When someone you know asks you to review a copy of her new book, and it's awful, what do you do?
Here's what I did when a writer/friend of some years asked me to review a copy of her new book, which was scheduled for POD release a couple months later. Despite the fact that this author had already written and published several psychic romances, including one with a conventional publisher, I soon realized the new book was in trouble. So, I picked out the strong points, built them into a review, and then, in an aside to the author, pointed out some serious typos, grammatical errors, and punctuation problems so that she might review and consider revising them before releasing the book to the public.
I never heard from her again.
Obviously, some people can take creative criticism, and some can't. I assumed I was giving her the best of two worlds—a review she could publish to her benefit and tips on preparing the book for release if she chose to consider them. She apparently didn't see things that way.
In looking through some other respondents' comments to your question, I find myself agreeing that a "Gee, whiz, thanks for the honor, but this isn't something I know much about, so I'm going to pass" approach is a painless way to escape an awkward situation. But, it doesn't help the author, who is likely to believe that her book is ready to share with the world. Such an escapist approach certainly doesn't aid the author in correcting the problems in her book. So, what do you do?
Punt. Pretend you never received her request. Good plan, huh?
No! Not a good plan. In fact, it's a horrible plan. It's misleading and dishonest, and what the world needs today is less hypocrisy, not more. So, be as helpful as possible without crushing her confidence, but be honest.
Could you lose a friend/cohort in the process, as I did in providing my review and personal comments? Of course. But, the way I see it, if someone is that thin-skinned, she has no business in the writing business anyway, and she certainly doesn't value your friendship/acquaintance very much.
Be gentle; be firm; be helpful. After that, it's really up to the author whether or not she wants to proceed with her work and your relationship, isn't it? We needn't be absolute jerks about the situation, but we shouldn't be in the business of misleading developing writers, either—and particularly not people about whom we care.
No matter what kind of response you get from her, my advice is not to be surprised. Just take it as it comes. And, by all means, retain your integrity.
That's my take on things, anyway.
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new ebook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack.com.