I'm an amateur writer at best, but what do you do when a beta reader not only rips into your manuscript (which is fine) but also criticizes you as a writer? My last beta reader did just that.
The whole problem stemmed from a question I wasn’t able to answer to her satisfaction. To her, it seemed improbable that there could be humans on other planets. I told her there were theories that I wasn’t willing to go into detail about because 1.) it didn’t have anything to do with the story and 2.) I really hadn’t thought to expand on that particular detail. She persisted in getting an answer so I gave her a few theories.
This is a small portion of what she said in her 2,000-word email reply:
“Now, b/c my reaction was so strong, I decided to wait until I could discuss this with other writers… When I asked the group what they thought about this attitude the nicest ones responded the way I did. Both professors/authors gave me a look that screamed I’d just blasphemed the entire field of writing.”
“You aren’t ready to write. You need to scrap what you’ve written… and take a basic creative writing college course. The one lady suggested hers (and she’s a great teacher), but since you’re in GA I told her that wasn’t possible.”
“You need at least a bachelor’s intro level of understanding, if not a masters.”
“And if this isn’t something you can agree with then I’m afraid there really isn’t anything that can save your story.”
After reading her reply, I felt betrayed. I never gave her permission to share my manuscript or emails. To make things worse, she claimed to only have my best interest at heart.
I gave a polite response and thanked her for her help despite how I felt. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but this one stings.
Oh sweet mother of godiva! First, pour yourself a stiff drink. You not only earned it, you deserve it. Second, erase that For Your Own Gooder's name from your email list, your contact list, your "friend" list, your list of people you will ever ask for anything again.
She's quite clearly someone who takes great satisfaction in making people feel small.
There's a word for that...actually there are several words for that but let's just use this simple one: vile.
This Vile Person doesn't know how to critique.
She doesn't know how to help a writer.
And she has swathed herself in righteousness to cover her vile, mean-spirited self.
It's too bad you can't tattoo her in some way so other writers will not suffer at her hand.
Let's unpack this a little more: You said "To her, it seemed improbable that there could be humans on other planets."
Unless you are writing non-fiction, you can have cats on Mars, you can have cats solving crimes, and cats can have publicists and lawyers.
It's a novel: YOU CAN MAKE IT ALL UP!
Now, the real question here is could this particular reader, vile as she is, suspend disbelief for the notion of humans on other planets. If she could not, that might be a weakness in the story, but you'll notice she didn't know to say that. She tried to get you to justify an artistic choice. That's like asking why Picasso chose blue instead of purple.
Second, she passed along cruel and unhelpful comments to bolster her position. That's Not Only Do I Think This, All My Friends Think So Too. It's the behaviour of a third grade bully. Again, not the conduct of a self-actualized adult or even a person who understands the role of a beta reader.
This is my favorite part of her reply to you: The one lady suggested hers (and she’s a great teacher).
This is a textbook example of someone you don't want reviewing your work: somoene who has an agenda for "fixing" what you've done wrong. I'm sure you've heard of the "agents" who tell you they can help you fix things; here's a little side editorial service they run. (I should also note it's a poorly written sentence.)
All of us who read pages either for a living, or as a service to fellow writers, have come across people who need more help than they realize. You may fall into this category (although I have doubts given that your email is pretty damn cogent.) If you do, a beta reader might say something like "it's hard to get into the story because there are a lot of mistakes that bring me out of the story." Or, "I was never able to fully believe that humans could be on other planets." If something is truly terrible (and yes, I've seen that) you simply step back from being a beta reader and say "I'm sorry, I'm unable to read this for you."
It's clear to me that Vile enjoys being the arbiter of what Is and Is Not the One True Way. People like that are zealots. Zealotry is the antithesis of artistry.
I have but one question and it is this: how the ever loving hell did you get mixed up with this person? The answer to that is important because the takeaway here is that you chose poorly in selecting a beta reader. You MUST figure out how this happened so as to avoid repeating it.
There is no way her words won't continue to cut at you. Words do that. It will take a while to stop thinking about what she said. One way to do that (and you do need to stop that) is give yourself a mantra to say every time you think of her, and a specific thing to divert your mind to instead. (I use the rosary for this; when I think of something that unsettles me I recite one Hail Mary and then turn my mind to something else. It takes practice but it works.)
Here's your takeaway: Not only was she wrong, she's a toxic waste of human space, and you deserve better. Your job now is to figure out what got you ensnarled with her so as to avoid doing this again.
I'm sorry this happened to you, and I hope that you'll be able to connect with better readers soon.
|I have some other suggestions on dealing with Vile.