Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Can I Read It?"

by Katy White

This year, I've finished two different first drafts, and I'm honestly thrilled about both of them.  Don't get me wrong, I'm sure when I start the second drafts, I'll realize they're absolute rubbish.  But writing them was energizing, and I didn't have any prolonged moments of, "Oh crap, where do I go now?"  I feel like that's a success in its own right. And, to revisit one of my favorite quotes:

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It's perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.” 

Jane Smiley

As much as it scared me to admit to my friends and family my dream of becoming a writer, I decided to do it.  I posted on Facebook that I was participating in NaNoWriMo, and explained what it was.  I was relieved to see so much support from my peeps, and some of them even became great cheerleaders for me.  So when I posted that I had won NaNo and finished my novel, I felt on top of the world!

Then comments like these started appearing:

Katy White!!!!!!! You are my hero!! Love ya girl!! Can I read it pretty please???
That's amazing!! You are awesome! Can I read it too? I need some good reading 
So awesome! I knew you could do it.  Can't wait to read it!
Seriously, I need to read it now.


I've asked several writing friends about their experiences having friends and family read their work, and it's been pretty unanimously crummy.  Like mine.  What's up with that?  My first novel is the novel of my heart, and when my siblings and Dad and best friends asked to read it, I just assumed that, of course they'd actually read it!  And they'd love it!  And if they didn't love it, they'd still give me really, really good feedback that would help me make it so darn amazing, that it would sell a humble hundred thousand copies.  (Okay, so maybe me expectations weren't realistic.  I see that now.)

What I wasn't prepared for is people not reading it.  Of my four absolute best friends in the world, each a bibliophile whose favorite genre was my novel's genre, only one of them read it.  She reads two books a week, yet it took her four months.   Slap to the face.  And the slaps kept coming.

That isn't to say that no one read it, and it isn't to say that no one loved it or gave me incredible, much needed feedback.  Because that stuff happened, too.  But the negative experiences overwhelmed the positive ones to the point that I vowed to never again send a book until I was good and jaded enough not to let this hurt me.  Or, at least not to send it out so naively.

Fast forward to my current predicament of having super kind, well-intentioned friends who don't actually know they don't want to read my book.  They'll say that it's because it's so hard to read a book online, they'll ask if I can send them a hard copy, and they'll explain all about their computer problems.  Some of it will be legitimate, too.  But all of it will be disheartening.

Now I face the task of explaining to these well-intentioned friends that I have multiple drafts to do still that will take several months.  I need to explain to those whose interest still exists after all that that they can only read it if they promise that they're willing to give me real, hard feedback by a certain deadline, even if it's only to say, "I hate the title."  And through this, I hope I'll help some of the nice ones realize that the kindest thing to do is to not commit to something they can't or won't actually follow-through on.

Gina's recent post gave great suggestions and a helpful resource for finding critique partners.  But in general, how do you respond to "Can I read it?"


  1. I knew I would love this post.

    You and I have talked about this so much before, but I stand by it: I never let anybody outside the writing community read my stuff anymore. Never. I gave my book, in one of the early draft forms, to my sister. She's another that reads a book every two days, love fantasy, loves fairy tales, etc. That was ten months ago, she still has not read it.

    But... she's managed to tell her husband, her in-laws, and all of our mutual friends and acquaintances that I wrote this book she doesn't care to read.

    And IT HURTS.

    I rely on my CPs, I look for new CPs, I look for new betas, but I don't go outside the community anymore. It hurts too much. They don't understand the way it works and so they just end up hurting us.

    Now I suspect this comment is as long as the post.


  2. None of my family and friends have ever seriously asked to read my work and I hadn't really thought anything of it. Once it's published it's there for them to buy if they want to, and generally they don't, in droves. I've been okay with that really, because I'm quite embarrassed about people who know me well reading my stuff. There's too much of me invested in it, and I'd prefer it to be for anonymous readers out there.

    But now my husband and a good friend have read my current WIP and liked it, and that felt so good! And my daughter just picked up my third novel from the shelf and is currently reading it, and she likes it, and that feels good too. Oh, and a work colleague bought one of my books and left a fabulous review on Amazon. That was wonderful! So maybe I would like my friends to read my books after all.

    Now it's my turn to be that "can I read it" person. My neighbour confessed that she has self-published her first book. I told her I'd love to read it and she said she'd email it to me. A week later, when she hadn't, I bought it on Amazon and I've started reading it already. We authors know that we write to be read, not just for people to make encouraging noises about our efforts.

    Now this comment is longer than the post, and Gina's comment!

  3. Oh, and I tell them they can read it when it's published. If they say anything about knowing me before I'm famous or before I make the NYT Bestselling list, I ask them if they know who's on the list now.

  4. Preach on, sister. I think I'm going to do exactly what you suggested here. CP's and betas who write. Otherwise, you can buy the book if you really want to read it. :)

  5. My sister is my cheerleader. When I'm writing a new draft I send her a chapter with the understanding that she is to cheer me on and only say good things. If she's not a good cheerleader she doesn't get the next chapter!

  6. Exactly, Anna. We write to be read, and critiquing and reading other people's work is just a part of that process.

  7. My response is usually "When it's published." I have had too many well-meaning people ask to read and then not read. Its not helpful and in the end, what I gave them might not even be what ends up published (if i get published, so they'll just have to read it all over again, which they might not do because they've already read it, and wouldn't it be worse for them to only read the earlier crappier version?). I know who I trust to read my manuscript and give good feedback. And those are the people who'll read my manuscript (probably the fourth or fifth draft after I've done a few rounds of my own revisions).

  8. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they want to read my stuff when it’s finished, and I don’t mind sending it to them (once I feel like it’s good enough to be read and not a slapped-together mess of a first draft!) But I will do so with the understanding that many of them probably won’t read it, and that’s okay. I won’t take any personal offense to it, because for me I didn’t write it so that they could read it and tell me how great I am (though that would certainly be awesome). Once it’s done, I know that to them it’s just another book and they can read it or not read it. I will just stay focused on getting it out there so that it can become whatever it is meant to become! :-)

  9. I'm with Evie. When it's published. Having loved ones look at my stuff is not really helpful. People who don't know me have to like and and want to read it. That means I get it published first.

  10. I'm with Evie. When it's published. Having loved ones look at my stuff has not been helpful. People who don't KNOW me have to want it and read it. That means getting published.



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