It's the first Wednesday of the month which means that it's time for another installment of Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group. Some of you may recall that I missed last month's post. Don't worry— I'm still just as insecure and neurotic as ever. Probably even more so.
Definitely even more so.
So I'm posting this month. And because I missed last month and also because this is the last IWSG post of 2011 (ponder that for a minute. Where did the year go?), I've decided to bring a little extra crazy to the mix.
That's right... I am going to talk about what has become my greatest insecurity as a writer. I am going to talk about the elephant sized chip on my shoulder and, in the process of unburdening my soul, I suspect I will be unforgivably wordy and whiny.
And, for that, I am sorry. Please consider yourselves warned and please feel free to just head on over to the next blog on the list. I really won't be offended.
So. Without any further ado, please allow me to present A Tale of Four Betas...
First off, I want to say I love this blogging community. I love reading about other people's writing journeys. It's nice to know others have the same struggles I do but I'm also genuinely excited for them when progress is made. When they have a breakthrough in that WIP that was causing them trouble or when they find an agent or a publisher. When their first books become available for public consumption. All of it, really.
And even though I'm personally not anywhere near any of those milestones (and, let's face it, probably never will be. I just can't seem to get out of my own way) I don't feel any sort of pang of jealousy over it. Well, maybe when I read about someone's WIP breakthrough. My own are just so few and far between that it causes me to wonder if my life would be better spent asking customers if they'd like to supersize their lunch order. But what really gets me jealous is when I read about everyone's awesome beta readers and CPs.
I've not had the best of luck in that particular area.
Now I feel this is the point where I should point out that when I do ask someone to read chapters for me, I will accommodate them in any way I can. Want an e-copy? Sure thing. Want a paper copy? You bet. Want a special red pen? I'll supply you with one. Want a package of post-it notes and a highlighter? No problem.
I know you're doing a favor for me. I know I'm not the center of the universe. I know you have jobs and hobbies and children (should children have been listed before the hobbies?) and any number of other things that require your attention. I understand that I am encroaching upon your precious free time and I am appreciative of that.
Which is why I always offer my betas the following out: If, at any point, you find you no longer have the time or the desire to continue reading my manuscript, please just tell me and I will understand. I do not expect that you will read my entire manuscript over night. I do, however, expect you to read the manuscript in the same calendar year.
That said, this has been my beta reader experience:
She used to read a lot of stuff for me. Then, in 2005, I had the brilliant (stupid?) idea to rewrite Effigy. At one point, I asked her to read the first fifteen chapters because it was so very different from the previous draft. She agreed. A couple of days later, we had a discussion about the first chapter. I haven't heard anything since.
He asked me if he could read the now completed Effigy. I jumped at the chance because why wouldn't I? That was in 2008. A little over a year later, he'd made it half way though the manuscript. Despite countless efforts on my part to just cut my losses (translation: me sending emails saying, "you really don't have to read any more. I know how busy you are..."), he always responded with, "No, I really like the book and I really want to read it! I just don't have a lot of free time!" But then one day, he sent me an email telling me about the writers' group he'd started with a co-worker of his and asked if I would mind reading his work. This turned out to be the straw that broke the camel's back. We traded a few strongly worded emails in which I told him I couldn't handle his apathy toward me and my work anymore and he told me I was a— well, he told me I was a lot of things. None of them flattering. I admit I did not handle the situation with the grace and maturity I could have but hey, my feelings were hurt. Really hurt. And still are. You know, in case you didn't pick up on that.
It took me a long, long time to work up the nerve to ask B3 to be B3. She was a fellow aspiring writer and I thought for sure it would be a good thing. She would know how hard it is to ask someone to read and how hard it is to wait and wait and wait. So I sent her the first three chapters in April 2011. In May, she read the prologue and wrote me a very lovely note about how she's dying to read the rest. And that's the last I heard from her.
(Just so you know, reliving this is really depressing.) B4 received 14 chapters in June of this year. In October, I received an email from B4 apologizing for the lack of critiquing going on. He didn't want to pull a B2 so he promised to remedy the situation. I have heard nothing since.
And thus ends my beta reader sob story.
I know I'm not the nicest person on the face of the— anywhere. I'm moody. I'm sarcastic and passive aggressive. I'm occasionally rather irrational and sometimes downright mean. I have a carefully cultivated bad attitude. I swear like a sailor with a bad case of Tourette's Syndrome and, from time to time, drink like a fish who can't hold its liquor. I'm an incurable book snob with some kind of gross grammatical god complex. I eat too much junk food and not nearly enough fruits and vegetables. I am also pathologically incapable of putting away the laundry. And after years of trying, I'm still splashing around in the shallow end of the writing pool.
So maybe I shouldn't be surprised that my once mighty group of readers (beta and the like) has dwindled to the point of non existence. They got tired of waiting, I imagine, for the day that I might make something happen. I'm getting tired too but I'll keep going because that's what I do. I shouldn't expect them to do the same.
But here's the thing: Beta readers are vital to the process. You need a test audience to point out the mistakes you don't notice because you're too close to the work because you know what it's supposed to say. You need someone to say things like, "I don't know what you were smoking when you wrote that scene but you should probably not do that again" or "Wow. That's a plot hole big enough to drive a semi though."
And I want that. I'm just having a hard time putting myself out there now. I've had a couple of offers for readers since the Great Exodus but I just can't bring myself to say 'yes' because it sucks when you go from comments like:
"I finally got a moment to sit down and open up the Prologue.......... and I am pretty excited to read the rest. I mean, I don't even LIKE this genre. I never READ this genre. I don't GET this genre. But after reading the opening to this book, I actually want to keep going..."
"This is FUCKING awesome!"
"YOU CAN'T END IT THERE!!! YOU ARE NOT TO GET UP FROM THAT COMPUTER UNTIL YOU HAVE FINISHED THE NEXT CHAPTER AND SENT IT TO ME!!"
to the sound of crickets. Very, very quiet crickets. Hard not to assume that you've written a terrible, terrible book and no one wants to be the one to tell you. Hard not to take it personally. Being ignored by a publisher is one thing. Being ignored by friends is quite another. So it's hard to know on whom to take a chance. It's made me not want to take chances anymore because honestly? I just can't be brought down any lower.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Pity? Party of one? Your table is ready...
On that note, I'm out of here. Gonna go get some cheese to accompany my whine. See you next time...if I haven't permanently frightened you away that is.
P.S... if you made it through this whole thing, thanks for listening/reading. And if you didn't, well, thanks for trying.
***P.S.S... It's come up in comments that perhaps I am not willing to read/critique for other people and I can understand how the "straw breaking the camel's back" line would have lead readers to that conclusion. I wrote it badly, I think. But I always have and always will be willing to read/critique for others. When I do so, the story in question moves straight to the top of my to-do list and if a particular day only offers me a half hour of free time, then that half hour is spent on the critique. The straw that broke the back was more related to the timing of the request than the request itself. I wasn't thrilled about being mostly ignored for a year and then asked for a favor. Probably petty, I know. But I already coped to that event as not my finest hour. Anyway, carry on.