The last couple of posts have been about beta reading, beta readers, and authors helping each other. I love positive, uplifting conversations like that. But the comments brought up an important point: Sometimes the relationships we have with other writers in our circle aren’t all unicorns and rainbows.
Sometimes a beta reader might give us too harsh of feedback without explaining why something doesn’t work. Sometimes our hard work to provide insightful comments is shot down with insults and a lost friendship. It’s a shame when that happens, but it does happen on occasion.
The comments reminded me of a situation I heard of a while back. An author asked for a beta read and stated she was going to self-publish it the next week, so she just needed a final, typo-hunting read through. However, the writer who volunteered to read this story saw more problems than could be cured by a “polish pass.”
The beta reader discovered that the story started in the wrong place and had numerous scenes with flat characters and no point, the author didn’t know a semicolon from a comma, etc., etc. In other words, according to the beta reader, the story had plotting problems, characterization problems, pacing problems, and craft problems.
The beta reader pointed out the issues she found, provided explanations for why the current story wasn’t working for her as a reader, gave suggestions on how to fix the problems, and generally tried to let the author down easy with the news that “Sorry, this isn’t ready for publication.”
The author made a few changes, but nothing of substance. She placed her work for sale on Amazon the next week with great excitement. She waited.
Months after its release, the book is nowhere near a bestseller, ranking in the upper millions, and only a handful of people have left a review. One of those reviews is scathing in its recap of the story’s quality—and it wasn’t left by the beta reader, who holds no ill will for the author’s choice.
There are two sides to every story.
Did the book fail because the beta reader was right? None of us can know for sure. I know when I beta read, my suggestions are just that: suggestions. I can only guess at the author’s intentions when I read a story. My comments about what works or doesn’t work for me are merely opinions. I am not every reader, and I can be wrong.
Did the book fail just because. It’s a crowded market. It’s hard to be heard. Some premises aren’t fresh or interesting anymore. Who knows. Great books fail all the time.
But what I find interesting is how we react to a story like this:
- Do we think the author got what she deserved? It’s her fault for not learning the craft, for not listening to advice, for not being patient enough to recognize that she didn’t even know what all she didn’t know yet.
- Do we think the author simply needs a mentor? It’s not her fault she couldn’t recognize where she was on the learning curve, and it’d be a shame if someone who could become a great writer gives up just because she doesn’t realize all she needs is more skill and practice.
There are no wrong answers there. *smile* Honestly, I probably fall somewhere in the middle.
I empathize greatly with new writers. I still remember what it’s like to think our writing is near-perfect only to discover we didn’t know what all we didn’t know. Heck, I still experience that on some level every time I send my work to beta readers (*blush*), and I know I’ll never be done learning. Not knowing everything is not an unforgivable flaw.
But I also live by the mantra of healthy relationships everywhere: “You can’t force someone else to change.” We can’t lead a new writer to classes or workshops or blog posts about some craft issue and expect that to fix the problem if they’re in denial about having a hole in their knowledge. We can’t force someone to recognize their failings.
So then the question becomes how far do we go in trying to help them? How much effort do we put into being a writer’s mentor if all the advice is ignored? At what point do we throw up our hands and let them succeed or fail on their own?
I don’t have neat little answers for those questions. I’m not published yet, so I still need mentoring myself. The last thing I want to do is discourage someone from mentoring writers. But I also know I’ve gone much further to help some writers than others. Some, I know, take the craft, the business, and the profession of writing seriously. So I take the time to help them in any way I can.
But some started down the writing path thinking it would be easy, and they want to be in denial about the hurdles. For those, I’ll still point out the issues I see and why, but I don’t push beyond that.
If I see them taking the advice to heart, I’ll help them again. If I see the same problems over and over again, I extricate myself from any “advising” role—no beta reading, no repeating things I’ve already told them, etc. I don’t have time to waste by talking to a brick wall.
Am I wrong for that attitude? Do you think we can fix writers who don’t admit they need fixing? How much do you think we owe writers who are behind us on the learning curve? Where do you think our obligation to being a writing mentor ends? What do you hope for in a mentor?Pin It