Freaky Fortnight @ Slate

I’m really enjoying this husband/wife life swap column over at Slate! Check it out to see what week 2 has in store…

Why can’t I be rational?

blog1A friend asked for my feedback on her children’s book idea. I’m always honored when people ask for my feedback but I’m also very humbled because what the heck do I know about book publishing?

Yes, I have somehow stumbled into the world of children’s book publishing and unbelievably sold 10 books to my publisher over the past seven years.

Yes, I read to both my kids every day so for the past six years I’ve read a minimum of three children’s book a day, which means over 6,500 childrens books, which is probably a low estimate (wow, I just added that up for the first time!).

But when it comes to publishing, what I’ve learned the most over the past seven years is how lucky I am to be published. Luck has a lot to do with it!

I always want to try to help if I can. To be honest, friends and friends of friends request this sort of thing every month or two. I’ve finally developed a form email that outlines my biggest lessons in publishing (which I’ll post next) after writing out the same darn thing way too many times.

Recently, after procrastinating long enough, I finally replied to a friend’s request. Trying to focus on the good aspects of the proposal, I gave my feedback without saying outright that the book really didn’t resonate with me. Okay, to be honest, that’s putting it nicely. But I couldn’t possibly say it sucked (because honestly, I think a ton of published stuff sucks so it doesn’t really matter if I think it does), so instead I tried to give some helpful, constructive criticism. That takes a lot of work.

Recently, my husband raised a very good and fair point. He said, “just to be totally rational about this, what’s in it for you to give someone negative feedback? You could possibly hurt your relationship with your friend and what are the chances she’d ever get published anyway?” That was a really good point. It is very rational (in an economic “game theory” sort of way) but really, what did I have to gain? What are the chances that any of my feedback will affect the fate of any particular manuscript I read?

I thought about it for a while and realized that yes, I’d probably be better off saying nothing negative at all. But hey, my friends ask because they want my opinion (that’s why I ask other people for feedback) so it’s my duty as their friend to give them mine. Right? But, as the old saying goes, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

So what is the right thing to do?