An acquaintance of mine and his wife just self-published a very short book. Unfortunately, it has scores of grammatical mistakes on most pages. My friend and his wife have a great message to share, so I'd like to see their book improve. I'm also concerned about possible (or likely?) image plagiarism. They appear not to notice the many mistakes in their booklet and I'm worried that the mistakes would reflect poorly on them.


How can I tell him that their book needs major revision?

Other requirements

  • I don't want them to think I'm classist or elitist (they have a high school GED whereas I have multiple graduate degrees in the natural sciences)...or even racist (they're black, I'm white).
  • I'm also not sure if I'm close enough to them to suggest something like this.
  • 1
    @jvriesem I went ahead and edited your question in line with above comments, hope that is okay with you. I think it is an interesting question.
    – Astralbee
    Mar 23 '18 at 12:16
  • @Astralbee asking when should I do this is still off topic here.
    – Catija
    Mar 23 '18 at 12:28
  • @Catija I disagree. It was a supplemental question, and it wasn't "when", it was "and under what conditions". Plenty of answers - I'd say most answers - cover not just what to say, but how to say it, for example waiting to an argument has died down, or raising a subject in a relaxed setting. I think you should put it back in, as most answers will cover it anyway.
    – Astralbee
    Mar 23 '18 at 13:25
  • Did they publish it as an ebook on a site that allows reviews (ie, amazon) and did they get a review mentioning the grammar problems?
    – user2135
    Mar 23 '18 at 13:29
  • "Under what conditions" reads like "how bad does it have to be for me to consider mentioning this?" @Astralbee That is pretty subjective. If that's not your intention, clarify. More words isn't a bad thing.
    – Catija
    Mar 23 '18 at 13:30

Firstly I'd ask yourself - are you willing to edit it for him?

After all:

  1. You think they have a worthwhile message
  2. You are more than capable as you have multiple degrees
  3. You care enough about their reputation to want to intervene.

Whether you are willing to edit it or not, you could begin by saying:

I think you have a really worthwhile message in your book. I hope it reaches as many people as possible. Do you have an editor? Or have you had it proofread?

Assuming their reply to these questions is no, and you are willing to edit it then you could add:

I did quite a lot of writing for my degrees. I'm not involved in publishing, but I'd be willing to proofread and even edit it for you if you like?

This approach doesn't specifically say that you saw errors, just that you want to help them make it as professional as it possibly can be. Your willingness to help shows that you care about the book, not that you just want to criticise it.

On the other hand if they say it has been edited then you may be best leaving it there. If you point out that there are still errors after such "editing" you don't know who you might be insulting.

If you are not willing to edit it and they have not used an editor or a proofreader, you could say:

I don't really know much about publishing, but I know it can help to have it read by somebody professional before publication. I enjoyed it as it was though.

This hopefully will plant the seed in their mind, but you must now leave it up to them knowing you've done your best to help.


You can also use suggest them to use an online spell checker, or plagiarism checker. One example of this would be Grammarly.

I would just give a hint to check their spelling as Astralbee suggested, and say something such as:

Hi (insert name here)! Your book inspires me a lot, but I think that checking your work on Grammarly would really help improve your book. If that doesn't help, I would suggest (this editor) to check your book.

Of course you need to invest some time and effort into finding possible solutions, but this approach gives them some next steps, without having to fully commit to editing their book.


You didn't mention how they brought the book to you - specifically, did they actually ask you for any feedback? Unsolicited feedback is usually unwanted. If they show no indication of actually wanting critical feedback, then they probably do not want it and are not expecting it from you.

If they were actually wanting the kind of feedback you want to give, they would say something that acknowledged your expertise and specifically requested help, and acknowledged that you might feel uncomfortable giving criticism, like: "We know you have an academic background. What do you think we could do to improve this book? Please be brutally honest". I'm guessing from the question they did not say this.

If all they said was, "Hey, we wrote this book!", that's a request for shared social celebration, not feedback. So while you believe their project would benefit from editing, they didn't actually ask for your opinion about it, and it's not your responsibility to give people help they didn't ask for and don't show the self-awareness that they need (as in, they didn't say, "Here's our draft, it needs a lot of editing, but what do you think of the ideas"--this would show that self-awareness).

If they said something with ambiguous scope like, 'What do you think?' tread carefully, as they could just not know any other way to ask for celebration, but still not actually want critical feedback.

In summary, give them your best guess about what they consciously want in sharing it with you, rather than your idea of what the project "needs".

Lastly, if their audience for the book is not academic, the grammar mistakes may not actually be a problem. If their audience is people with their same level of education and from the same culture, it might actually be fine. So you might ask them what their plans are for the book before determining that it can't succeed as it is.


Maybe you put it back on yourself rather than on them. For example you explain to them that you were in a similar situation and how you resolved. Perhaps you wrote something and you turned it in and it was a mess and then you had somebody help you clean it up.

Put yourself in the person’s shoes try to understand her motivations and reasonings and their position how they feel about themselves.

How sensitive is this person are they really sensitive about their writing?

Has anyone else looked at this book and do they feel the same way perhaps they can approach this person. Or if the person is young perhaps you can get a mom or a dad to approach them so that you don’t have to.

And of course the painful choice is to do nothing which may in fact be the right choice

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