How Honest Is “Too Honest”?


After sixty-seven years of life, I’m just as convinced as ever that honesty is the best policy. But how much is enough–and how much is too much?

Case in point. I have a good friend who’s about seven years younger than me. He is really deep into theological studies and even attended two different seminaries in his younger days—without getting a degree.

He has a pet belief that everything else revolves around—or so it seems. I won’t try to explain it; I barely understand it. I’m not sure I agree with it, but I don’t consider it a vital issue. Certainly not the kind of thing that determines whether a person is truly a Christian.

He thinks it’s important, though. In fact, he wrote a book about it. I read parts of the manuscript, but just couldn’t get into it. Speaking as an English major who overcame that fact to become a published author, I clearly understand why no publishers have taken an interest in it.

The number of potential readers is very small. Not that many people will find it an interesting subject, much less a vital one. My friend doesn’t have a platform from which to “sell books at the back of the room.”

Unfortunately, serious theologians would probably view this manuscript as the work of an amateur. While I think that would be unfair, I couldn’t blame them.

And the problem I’m most hesitant to bring up is this: No matter how smart my friend is—no matter how many years of thought and prayer he’s invested in this manuscript—the writing isn’t top notch. And publishers won’t settle for anything less.

I’m taking a chance that he’ll never see this post. I doubt that he follows my blog.

So what’s my honesty problem?

He told me a couple of days ago that he plans to self-publish his manuscript.

Don’t get me wrong. A number of really good writers are turning to self-publishing now. But I know from my own experience with self-publishing that it’s apt to be a good way to lose money. Unless an author can sell his books—unless he’s willing and able to actively market them—he’s likely to end up with a box or two (or more) of books that do little more than prove he wrote a book.

I think my friend deserves to see his book in print. He needs that sense of fulfillment. I’ve committed to buying a copy. I don’t know how many people follow his blog or read those numerous messages he forwards, but some of them will buy copies, too. Nonetheless, I don’t see how he can hope to recoup his investment.

I attended a class about the ins and outs of self-publishing–it’s often referred to now as indie-publishing–some years ago. One thing that’s stuck in my head ever since is this: Don’t spend money you can’t afford to lose.

And He can’t afford to lose it. Not the first penny.

I love my friend. Tell me, please. How can I help him without bursting his bubble?


I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I revise and repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,

6 thoughts on “How Honest Is “Too Honest”?

  1. Honesty is a virtue I’ve been exploring a lot the last few years. One of the things I’ve been starting to do when I’m wondering if I’m being too honest is asking myself about my motivations for telling the truth.

    Am I being honest because I should always tell the the truth and think the person is going to benefit from hearing it, or am I being honest because I’m upset or hurt by something they’ve said or done (past or present) and using the truth as a way of hurting them back?

    Ultimately I think honesty is the best policy. It’s certainly better to tell the truth than to deliberately lie and mislead someone about your opinion or feelings on a subject. But I also think there’s a lot of finesse to the way we present the truth. My mother would probably call it tact, and remind me it’s a skill I need to develop.

    In your situation, I’d probably start the conversation with the positives you pointed out in your post. He’s really smart and you do think he deserves to have his book published. Since the main problem is the writing, maybe sit down and make a sincere effort to find specific examples of what’s wrong with it. Is it generally unclear, too wordy, or lacking in secondary sources? Try and point out these issues in a constructive way so your friend doesn’t feel like you’re telling him to start over completely.

    It sounds like you have some knowledge about publishing, so I’d also be honest with your friend with what you think and what you know about self-publishing and the risks in it. Not being able to afford to lose money on the book is a very real factor your friend should be taking in to account in this endeavour.

    And finally, in regards to the market for what he’s written – if he’s deep in theological studies and attended seminaries, his potential market for the book is likely bigger than you think. If he is able to put out a well written and soundly sourced book, professors and classmates are quite likely to read it and recommend it to other colleagues. The trick is getting the book published in a way that makes that likely.


    • Meredith, your comments are well expressed and quite appropriate. I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve shared. There are a couple of things I felt I shouldn’t say even in a forum like this where I felt reasonably safe. I have asked him to let me know who he wants to self-publish with BEFORE he commits to that company so I can help him not to fall into the hands of predators–and there are plenty of them out there. If he’s not in too big a rush, I hope to work in some gentle guidance periodically rather than try to hit him with everything at once. Incidentally, we live in different states now and communicate only by e-mail. I’m not sure if that’s an advantage or a disadvantage. Thank you again for your comments. I’m going to refer back to them again, I promise you.


  2. I really liked Merediths reply… However, the diference between telling the truth and not saying anything is the difference between the sin of omission vesus the sin of commission… In the kitchen I’ve found there are different ways to peel a tomato. You need to figure out which way is the best way for the recipe you are planning.
    Self publishing used to be looked down upon but not so much nowadays. Let’s face it, getting published by a major company is sometimes luck. I’ve seen many terribly written books out there printed by famous brands. Some downright excellent writers never get into print because the so-called editors can’t recognize talent. (this is especially true with poetry, by the way.)
    If what the guy has to say is important then his style of writing won’t matter so much, especially if he has an editor who can help him. If it’s just some arcane skree then maybe nobody will read it no matter what.


  3. Agree about omission and commission, Tom. Agree about rotten books from major publishers. The 80/20 rule applies in publishing just as it does in much of life: 80% of a publisher’s profit comes from 20% of its writers. There’s no reliable way to predict what will sell and what won’t. If well educated writers were the only readers out there, no telling what would happen. As it is, however, story trumps good writing. But editors–even those within the same company–may disagree on what a good story is. I don’t believe in luck, but I do believe in timing. I hear you about poetry, but I know from a long-time friendship with novelist and poet Donn Taylor that poetry has a very small following. I understand that. As much as I might *appreciate* good poetry, I don’t ordinarily read it. Or even bad poetry. I admit it: I’m looking for entertainment when I read, and most poetry doesn’t do it. As for editors helping writers: That’s a great theory, but it doesn’t generally work that way any more. Too many people writing. If this manuscript from the pile doesn’t cut it, there are more left in the pile than the editor can give serious attention to. They’re looking for the next hit, not one that needs to be massaged more than slightly into shape. Whew! Sermon over. *G*


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