Writers are proud people.
Very proud people.
In fact, many take criticism about as well as they take to a bite from a diamondback rattlesnake.
Those things are scary. I’ve run into a few on hikes. Not fun.
Now, like a bite from a rattlesnake, criticism probably won’t kill you or any writers out there. Still, when someone is told their writing needs work, their characters are flat and need developing, and they probably shouldn’t be trying to find an agent yet, you often…get the cold shoulder.
Granted, getting the cold shoulder from a writer or a friend isn’t nearly as cute as that dog wrapping himself in his blanket, but you get the point.
I’ve beta’d for a few people now. Four, to be exact. One was pretty simple. Clean, happy, not much to say. I mean, I always have a lot to say, but that’s because I’m just wordy. Very wordy. So wordy that my beta notes are usually around 10,000 words long for manuscripts that average about 85,000 words. But anyway, one was pretty easy because the author gave me a very polished draft.
Three, however, have not been as much fun.
All three have had…interestingly negative results on my end.
I’m very blunt. Kind of annoyingly so at times, I’m told. But it works for me. I think something, I say it, usually. I have a filter, but I’m under the impression that if someone is at the beta stage and they are looking to publish, I’d better be as blunt and honest with them as possible. If they can’t handle it, either they’re asking the wrong person to beta (because I do warn them and ask how blunt they can handle), or they’re not ready to be publishing because it means they can’t deal with criticism.
Being published and dealing with agents means a lot of rejection and a lot of criticism. I say having beta readers is a good chance to experience any criticisms you might hear.
So anyway, my first experience as a beta reader ended very poorly.
The lady stopped talking to me entirely, told me I was jealous of her because I wasn’t anywhere near publication yet (I was fifteen at the time), and proceeded to self-publish and delete any criticisms of her book.
Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly pleased with my first experience. In fact, the next time I allowed myself to beta wasn’t for another two years. Then I was cautious. Someone requested a beta, said they were really good with criticism. I did my thing, they reported me to the site for harassment (it didn’t go through because I was blunt, but not mean), deleted her account, and hasn’t been heard from since.
Now, my most recent beta has…well I guess I’m not 100% sure how it’s going to end. I just finished it a few weeks ago, but haven’t heard anything from the person about it since. I’ve asked subtly, but been ignored each time. I don’t know if it’s on purpose, as they’re still friendly to me about every other subject, but it’s certainly getting annoying. Maybe they haven’t even read the beta notes yet!
But anyway, all of this frustration from betaing, and I still will say the same thing: writers need to hear what they don’t want to hear. They might act rude about it, they might never speak to you again, but if you’re betaing their story and you don’t think it’s ready to be published, you have to tell them. Writers need to hear things like that, even if they don’t want to. Getting praise is great, and I do enjoy it too, but how can you get better if no one ever tells you you’re wrong?
I don’t beta the way I do because I want to shoot people down and ruin their dreams. I beta the way I do because I want them to become better writers. I want them to get published. I want to see their books on the shelves of Barns & Noble. So I’ll tell them if I don’t think it’s ready. I’ll point out what I don’t like more than what I do like. Criticism is always healthy.
I’m not mean. I’m not rude. I’m blunt and I’m honest. I don’t set out to make friends when I beta. I set out to help writers become the best they can be.
I’m taking a break from The First Nine. No more contests, no more editing until I return from China next May. I’m working on a new story, and on my romance. It’s going to be fun.
In other news, I’m going to Chengdu, China for ten months in two weeks!!!
Won’t be able to post much, but I’ll try. Blogs are often blocked in China, but we’ll see.