Author: “You” (And You Alone)

Naturally I follow some indie authors on social media. I like to try to keep up with what others may be doing. Ridiculously early yesterday…

…I noticed a post that touched on this subject, and it led me to want to address it here today. I’m seeing increasing references to “beta feedback” and similar. That refers to the sharing of a draft manuscript with various readers, often found online, for their reactions and suggestions.

It seems now to be something of a “cottage industry” in indie writing. And what could be wrong with that? Isn’t it just proofreading? Surely, that’s a good idea?

Hmm. My advice: be careful. Passing a manuscript around too widely could prove problematic.

First, everyone reads a book as an individual and sees a tale his or her own way. Those readers will all take away something different from the story. Some will – perhaps with the best of intentions – likely also offer up reactions to it spanning the full range from the distracting and off-target, to causing you to question what you are doing, to the possibly downright silly (from your creative perspective):

“That immortal tarantula doesn’t really work, does it? And those paragraphs are pretty long?”

“I liked the idea of the aliens from Nebbersantantan. But maybe their leader should be a titan?”

“That’s great, but she might be a better character if she is Italian?”

You would also hope recruited “beta readers” would be honest in appraisals. However, if you don’t know them well and they are writers also, be aware: if you write too well they could become jealous and look to undermine your confidence – especially if you write in a similar genre.

Don’t believe that does not happen. As much as there is a “community” of writers out there, there is also LOTS of competition. Don’t forget that either.

Above all: your ideas are precious. I have never given a manuscript to someone I do not know very well. (I know one person who puts a manuscript practically under coded lock and key.) After all, once it is out of your hands you have no idea where it might end up or who may get hold of it. Ideas do get stolen.

Be protective of your hard work and do not be naive. Yes, yes, yes, you own the copyright; but you don’t want to find yourself in a copyright battle over your first novel because YOU were sloppy. Chances are you don’t have the money for a lawyer. A thief doesn’t need to steal your entire book, only parts of it. Nothing can undo the heartbreak of seeing your cherished idea swiped.

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I pulled a biography of John Marshall off a shelf in the Catskills last week and brought it back here to England to re-read for a planned next novel.πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§βœˆοΈ . He was an intensely interesting man who most of us know little about today. In the early 1800s, as Chief Justice, he made our U.S. Supreme Court pretty much what it is now. . He was personally also rather a, uh, "romantic" guy – umm, especially with a widowed, young 30s-year-old, Marquise de Villette, Paris, 1797 [cough, cough].πŸ˜‰ . There: a bit of both scholarly and lighthearted for a late afternoon post!πŸ˜‚ . Oh, look at the time! It's nearly after 6pm here in the U.K.!πŸ‘πŸ₯ƒπŸΈπŸΊπŸ· . #travel #expats #history #politics #biography #books #photo #photography #novels #fiction #humor #humour #Hertfordshire #England #writers #opinions #writersofinstagram #authors #authorsofinstagram #reading #romance #writing

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If you don’t have a “proper” editor, it is certainly useful to circulate it confidentially to a few trusted people. Have them read it as general readers would: check it for readability and related matters that YOUR eye may have missed, etc. That’s fine.

It is also more than reasonable to share excerpts of your work in progress online with a public audience. I do that here, of course. Readers get a taste of what you are working on and how you write. If what you are producing is “junk,” you’ll get a sense of that soon enough.

Overall in circulating a full draft manuscript among “too many” people I feel there is simply a creative danger in having to deal with too many opinions. I’ll never forget my novelist uncle, while reading Frontiers, telling me – I was a wreck as he read it – that I should just write as I wish. It was my story, my style, and my call, so to speak.

A page from Conventions: The Garden At Paris, paperback edition.

Indeed you don’t write for other writers. You write to say what you want to say and hope a wider public enjoys it. Ultimately it is only YOUR name on the cover sticking your neck out there with your book.

Seeking out 10, or 20, or even 100 “beta” opinions cannot undo the reality that there will always be readers, reviewers and other writers out there who will not like your finished book. If you are passing your manuscript around because you are nervous and are seeking reassurance, that’s human and understandable. But always take comfort in the fact that even J.K. Rowling has her vocal detractors.

Write your book the best you can. Share the manuscript with some you know and trust. And eventually let the true “fun” begin: let all the rest of us out here read it!

And have a good day, wherever you are. πŸ™‚

3 replies »

  1. What an interesting & useful post, dear Robert. By the way, could you give me a piece of advice: when you send your first, (certainly the most precious) book to a publisher, should the text be sent completely or for a publisher the plot summary is enough with the first introducing letter?

    Have a nice day! πŸ™‚ Your extract is brilliant. Don’t worry. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. πŸ™‚ I suppose it depends on what a publisher is looking for. One will tell you. Otherwise seeking out an agent first is probably the best route. An agent would want to see probably only a few pages or a chapter or so to decide if they want you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Robert, thank you very much. You’ve dispelled my doubts. I guess I would follow the situation. For I’ve got some communications with agents & I’m not satisfied with their approach. I will keep you updated with my publishing adventures. πŸ™‚
        Have a nice week-end.

        Liked by 1 person