Friday, February 26, 2016

Do I Need Beta Readers?

I’m out-of-touch enough to think that beta readers are a strange concept. People who read stuff before publication or submission, and give feedback, with the implication you’ll actually change the manuscript in response, the way game developers do with beta tester feedback, or movie studios with advance previews.  In fact, Return of the Jedi is a shining example of a committee-made movie that was carefully adjusted to audience feedback.

Today I saw a blog put out by someone who matches writers and beta readers, and she stated that beta readers are a necessity. And my immediate reaction was, yeah, right, tell it to [insert literary figure here].  Although for all I know, my favorite writers may have been secretly beta testing their stories on their immediate families for years, with no one the wiser.

I’m kind of an antisocial writer, and that was deliberate while I was gearing up to write. I didn’t want to copy anyone, or write something that reacted to something else. I even spent a year without reading books, just to clear my mind. Today I know that I am a person who is going to write goofy fast-paced sci fi adventures, but I wasn’t quite sure where I was headed until I finished the first draft.

I’ve never been in a bookclub.  I had a bad experience where a bunch of book liking friends were in a forum discussing The Help, which is a book about a heroic white lady who fights for black equality by swiping a bunch of stories from the maids who clean up after her rich family and their friends, and typing them up into a best seller while hoarding all the fame and most of the money.  It’s a skillfully written page-turner of a book that contains a little history, and a lot of caricaturing, and it presses hard on all the buttons that are supposed to light up our liberal sanctimony circuits.  A schism developed between those of us who thought this book was condescending and manipulative and those who were deeply moved by the protagonist’s sanctimoniousness, and the whole forum kind of fell apart.

There was a day when people had a social vocabulary that would account for disagreements about art. This isn’t that day. And I’ve avoided book clubs ever since, as well as people who are using the word “empathy” while unexpectedly going aggro on people who are not expecting player combat.

Maybe someday I’ll find compatible souls who want to trade beta duty. I’m not sure what the future will hold, aside from the pending 2.5 sequels and 9 remaining short stories in my current universe, before I bust out into either space or dragons.

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