Beta Readers: Nakedness, Babysitters and Narcissism

Jenga
March 29, 2011
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Beta Readers: Nakedness, Babysitters and Narcissism

I’m standing naked on a stage right now.

I’ll wait while you poke your eyes out with sharp sticks.

Back? Oops, now you can’t read ’cause you poked your eyes out. *note to self: don’t recommend poking out eyes in future posts*

At this point, you’re saying to yourself– What the heck is she talking about?

Beta readers. Understand now?

Beta readers are essential. A big fat, DUH, right? But while we know how essential they are, it’s still extremely scary to take your precious baby that you’ve coddled for months (or years) and hand it over to the babysitters (aka beta readers.)

Sure,your crit partners have seen your  manuscript, but they are often people you know and damn well better be people you trust. We’ll consider them the aunts and uncles of your baby manuscript. Often, they’ve watched it gestate and grow and become the bouncing baby manuscript about to toddle off to the be wide world. Sure they reprimand it (critique,) but they know it. Aunts and uncles love their nieces and nephews even when their diapers are  full of poo.  If they’re really good aunts and uncles, they’ll let you know to change its diaper.  And wash its face. And tell it to stop whining.  And to stop hitting its brothers and sisters. (oops, that’s my kids)

But still, you wonder. Do they love it because its yours?

Enter beta readers.

I’m kind of unusual, I have LOTS of betas. TORN currently has about 20 people reading it and that includes nine teenagers. Some of the beta readers are writers (they’re essential) but at least half are just plain ol’ regular readers; people who love to read. I always hope for new beta readers, people who don’t know me very well. I usually post about my book on Facebook as I write so by the time I finish, all 508 of my friends on Facebook are all fighting to read. Okay, not really. But some are intrigued enough to volunteer. I love that.

The readers are sometimes very articulate in what works and what doesn’t, but most of them only tell me they liked it (or didn’t.) They tell me parts they liked and parts they didn’t get or didn’t like.**  They often don’t know why things don’t work. But that’s okay, because if readers have  issues, I’m in trouble.

So back to our baby manuscript analogy, because gosh darn it, it’s kind of fun and I’m not writing anything right now, so indulge me.

All the aunts and uncles have tossed your baby back in your lap and it’s time to take you baby to the babysitter. You put it in a cute little outfit and then send it out into the big wide world and hope it behaves itself.

Then you go back home and drink.

And you wait. You pace the floor, try to distract yourself. What if they hate it? What if it’s the most ridiculous idea since pet rocks? What if people are pointing at you and laughing.

You stalk Twitter, Facebook, your email. for any signs of anything from people reading. Every vague voice mail or tweet becomes about your manuscript (even when it’s not.)

Basically, you become a narcisst.

Then finally, someone brings your baby home and you see the email in your inbox and cringe as you click to read. Did you baby bite someone or pee its pants? (yeah, this is a classy blog) If your lucky, the babysitter tells you that your baby was an absolute dream and the day flew by (couldn’t put down) and they loved your baby’s personality (characters and voice) and your baby played well with others (plot.)

But at some point, someone’s going to tell you that your baby farted or spit peas or didn’t pick up its toys. This is what we want.  This is what *I* want. I love the all positive, glowing reviews. They make me cry with happiness (for real) but it’s the ones that tell you that your baby was a little bit of a brat the are the most helpful. We want our baby to move on to kindergarten and the only way to make that happen is to smooth the issues out.  Nevertheless,  it’s still hard. It’s like standing naked on a stage while everyone stares, looking for your flaws. Pointing and laughing. (Gah, I knew I should have worked out on my elliptical more.)

So, that’s where I am right now.  Crazy, narcissistic and  paranoid. Love me anyway.

What I’m listening to: Linkin Park, What I’ve Done. The theme song for TORN.

**When a beta reader tells me they’re done, I send a list of questions, issues or areas I want to make sure work. For TORN, I created an anonymous online survey for the readers to take.  I hope the mostly multiple choice answers make it easier for the readers and I hope the anonymity helps ensure the truthfulness.

 

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