Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

One of my friends is “writing a book.” She has asked me for feedback
because I am a professional writer and editor. She has fantasies of a
best seller in the chick lit genre followed by a movie deal. I’ve seen
this dream before, and it is ruthlessly reinforced and peddled by
writing workshop vendors. She’s been to three such events. Her
writing is poor, banal, two dimensional, derivative, boring…need I go
on? Early on she discussed hiring me as an editor and I demurred,
encouraging her to get more done before I made a commitment. She
just asked me again and I want to run for the hills. The world doesn’t
need more bad books. I really want to say “Give it up and try water
colors or ceramics.” But I know that’s too harsh. How can I discourage
her without losing the friendship?

Dear Critic:

She’s approached you as a professional so it’s okay to respond like
one. But as her friend you can also respond kindly but also honestly,
which people who are not interested in picking her wallet will not do.
Go out to lunch and have with you two manila envelopes. In one, have
printed off 50 or more standard rejection notices: Dear [friend name].
Thank you for your submission. XYZ Press is not interested in
considering your project. Thank you for your submission. You can vary
them a little, but make her sit and turn each page, wait a moment and
then turn the next. You can apologize to the trees you sacrificed while
she does that. Say that’s what virtually every writer experiences and
that based on the sample she’s shown you that’s what she can expect
in the real world of people who aren’t trying to pluck her wallet or her


In the second envelope have one-two pages of heavily edited,
in red ink and track changes, what you think would have a fighting
chance of success if she actually continued writing. Tell her you do not
want to be her editor because you are her friend. Say that a good
editor would charge her several or more thousand dollars to get her
project up to snuff, and there are still no guarantees. Alternatively she
could take writing classes at a local college, join a group of other
aspiring authors, and improve her skills without paying a lot for the
process, with a goal of self publishing. End by saying writing is a
wonderful form of self-expression. But she should detach her heart
from her money unless she wants her wallet to be lots thinner. Cheer
her on from a safe distance.