One of the greatest things about being a writer is the chance to connect with other writers. Sometimes they’re in your genre, sometimes they couldn’t be more different, but you’re always able to relate through your shared passion. And since writing is difficult, having support from fellow creatives is very important.
It also means you’ll never be short on fresh reading material.
The bad news is sometimes that reading material isn’t so great.
I’m not talking about early drafts. Those are always bad, no matter who’s writing them. If I sign up to read a first draft, I know what to expect: a story containing some typos and grammatical errors, plot holes, filler, and some things that are flat out mistakes. That’s normal, and I’d never judge a writer by an early draft. But sometimes these things slip through to the final work, the piece people are paying for. And when that’s the case, being my friend isn’t going to let you off the hook.
It’s incredibly awkward to look forward to a friend’s writing, only to find it’s actually sort of terrible. That doesn’t mean I’m going to change how I feel about a writer or a friend, but it does mean that if someone isn’t good at taking constructive criticism, our conversations about the books might be a little awkward. Unfortunately, that’s a problem I’ve encountered a lot.
Writer types are sensitive, I know, but coddling them isn’t a good idea. If someone asks for an honest opinion, I’ll give it. If they don’t want honest feedback, or they’ve bemoaned honesty before, I probably won’t talk about the book at all. I won’t recommend it to family or friends, either. Silence, sometimes, can say a great deal.
In the past month, I’ve read three finished, edited books by people I know. Two were disappointments, though for different reasons. And while I haven’t had the time to write reviews of them yet–something I won’t censor, even for people I love–it led me to one important decision. From now on, I won’t read finished work by people I know unless it falls within genres I already prefer. That means if someone comes to me with a completed and published cozy mystery and offers me a copy to read, I’ll probably turn them down. It’s not that I’m not interested in their work, it’s just that it’s not a genre I’m familiar with, so I can’t give constructive feedback on how to improve the next one. Limiting myself to familiar genres doesn’t save me from bad books, but it does let me critique from a standpoint of familiarity, and that’s a plus.