If you’ve had the courage to confess to family, friends, and/or strangers that you’re writing a novel, you’ve probably had at least one person ask to read it. This can be really encouraging—especially if the person in question is a known reader who genuinely seems interested in the story you’ve pitched.
It can be tough not to let moments like these get to one’s head. I know I’ve had the urge to get myself to the nearest computer and fire that thing away, anxious for feedback. Sometimes that feedback comes, and it’s just glowing praise. Sometimes it comes with comments on scenes or characters that didn’t work, but the reader can’t say why (still valuable information, even if your reader does not regularly edit for content). Other times, weeks and then months pass before you hear from a reader, who, you eventually learn, hasn’t had a chance to take a look yet.
Our world is a busy one, and most people have a lot on their plates. A rational mind understands that someone else’s unpublished manuscript isn’t always going to hop to the top of the priority list. But we authors, especially before we’re published, are not always those with rational minds. So here’s a kind of pep talk/talking down off the ledge when the feedback we expect doesn’t come.
1. Someone else’s lack of time to put your manuscript first does not mean that your work is not worthwhile. It only means that something more important—say, a sick family member or the job they get paid for—took precedence.
2. While you’re looking to improve your work, someone else may just be awed that you completed a manuscript in the first place. I have a friend who regularly runs half- and full marathons. After a race, I’m always amazed that she finished—again! I’m sure she is not as impressed with that as she is when she sets a new personal record. It’s a matter of perspective.
3. How honestly have you gauged the sincerity of your reader’s request? Was it an, “Oh, I’d love to read it, simply because you’re my friend” or was it an, “I’m truly interested in your work and want to hear the whole story and then talk about it with you”? The former can be great cheerleading, and we all need some of that. But it’s important—for your sanity, your friendships, and your manuscript—not to put too much weight on that kind of response.
4. If the request is of the latter sort, a friendly reminder can go a long way. It can be good to remind those who have your manuscript of when you’re planning to get back into a revision. That way, if they don’t have time before you’re ready to get back to work, 1) you’re not waiting for feedback that isn’t going to come, and 2) it takes some pressure off your busy friend, who might otherwise end up reading something that has become irrelevant.
Beta readers are crucial to the editorial process. Choose carefully and follow through. And remember that at the end of the day, your manuscript is yours and yours alone.