I wanted to let you all know that TOW Books, a humor book imprint here at F+W Media is offering free digital downloads of their books, including that of my favorite humorist, Jason Roeder who writes the Roeder Report for Writer’s Digest.
If you’re not familiar with Jason, here’s one of his recent columns:
“Your story puts my navel-
gazing claptrap into reassuring perspective.”
“I’ve never considered literacy a mixed blessing until now.”
“Did you outsource this story to the dumbest squirrel you could find?”
A few years ago, I shared a short story with my writing group. It was a
speculative work that dared to ask, “What if the circus took over the
world?” The comments above were the three most encouraging I received
from my cohorts. Of the two remaining members of my group, one handed
me back my heavily wept-upon manuscript without a word, while the other
simply dropped out of society.
But it wasn’t the criticism that bothered me; it was the brutality of
it, the absolute absence of tact or empathy. It didn’t have to be like
that. If my group had followed the suggestions below, I might not have
lost confidence in my story. Instead, it just gathers dust at the
bottom of a drawer—in the issue of The New Yorker that published it with no changes whatsoever.
1. SAY SOMETHING POSITIVE.
You can usually come up with at least one morsel of genuine praise: “I
love your use of sensory details,” “This story hardly triggered my gag
reflex at all” or “Outstanding work. You should definitely consider
submitting it to a journal with no stated plagiarism policy.” A small
dose of encouragement demonstrates that you’ve been evenhanded, and
when you get around to making more critical comments—or feeding the
pages of the manuscript into the fireplace, shrieking, “Back! Back to
the hell from which you came!”—you already will have put them into a
more balanced context.
2. PLEAD IGNORANCE.
Sometimes it helps to qualify a critical remark by emphasizing your
unfitness in making it. For example, when you’re handed an atrocious
J.R.R. Tolkien knock-off, you can say, “I’m not sure why you devoted
the entire 23 pages to having the elf king carefully review the
prospectus for his new Vanguard mutual fund, but I don’t read much
fantasy.” Or, when presented with an awful horror story: “While I
personally might not find 5,000 words about bubble baths particularly
frightening, I’m probably missing something that regular horror readers
would pick up right away.”
3. GIVE THE WRITER A KITTEN.
Sometimes, there’s no rhetorical maneuver to bail you out. Sometimes
you read something that makes you wish you could take the English
language in your arms and reassure it that the bad man with the
900-word sentences isn’t going to hurt it anymore. If there’s no way to
soft-pedal your comments, you might as well do something nice to
compensate. If no kitten is available, consider giving the writer—along
with the feedback you’ll never be forgiven for—a day of beauty at a spa
or some gourmet preserves. And then run like hell.
You can get free digital downloads of many books in the TOW Books line here.