Monday, July 14, 2008

how to tell your friend you really, really hate his book and other ethical problems of today

I just read over the galleys of the acknowledgements for The Graveyard Book, written late one night a few weeks ago, and I realised that I'd left people out. Important people. Like, people who helped me type the manuscript and people who sold the film rights. So I've now scribbled all over it, and am hoping that there's still time to fix it. I always forget on acknowledgements and leave people out, but seldom so enormously...


I'm going to be at the Library of Congress National Book Festival this year, on September the 27th, for the first time since 2005, this time in the Teens and Children Tent. Harper Collins have kindly agreed to bend the rules and let copies of The Graveyard Book be sold there, because it's the National Book Festival, even though it takes place a couple of days before the official release date.

I'm looking forward to it, but am a little apprehensive, remembering the previous times I was there.

(This is what happened in 2004 in the SF and Fantasy Tent: When I went back in 2005 I was on a book signing tour, in the Fiction and Fantasy Tent, and the blog entry is a bit dazed:

The list of authors (and tents) is at:

Hi Neil, a friend has written a book and has asked what I think of it. The trouble is that this book is one of the worst I have ever read. It's terrible in so many ways, but I don't want to hurt my friend's feelings because he's so proud of his work. I know that people love books others dislike but this book is really bad. Any tips on how to deal with such a delicate situation? Thanks!

Ow. Yes, I know that one. It depends on whether your friend wants to be a real author one day and learn his craft, or whether he's just proud of having made something. When it's the latter, I just try and find something positive I can say that I mean. If it's the former, I try and tell people how they can make something they've done into something publishable, or fix it, which is going to involve pointing out it's not publishable yet.

It's also possible to find ways to say you hated something that won't crush the spirit of the person in question. Phrases like, "It's not my kind of thing, but I bet it's great if it's the kind of thing you like," can be deployed. "I don't really have anything much to say, but I'm looking forward to your next one," are phrases that Miss Manuscript Manners would probably approve of. You can probably come up with better ones on your own.

Or you can take the approach that my friend the wondrous Jane Yolen takes when people ask her to read their manuscripts, which is to say up front, "I'll read it, but I have to warn you that if I do I will be honest, and you probably won't like what I have to say." Which gives them the opportunity to back off, and at least tells them that you are not there to tell them they are very clever for having written a whole book.

And if you do decide to tell them what's wrong with their book then you don't have to tell them everything that's wrong with it. Pick the biggest thing -- "I hated all your characters and kept hoping that they would die and that we would get nothing but a description of the landscape for the rest of the book" or "It reads like you're recounting a D&D game, not a novel" or "All of your characters sound like you" or "Nothing actually happens until Chapter Four by which point anyone who isn't a personal friend of yours would have stopped reading" -- and talk about that. Don't do a laundry list...

I was happy to see your signing event listed on the Mysterious Galaxy site - though saddened to read that "While readers are welcome to attend Tuesday's event and listen to Neil speak, please note that we have reached capacity for our signing line and no more numbers are being issued. Attendees without a number will be unable to get books signed at this event. Thank you for your enthusiastic support of one of our favorite authors."

Since I seem to have missed the boat on getting something signed at this event, I was wondering if you had any other plans for signings in the San Diego area?

Thank you!

Sorry about that. No, no other signings planned on this trip -- I'm there because it's the tradition that the Clarion Writer In Residence does a Mysterious Galaxy signing, and I love the Mysterious Galaxy people, but I also am in San Diego as an instructor for Clarion. (I'm grateful Mysterious Galaxy have limited the line numbers, as I won't be much good to any of the Clarion students on Wednesday if I've had to sign until midnight on Tuesday.)

Technically I am meant to be reading from The Dangerous Alphabet, and I will, but it won't take long, so I may do a bit of The Graveyard Book or something in progress as well.

And while I won't be doing any signings... about ten years ago I realised I had accumulated more black tee shirts than I could really wear, and I was running out of room for them, and I signed about a hundred black tee shirts with fabric paint and gave them to the CBLDF, who sold them at conventions.

Lorraine has just picked out a hundred black tee shirts from the teetering piles of shirts I don't get to wear as often, and I'm going to sign them all before San Diego.So you could always wander over to the CBLDF booth and see if they have any signed tee shirts or prints or things...

Hello Neil!

You may very well have seen this, or might have even posted it already and I had missed it, but I couldn’t discover this without thinking it would be something you would love. It’s a collection of old Scary Stories read by Vincent Price and Boris Karloff among other classy scary soundtracks. Beautifully written, read and witty to boot. I recommend “The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall” as a perfect cheer-inducing scary story.

Also I thought you might be interested to know that you have some very interesting people appearing on a book that you are in.

Dave Palumbo, the artist, was hanging with us at the first ever Illustration Master Class and used a bunch of people you may know as Zombies. Irene Gallo of Tor is off to the right, Gregory Manchess (of Conan fame) is in a tie and that’s me in the tank top.

Hopefully someday that will be ME illustrating a book with you in!


Kristina Carroll

It doesn't just have "The Water Ghost Of Harrowby Hall" -- a story I've loved since I was a small boy and read it in, I'm pretty sure, one of the Armada Book of Ghost Stories, and had not encountered in almost forty years -- it also has Vincent Price reading "Thus I Refute Beelzy", by John Collier, who may have been the finest writer of classical twisty short stories of the last century -- the kind of short stories that people put down by describing them as "clever", but they are clever, and the style of each story is perfect for the content it contains.


I think we're approaching a blog holiday.

I've been posting more or less daily since 2001 -- 2,741 blog posts so far, according to Blogger and 1,158,002 words -- with only occasional enforced breaks when I was away from a computer, and I'm starting to feel like it's time to stop blogging for a bit and recharge my batteries. (Historically, on this blog, announcements like that are normally followed by a spate of twice a day blogging and a few long essays.) At this point, I think I'll definitely take Clarion off, and possibly longer.

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