Basically, the Sandwich Method means that if you have to give a critical opinion, you should "sandwich" it between two positive aspects of the submitted piece. There are several, glaring, problems with this system - especially when it's the normal operating procedure for what are supposed to be real critiques.
- If someone wants to be a writer, then they need to get used to people having a problem with what they write. I don't care how good it is, someone's going to hate it.
- Agents and editors don't bother to temper their impressions of a piece. If you figure out what's wrong with something before you submit to editors or agents, then you can spare yourself the head-scratching when the 2-1 ratio of good to bad doesn't hold up on submission.
- Sometimes things suck. Sometimes they suck a lot. Sometimes there is nothing good about a submission other than the formatting came out clearly.
I can already see the hackles rising on those of you who still think Kindergarten rules apply to real life and that everyone should get to play and receive encouragement for the effort, but this isn't a game, and what most people who employ this soft-touch method of critiquing don't realize is that they're doing damage to the person they're trying to help.
Certain kinds of writers - new ones especially - have three very bad habits when it comes to seeking input on their writing.
- They ask expecting compliments because they're certain their words, style, grammar, etc. are perfect and beyond contest.
- They come at offered critique and advice as though the people reading their material owe them for the privilege of reading their words.
- They will latch onto anything - ANYTHING - positive as an indication that a particular bit, scene, or phrase needs to stay, no matter how many rounds of editing the piece goes through.
- The compliment seekers will see the 2-to-1 ratio and, believing that it fits with their assumptions of their own talent and skill level, will ignore anything else - including the nitpicks in the sandwiched passages.
- When you crit something, you're investing your time and effort and skill for someone who's not paying you. You owe them nothing, other than your honesty; giving them anything less does them a disservice and wastes your own time.
- The last one is the one the Sandwich Method, and similar approaches, does the most damage to. They hang onto those "positives" as tight as they can. It doesn't matter that the rest of the scene changes and now the original material doesn't fit, or that what used to be the strongest element is now the weakest after edits - that was the "good" part of their original story, so it has to stay. They take "complimentary" as an indication of perfection.
So long as you aren't being intentionally petty, or offering up the "Ths sux!" kinds of remarks without comment on how to improve something, the writer's reaction to your opinion isn't your problem to deal with.
It's better to hear the hard truth while the story is in flux than wait until you've burned through all the agents you wanted to query with a less than shiny manuscript you thought was golden.