For my 31st birthday, my husband bought me classes with a local artist to learn stained glass. We collaborated on a design – a bird – picked out the colors, and he taught me how to cut, shape and solder the pieces together.
During these one-on-one classes we didn’t talk too much, but when we did, his usual choice of topic was his art, mine my writing. When he showed me his latest projects and talked about his inspiration, I listened. When I told him the news that I’d just published a flash fiction piece, he told me he’d love to read it.
A couple weeks after my class ended, I received a proof of the story as it would appear in the journal. Following through on my promise to let him read my work, I emailed it to him. I was excited to share my story with a new friend, a fellow artist and someone who expressed an interest in my work.
I never heard a word. This was in March.
Was I offended? Absolutely! Was I angry that I’d spent 12 hours with him, listened to his stories, absorbed his art with interest and compliments – and paid him $200 – and he couldn’t give me 10 minutes of his time? You bet.
You’ve probably experienced the same thing – friends, colleagues, even family promise to read your latest short story or novel and never pick it up. When you ask them about it they get a blank, frightened look and change the subject. The knee jerk reaction is to be ticked off, but that’s a mistake.
Asking someone who is an active participant in your daily life is very dangerous territory, because placing something as intimate and personal as a written work between you and your friend/cousin/co-worker could damage your relationship. There is, of course, the likely possibility they won’t read it – instant offense. And the other option? What if they do? And what if they don’t like it? What if you don’t like what they have to say? What if you’re so offended by their less-than-glowing review that you don’t want to talk to that person anymore?
That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone, and perhaps they just don’t want to risk it.
There are many other motivations people have for offering to read your work – they want to be encouraging and nice to support an endeavor they may not understand. Not everyone has the impulse to be creative and therefore cannot grasp the deep connection between a writer and his writing. To them, it’s just another book, to you it’s the world.
And people are also extremely busy. It’s easy to offer your time but harder to follow through when you have domestic chores, overtime and raising of kids to do. A person’s free time is very valuable to them – a time for them to unwind, relax and recharge. You’re asking them to cut into that time – and that’s a big favor. They may intend to help but once their to do list is done, they may not have the time or energy.
So, you’ve asked someone to read your story. They’ll either pick it up and tell you what they think, or they’ll leave it to mold on their coffee table. How do you respond to either of these possibilities? Without getting offended. Here’s how:
- Figure out first what you want out of the arrangement. Do you want brutal honesty? A general impression? Just a thumbs up or thumbs down? Make sure to communicate your intentions when you ask so you’re both on the same page.
- Prime yourself for criticism. Share your work online with anonymous critiquers in an online group like Scribophile to get you prepared for negative feedback. Build up your thick skin.
- Remember that all art is subjective. We all have different opinions about what is entertaining, beautiful and interesting. If someone doesn’t like your book, let them not like it. That your book is terrible may not actually be the reason.
- Ask the right person by thinking about them. Do they even have the time? If they have a newborn or work 60 hours a week, don’t ask. If they spend a lot of time in airports, you may be able to get their attention.
- Don’t be pushy or put pressure on the person you ask by nagging them constantly. “Have you read it yet?” should never come out of your mouth. It may mean the world to you but be casual – let them make the choice.
- Move on and be cool no matter what they decide or say. If they’re lukewarm about your work, don’t finish, or don’t start it all, stay calm. You can’t let your work come between you and the people you love. Grudges will only make you unhappy – and lonely.
All of this advice isn’t to discourage you from sharing your work. Please do and generously – there is nothing quite so rewarding. But you can’t control what other people do – you can’t make them buckle down and read your five-part series. So offer your work with an open-mind, a casual and confident indifference, and hope for the best. That’s all you can do.
To read more from JHMae, check out her blog at http://jhmaeblog.wordpress.com/.