When Beta Readers Take it Personally

by RS on March 23, 2011

About a year ago when I was submitting Julius for critique at the Novels-List at the Internet Writing Workshop some of my fellow critters took offense of my characters’ lifestyle.

Jake and Corinne are in their late 30s. They have successful and lucrative careers, but they hate their jobs and decide to quit to launch this Marxist magazine, which you all know by now is called Julius. The offended critters were not troubled by the fact that my characters were Marxists, but that they  had the gall to eat out often or order takeout. One person even said that my characters were irresponsible.

In that particular instance I had to explain that in New York City food to order, in many cases, is much cheaper than cooking from scratch. The response I received in an email from the critter was that they should be eating ramen noodles because he knew what it was like to be unemployed and not have money.

Oops. I guess I might have pushed a button or two. I wrote back and explained that my characters had the means to quit their jobs to launch a business, and that eating at restaurants and ordering takeout was an activity that defined them as cosmopolitan and busy New Yorkers.

Other critters questioned their politics, arguing that the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-bloc countries proved that Communism had been a failure. One person even proclaimed Julius as a polemic defending a unworthy economic system. One person stopped reading because she  disagreed with their politics.

All I can say to these critters is this: Simmer down now. Don’t take it so personally. It’s fiction. These characters are not real. They are my sole invention.

However, it’s not all bad; there are the positive reactions. One beta reader seems to be in love with Corinne and commented, “Where has this girl been my entire life?” Um, in my head. Sure some of Corinne’s quips and gestures are based on me and even some of her wisecracks I can imagine saying–after all, I wrote them. But her personal demons are very different from mine, and let’s face it, although, we share an obsession over Alvah Bessie, I’m not haunted by his spirit.  Another reader, also a published writer, loves Jake. She sees him as attractive, intelligent, and said he would be the type of guy she would want to date. I would too, especially the way I’ve pictured him in my head and in the bedroom.

Although I’m in my ninety-something iteration of the draft and the story is going through a major overhaul, what’s interesting to note just by the sample of these comments is that Julius seems to be pushing buttons–both good and bad. I’m not getting, middle of the road reactions, but extreme ones.  I just hope that by the time it’s finally finished, and published by a major house that I’ll get a good review by Michiko Kakutani  and slammed by Glenn Beck–now imagine what my sales will be like?

 

 

 

 

4 comments
Cecilieaux Bois de Murier
Cecilieaux Bois de Murier

"These characters are not real. They are my sole invention." Exactly!!!!! And I really like Patti's comment, too!

Patti Larsen
Patti Larsen

Wow, how awesome. Isn't that what we want as writers? To stir emotion, no matter the cause? Good for you--and never feel you need to explain yourself. Either they like it or they don't.

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