Well, this was a hard one for me. I’ve helped plenty of people with their novels over the years, and while some of them were pretty close to the level required to get serious consideration in the publishing world . . . most were not.
And to be honest, for most of the time I was providing beta reading for others . . . I probably wasn’t ready either.
You don’t really know sometimes. (And sometimes even when you’ve had a success or two, you might secretly think you’re a hack and you’ll never get anywhere with anything else you write.) But the truth is? Nobody’s going to respond well to being told “you are very, very, very far from ready.” It’s just not a constructive thing to say.
And believe me, the publishing world will be happy to say that to these folks without your help.
If you’re helping someone who just isn’t ready for publishing and you know it for sure, probably the best thing you can do is make global suggestions and some light copyediting. Don’t tell them they write like a beginner or don’t have a chance. Not only will they not believe you; they’ll think everything else you said is misguided too, and may refuse to consider your suggestions. (That said, there ARE writers who can handle having you tear into their manuscript and spit it back out again. It takes time before you know who these types are.)
And if you’re the writer getting some not-so-glowing commentary from someone whose opinion you’ve solicited, please don’t be insulted if they tell you you need more time with it, more practice, more editing . . . but at the same time, I beg of you. Please. Please. Do not try to jump into publishing with a first draft, and do not believe for a second that “editing” is just a matter of running your spell-checker.
(I’m sad to say I recently had someone hit me up for editing whose work was bafflingly awful but he thought he just needed a last glance on his query, and when I told him he needed far more than minor tweaks, he sent me seven vile e-mails about how actually I am the one who’s a sucky writer, full of curse words and incomplete sentences, with follow-ups claiming he’d put the misspellings into his curse-out e-mails on purpose and expected me to find them. This tirade was followed by him trying to add me on LinkedIn. Some people.)