Like every writer does, I resist being told that something is wrong with my work. I want to explain away the problem, or even convince myself it’s really a unique aspect to my story. As a beta-reader and editor, I’ve been given a window to my own writer soul. I haven’t learned to handle criticism as well as I’d like, but I’ve been honored to work with some excellent teachers. My friend, the “Who-Dunnit” crime writer, knows the art of gracious acceptance and sincere gratitude for the time I spend combing through her manuscripts. I cannot wait until her series is published because it is full of warmth, humor, and tidy endings. I have a women’s lit writer friend who gets very quiet after receiving my list of concerns. She doesn’t respond immediately; instead, she tells me, “I’ll think about what you’re saying and get back with you.” She waits until she’s had a chance to let my perspective sink in before she’s able to ask for more details on what I think will improve her story. She’s come back with a second book, so I know she values my feedback. A third writer I’ve worked with over the years is slowly unfolding a thriller with tie-ins to ancient history and legend. He began by steering me away from the punctuation and grammatical errors. “I know it’s bad, but I can’t focus on that or I will never get it written. Please, can you help me with plot holes and moving the storyline forward?” I’m grateful for his honesty. It’s so much easier to work with a writer who admits weaknesses and tells me what aspect he’s trying to address first.
Recently, a friend messaged me, “I’m granting you the opportunity to read my manuscript before I prepare it for query.” Don’t get me wrong; beta reading can be fun, but it’s still work. I don’t think it’s a favor to “grant” someone your manuscript. I took this as a huge hint that this writer had not yet learned the value of a beta reader. It was in my best interest to decline; so, I did.
Then I felt kind of sad. I love beta work. I think I love it more than writing. If I could work full time in this field, I might do it. I say “might” because I have worked with some rather delusional writers and read some awful manuscripts. I know that sounds harsh, but both can make beta reading and editing a nightmare. There is a giddy enjoyment I get from cleaning up and ironing out a good read. Yes, beneath the red ink on the page, the soul of the manuscript-child, well, it beams at me, and I beam back and say, “You are a treasure, little one. A treasure. This is just a little polish to make you shine.”
When I consider it from that perspective–the perspective of the beta reader–the writer in me takes less offense. I’m trying to accept that the truth may smart in the beginning, but that doesn’t mean the manuscript is a bust. Nor is it the critiquer’s fault. The reader who takes the time to tell me about the mistakes deserves my gratitude. Assuredly, they are not what’s plaguing the project. Besides, if my reader didn’t like my manuscript, would they be sticking around to help me help it along?