Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel like I’m imposing whenever I ask someone to read my work. Of course, I’ve heard that a lot of writers are hesitant to show their work to someone else, especially when it’s still just a first or second draft. After all, your novel is your baby; you’ve been working on it for months, if not years, and the last thing you want to hear is someone say that it sucks. Working up the courage to allow someone to read what you’ve written is hard enough. But then there’s this added weight of the guilt of imposition.
Whenever I finally make a decision to show someone my work, to ask for their opinion of it, I always feel like I should crawl up to them on my knees, smeared with ash and dressed in sackcloth, manuscript in hand and beg in the most deferential voice I can muster, “Would you please…if it’s not too much trouble, because I know your time is valuable and you probably have a million other things you’d rather be doing but….could you please, please read this and tell me what you think?”
If you manage to make that perceived imposition and convince a friend to read your work, the battle isn’t over. Now you have to remind your beta reader(s) to get back to you about the piece in a reasonable amount of time. And then you have to force yourself to stick to that deadline because, since they are busy, you feel like you’re imposing even more if you try to hold them to the original date they agreed upon.
This feeling is crippling. This feeling like your imposing on someone else, even if it’s something important or legitimate, has stifled me my entire life. It’s what made me wait for almost 9 months before asking an artist if she was actually going to do the commission I paid her for. (Note: she never responded and never did the piece.) I should not have waited that long to ask for an update, but, even though I’d sent her money, I still felt like I was imposing. It’s the same when I ask someone to read my work. If they go past the deadline, I’m far more forgiving than I should be. I wait a few days, hem and haw, shift and worry, and think about if it’s too soon to start bothering my beta(s) about their critique. But then, if I wait too long, I wonder if it’s been so long if it’s even worth waiting any longer. Or that, “a few more days won’t matter…”
If you do manage to call a late beta reader and remind them that they did agree to read your work by such-and-such a date and could you please let me know…the reaction I generally get is a flustered apology and the assurance that they are almost done and will have it to me by such-and-such a time. Sometimes I believe that they really are nearly done. Other times…I think they forgot about it and are trying to hide their embarrassment. Which in turn makes me feel embarrassed and I start worrying about being an imposition all over again.
So, when you are a writer desperate for quality feedback on your writing, but suffering from too much guilt, what do you do?
- Accept that you are NOT an imposition. Really, you aren’t. You have friends and people you trust for a reason. Your work is worth something, YOU are worth something, and wanting quality feedback in a reasonable amount of time is a natural part of the writing process.
- Be polite and use common sense. If you know a friend is going to a wedding, teaching a class, and working two jobs, it probably isn’t the best time to ask them to critique your novel. Ask your friends or previous beta readers how they’re lives are going, what they are up to, and get a sense of how stressed they are. If you prefer the direct approach, ask them straight out if they have the time, energy, or interest to read your novel. If they seem stressed or reluctant to take the job, thank them and move on.
- Set a deadline! Let your beta reader(s) know up front when you need their feedback. Be willing to negotiate. If you have to have feedback by a date that doesn’t work for your beta, either change the deadline or find another beta who can meet it.
- Stick to your deadline! If you say you’re going to call your beta reader on Saturday the 22nd of the month, call them on the 22nd. Not the 21st, not the 23rd, the 22nd. Of that month. (Unless there’s an invasion of Cybermen; trying to avoid conversion or deletion is a legit reason not to call.)
- Beta readers! Be sure to follow through! If you can’t read and critique a piece by the given deadline, you must either decline the job or call the writer as soon as you realize that you won’t be able to finish in time. Apologize and tell the writer when you will have the critique finished and then make that your priority. It’s only polite. Nothing shakes a writer’s confidence in a beta reader like one who constantly reschedules without results.
- Writers! Be sure to thank your betas! Always express gratitude to your beta reader(s) when they accept the job and follow through on reading and critiquing. Try to do something nice for your extra special betas who go above and beyond the call of duty.