I’ve spent a whole lot of time in the past year reading, reviewing, editing, and beta reading for authors. Though much of this has been pleasant, I regularly run into non-professional writers. You know the type – those who stop by your blog/site/group just long enough to skim the contact information for an address and shoot off a review request. They’re typically the ones who don’t follow directions, dictate terms, and blow up if the final evaluation isn’t favorable.
After a while, you get used to this behavior. I’m not saying you accept it, but you stop being surprised when it happens. You can almost tell from the query alone if the author is really looking for honest feedback, or merely in search of blind praise. The former will thank you for pointing out technical issues they missed, while the latter will offer one of a dozen excuses as to why your nit-picking is either inappropriate or mean.
Just this morning, I heard back from a writer I’d beta read for a couple weeks ago. Normally, I won’t take on a new author unless I’ve already fallen in love with their work. Beta reading is hard. I might be able to polish off a novel in five hours, but if I’m reading it for evaluation purposes, to provide feedback, that time can easily double – if not triple. Why devote that much energy to a project I’m not at all invested in? In this case, it was because the premise was just so damned good I was chomping at the bit to read it.
You probably already suspect the outcome here, don’t you? Well, let me confirm: this did not go well. The concept I so loved fell apart before the first half was over, defaulting to a literary mess of stereotypes, clichés, and a complete and total lack of editing. Because I still felt the story could be salvaged, I got out my red pen and spent nearly fifteen hours cleaning it up. What was my thanks? A one page letter full of accusations, insults, and excuses.
I took the insults in stride (sticks and stones and all that), and rolled my eyes over the absurd accusations (some were actually kind of funny), but the excuses were too much for me. Why? Because I’ve heard them all before – countless times, in countless situations – and I’m beginning to suspect some people truly believe they excuse a lack of quality.
For your reference, I’ve compiled a list of common excuses that will never justify substandard work.
- “I hired an editor!” That was a good move. Unfortunately, you got ripped off. I’m sorry, but the reader doesn’t care how much you spent on a proofread. We care about the final product that we paid for.
- “My twenty beta readers said it was perfect!” Well, if your goal is to only please those twenty people, congratulations. Some of us are more discerning.
- “This is how I want it to look.” I’m glad your book is up to your standards. That’s important. If you want to sell it to other people, though, you might want to follow standard, established formatting for novels.
- “I can’t afford a good cover artist.” Then buy a premade cover for $30. Some of them are surprisingly good. Don’t want to do that? Then don’t put your book up for sale on Amazon. If you’re unwilling to invest in your product, it’s unfair to expect readers to.
- “It’s the best I could do.” Few writers can produce quality on their own. You need editors, betas, proofreaders, cover artists, etc. You need help. Find it, use it, and your best is suddenly one hell of a lot better.