Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

Is there any good way to tell an author you didn't like his or her book?

Twice in recent months, I've read books I didn't like by authors I do like in person. In both cases, I'd enjoyed and admired the authors' earlier books, but their latest struck me as flat, obvious, cliche-laden and just plain not very well-written.

Even all-star baseball players strike out regularly, and I know any number of reasons a book might not be an author's best work: unreasonable deadlines, sloppy editing, burnout, real-life issues getting in the way.
But the question remains, what do I say?

Authors, help me out. No one sets out to write a bad book. Almost every writer I know goes through phases of thinking that they stink, that they're impostors, that their stuff is lousy, and that they'll be exposed as frauds any day now.

But sometimes, a book really isn't good.

Sometime between now and the end of the year, I will see both of these authors, and it's a safe bet that both of them will say, "What did you think of [Title]?"

What should I say?

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Comment by Clair Lamb on April 2, 2007 at 9:45pm
You're both right, partly. One of these authors will never ask me for an opinion, but one definitely will. That author's already sent me one e-mail to ask whether I'd had a chance to read the book, but at the time I hadn't.

And usually I have no problems saying something like, "Wow, you're really putting [character's name] through the wringer," without volunteering an opinion on the book.

You're right, too, Christa -- I would never volunteer my opinion to someone who wasn't a close friend or didn't ask me for it specifically. In both these cases, the authors are people I know in a work environment and like, but not people who'd have any reason to look to me for advice.
Comment by Christa M. Miller on April 2, 2007 at 5:38am
I would think about saying something like, "Honestly, it didn't work for me." Because this business IS so subjective, and writers should understand that. I agree that you should say what you liked about it, but if I personally heard someone list details without a blanket "I liked it," I'd see through that tactic.

On the other hand, I can't see asking my friends and acquaintances what they thought. That's for a critique group and boorish people. If they do ask, it may be because they're having misgivings themselves. Finding a nice way to be honest may help them get figure out whether they're happy with this product or need to get back on track... which they may appreciate more than anything from a friend rather than a reader, you know?
Comment by Maryann Miller on April 2, 2007 at 5:26am
Boy, this is a tough one. I used to be all for honesty in all cases, but have learned that always isn't the best response when it might hurt someone's feelings. Hopefully, they won't ask and you won't have to say, but if they do, find one good thing to say about the book. It couldn't have been all bad and just say that. Maybe something like, "Boy this one really had some interesting characters. And talk about plot twists...." Good luck.

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