Waiting on Other People (It’s Not Your Fault)

Oh, Squiders. Don’t you wish that you could do everything in a vacuum and never have to rely on other people? Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I eat copious amounts of ice cream, which doesn’t really help anything, but is excellent at the time.

I have three different works out to beta readers at the moment. The first is my high fantasy trilogy. Yes, the one I sent out last April. I also have the first of my potential nonfic series out to a few people, and my YA paranormal novel to a few as well. I think the nonfic book has been out since mid-February, and the YA paranormal has only been out for a few weeks.

(For a definition of beta readers go here. For notes on dealing with beta readers, go here or here.)

The issue with having other people read your story is the doubt that creeps in as time goes on. This is especially evident when you have a reader who is so excited to read your book, so you send it to them, eagerly awaiting their comments, but then the deadline comes and goes, and there’s nothing. No word from your beta. In fact, they seem to be avoiding you. You start to become desperate. Have they started the book? Have they finished it and it was so terrible they can’t even bear to tell you?

That’s got to be the reason, right? Why would someone be so excited and then not answer your emails after? You’re a terrible writer, a hack, you should just give the whole thing up now, before you embarrass yourself and bring dishonor to both you and your cow.

This feeling can be compounded if this is one of your first stories.

Well, Squiders, luckily, in 95% of cases, it’s not you. It’s not your writing. It’s your beta.

Here is how things work from a beta’s point of view. They’ve agreed to read your story. This generally implies that there is some interest there. I do know a few people that will beta things out of a sense of obligation, but most people can’t be bothered about that. They get your story and…a big report becomes due. Their children all get the worst sort of stomach flu. They lose their job, or their significant other leaves them. They have to do more marketing on their own book than they thought. Their priorities need a huge redirect.

Basically, something comes up that makes it so they don’t start your beta, or they get pulled away in the middle of it. And it spirals from there. Your betas want to do a good job. They want to give you useful comments. So the excuses start to pile up. “Oh, I should work on so-and-so’s story, but it’s been so long since I’ve looked at it. I should really start over.” “I should wait until I can give this my full focus, so I can give so-and-so the feedback they deserve.” “As soon as this gets done, I can work on betaing that story.”

But things pile up. And then deadlines pass. And then you (the writer) come back along, and in a nice, friendly tone, ask how it’s coming along. And the beta feels terrible that they’re not done. And because of that guilt, they start to withdraw from you. And it spirals into a huge mess of guilt and avoidance and procrastination that just gets deeper and deeper.

It’s not you. It’s not your story.

If you’ve reached full avoidance stage with a beta, I hate to say it, but it’s time to cut them loose. At that point, it’s probable that it’s never going to get done. Just pat them gently on the shoulder, thank them for their work, and tell them it’s okay if they don’t do it. Sometimes removing the weight of expectation clears their mind enough that they will actually do it. More often you will never get anything out of them. Use what you got from other betas, find new ones if you need more specific feedback, and move on.

If a beta is late, but still responding and letting you know what their status is, then they’re okay. You just need to decide if there’s a point where you absolutely need their feedback by, and ask for what comments they have at that point if they’re not done.

You can’t control other people’s lives. And you can’t let other people control yours. Set boundaries and deadlines, and stick to them.

Got any beta reading tips, squiders, from a writer’s or a reader’s standpoint? Things that you’ve found work? Ways to draw out the turtling beta when it seems like hope is lost?

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