion, and the real herd will simply be grateful. Ignore the others.

Laura K Curtis

I always like to get feedback. I have the first agent I ever queried, but I didn't get her with my first query. If she hadn't sent me comments and been honest about my writing, I wouldn't have improved it.

That said, I know I am older and have been knocked around more in regular life than a lot of the people I see out there querying. I also spent a lot of years as an academic, so I am always interested in learning and researching.


Definitely the truth. Truthful feedback from agents and publishers has helped me improve my manuscript. It's now on draft 14, but it is a much, much better book, and I am grateful for that.

Chris Norbury

I like getting honest feedback. I notice most posters here have also said that. I sense it's because we're honest with ourselves and know we can all improve our writing.

I feel that writers who respond with nasty diatribe can't/won't be honest with themselves and know that their writing is not as good as they think. To me those are the people who seek validation from writing to boost their egos, not write because they like to write and want to develop into quality storytellers.

It all goes back to the transition of our society into one where "everyone's a winner; here's your gold medal just for participating; if I don't get straight A's I won't get into the college I want." The generation of parents who can't say no to their children because they really want to be friends with their kids, not parents.
*end of rant* :-)

Pepper Smith

The problem is, I can see both sides of this.

On the one hand, writers' egos are involved. Those of us who have been writing for a long time and have been working on our craft would actually benefit from it. One manuscript I got back around 15 years ago had a short scribbled reason for rejection that was exactly what I needed to hear and helped me improve my writing, so I have benefited from it myself.

On the other hand, as an editor or agent, you have no idea who's on the other end of things. You might be offering constructive criticism to a writer who's at the near-professional level, or to someone who's written their first book and thinks in all seriousness that they're the next JK Rowling and that every word on the page is sacred. I imagine it can be like sticking your hand in a box of puppies, knowing that two or three of them will strip the flesh off your arm and gnaw on the bones if you don't scratch their ears just right.

Some people just don't want to hear that they aren't as good as they think, and they probably aren't going to work on improving. With the advent of easy self-publishing, one rejection with critique might be all it takes to get them to weed themselves out of the writer pool. It just depends on how much nastiness you want to put up with from those who think they don't need to improve.


I think most writers want honest feedback. Of course, there will always be those who only want praise, who think their writing is perfect.

That said, there's no reason feedback can't be provided in a tactful manner. The Simon Cowell approach is not effective. Simply saying "I'm sorry" before telling someone they cannot write seems harsh. Why not tell the writer that their writing isn't quite there? Then list the specifics like clunky sentences or wooden dialogue. You still get your point across but without being hurtful.



I would rather get honest constructive criticism than a vague response like, "the writing just isn't strong enough." what does that mean? Tell me what to do to make it better and I'll do it, but don't make me guess :)


I really would like to have that specific feedback, because specific feedback can help me fix what's wrong. I may be in the minority, though, because I've met people who really don't want to hear anything but "I love it."

Dorte H

Yes, at least some of us do. I still feel grateful to the Danish editor who couldn´t ´sell´ my work to the publisher but gave me a full page of constructive criticism - and told me he wouldn´t have done so if he didn´t believe I had potential. He is one of the reasons why I didn´t give up.

Janet Reid

I've been running an experiment with my queries for the last five weeks. Once a week, for a specific hour window, if you query with a code word in the subject line, I'll reply personally.

The social contract is that queriers will not reply with invective.

It's not a critique, it's more an explanation of why I'm saying no.

And I must tell you, it's fun. It's GREAT to be able to actually talk to writers.

Knock on wood, no one has yet flown off the handle, and some of them got replies I know they didn't want to hear.

I have enormous respect for the writers willing to do this.

I've decided to do this rather than go to conferences and do those gadawful pitch sessions anymore.

I think the key is that the authors agree to participate. No one gets a reply unless they've specifically thrown their hat in the ring.

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