Monday, August 15, 2011

You Tell Me: Reciprocity for Writers

On Wednesday, I'm going to post on reciprocity. The sort of tit-for-tat that makes the world go 'round.

Today I'll tell you a story to get your thoughts going. I have a friend, Brigid Kemmerer. She's a writer. When I joined the social networking world last November, Brigid, though we do not share an agent or agency or anything like that, was one of the first people to reach out to me. We tweeted at each other occasionally,  gchatted occasionally, and read and commented on each other's blogs. We traded book recommendations. Nothing much, just a few exchanges.

But then, a few months ago, Brigid asked me to read some of her stuff. She was wrestling with the sequel to ELEMENTAL (which will be released by KTeen in May 2012) and she wanted an objective critical eye. She had drawn the conclusion that I had one, and so she very nicely, very hesitantly, very humbly asked me if I would do this for her.

And then she said, "Of course, I'd be happy to read anything of yours."

Now, this got me thinking about reciprocity. And writers. When you read someone's writing, do they automatically owe you? Does it matter if you offer or if they ask? Are there rules about this stuff? What are they? When do they work? When do they create awkwardness and resentment? What are the factors involved? Published vs. unpublished? Agented vs. unagented?

There's one more factor I've been thinking about. Sheer enjoyment. See, Brigid sent me ELEMENTAL, and ... I loved it. I loved it so darn much that I'm going to do a whole blog post on it as we near its May 2012 release, even though it doesn't involve any in-depth mental health topics. There's just something about it. I had a huge grin on my face through most of the book. I still remember some of the lines word-for-word for their utter awesomeness, and I'm not a person who remembers quotes. I had to stop a few times and email Brigid to communicate my adoration of her writing and characters. By the time I was done, I was dying to read the sequel, and she sent me the first half or so, because that's what she needed me to read in the first place. I loved that, too.

At this point, I would read anything Brigid writes, no strings attached, and I've made that clear. But still ... she kept offering to read things of mine. And, heck, I'm human. I took her up on it!

How do you negotiate this, my friends? Do you ever say no to people who ask you to read their manuscripts? Do you ever ask people to read your stuff with no intention of reading theirs? Do you automatically offer? Do you offer because you want to or because you feel obligated? Have you read people's work without the expectation that they'll read yours? Does it hover at the back of your mind? Do you ever offer to read someone else's stuff for the sheer pleasure of it, even though they see it as a favor? Do you ever resent when someone asks you?

Of course, it's Monday, so this is your reminder to check out the ever-amazing Lydia's Medical Monday post and the always-awesome Laura's Mental Health Monday post.

23 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for the shout-out on your blog! I offered to read your stuff because I knew it would be awesome. :-D And it is...

    Once I had an agent, I wasn't all that selective about sharing my work with other people (though I know some writers are, and that's perfectly acceptable). Once I'd signed a publishing contract, however, I became very selective. It wasn't just about me anymore -- it was about a lot of people investing time and money into me and my project, and me not wanting to put them in any kind of awkward position. Not that I thought anyone would do something intentionally, but you never know. What if I shared my work with someone who posted chapters on a blog, thinking they were being nice by helping me promote? My publisher might have a totally different idea of "nice" in that instance.

    I'm always of the mind that the writing community is small, and giving, and generally made up of nice people. I don't think you always have to offer a tit-for-tat kind of arrangement -- but I think you should be honest up front. "Hey, I really need a reader for this MS in the next two weeks. I'm sorry I can't read anything of yours now, but maybe in the future..."

    I think it just boils down to the golden rule. You know, treat others as you'd like to be treated.

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  2. Reciprocity is a tricky thing. I had one writer ask me to read her YA and give her feedback on what was good and what needed work. I agreed to do so not expecting anything in return. Another writer asked me to proof two of short stories before indie publishing them. I knew going in that this particular writer would never return the "favor", it's just her personality, but she was in a jam and needed help so I agreed. Then I made friends with another writer who had offered to be a beta reader for me, but never followed through.

    I always mean it when I offer and if I agree to beta read for someone I hope the favor will be returned, but I never expect it.

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  3. Usually when I offer, I'm not expecting them to reciprocate, but it's nice if they do. In all but one case, the individuals offered to beta read for me. Most I haven't taken them up on their offer, mostly due to timing. The one who didn't ask, I ended up asking if she is able to read my WIP at a later date (especially since I beta read the same project for her twice). The answer was yes. I may or may not need her in the end, but it's nice to have that option.

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  4. i don't know!
    i've critted for others not expecting them to reciprocate, but i would feel like i owed someone who critted for me...
    it will be interesting to see what people answer here!

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  5. I look at it as a "paying it forward" sort of favor. I wouldn't consider they owe me anything. I do have a reciprocal relationship with my most valued crit partners and beta readers, but I also reach out to others who need a read if I have the time to do it, without expecting anything in return. (A "thanks" is always nice, of course.)

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  6. If someone takes the time to read and crit my stuff, I always offer to return the favor. Not everyone takes me up on it but I feel better offering.

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  7. I never expect people to reciprocate when I offer to beta for them, because it's hard to know how busy someone will be at a given time. When I need a beta reader, they might be in the midst of some huge project at work, or on deadline for a book, or just are being kept busy by life in general. But I sort of have a specific couple groups of people at this point who I read for (when possible) and who read for me, and I find this ideal. There's sort of an ongoing reciprocity--you might miss one WIP because you're too busy to read it, but you read the next because your time is freer when they ask.

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  8. I usually assume if someone betas for me that I'll beta for them. And it always works out that way. A few of my betas have not asked me to beta back for various reasons, but my offer stands. For my non-writing betas, I owe them a lot of free coffee! (they're mostly not in my town).

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  9. I'm in two critique groups (are they alpha? I'm not sure what a beta is?!) so I get a lot of eyes on my stuff. I have exchanged ms. with a fellow (and subsequent friend) I met online, but that was reciprocal right from the start. Perhaps I'm just a mean and grasping person, but I would be upset if a person asked me to read their work and then blew off reading mine. So yes, I'm for reciprocity, all of the time.

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  10. A. I can't wait to read the book! and B. Of course I read for those who read for me. And in fact I humbly state that I normally ask only those who have offered or offer an exchange (which means you are special and I hope you know I'd be delighted if you were ever interested in sharing). I love to do things for other writers. It makes me feel good to give back. But I'm also human and at some point I had to start saying "I'm sorry" BUT I do try to do a lot of contests and auctions and things for critiques as well as the first five pages workshop I help with on Adventures in Children's publishing typically.

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  11. I think betas are like trial CPs, so it's essential to reciprocate. IMHO. I'm always there to help if and when someone asks for a read. It's my opinion that I edit (as per your previous post) according to the writer.

    Blogger is being a bugger and not logging me in properly - so it's Carolyn, for the record. :)

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  12. I like to swap writing because it's like a melding of minds. They look into yours, and you look into theirs. Once you have that connection, it's there for good. It's priceless!

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  13. I think it depends on the timing and how busy you are reading for others, but usually I try to reciprocate if I'm asked. But I'm okay if it doesn't work the other way, but it's nice if it does. With my CP's, it's just an agreement we have to read even if we don't have something ready at the same time!

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  14. hi miss sarah! mostly i offer lots to read mg writers stuff cause me being a mg reader im thinking is the best critiquer for a mg book. i do picture books and kids book manuscripts too. when i got school i cant do so many so i gotta say no. i dont ever think any ones gotta read my stuff & i dont get my feeling hurt if they dont ask. i got a good cp in miss sharon and other blogger friends that say they could wanna read my stuff. wow! for sure you like that elemental book! :)
    ...hugs from lenny

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  15. I always return the favor, but I have declined to read MSS that weren't ready yet. I think you owe your beta readers the same level of work that you owe an agent or editor. Don't send a beta reader your first draft...or even your tenth draft, for that matter. Send your beta readers a draft that you feel is ready for submission. Remember, a beta reader is there to help you develop your story, not correct grammar, usage, mechanics, or spelling errors. That's your job.

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  16. Hmm...well, my reading/critiquing reciprocity has been limited to my writer's group. There are four of us, and I value the opinion of my three creative pals. They are terrific writers and dedicated to the craft, so I feel very comfortable offering and receiving. Haven't really gone outside the group, though.

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  17. I've always assumed, unless it's a prize in a competition, that if someone spends the time to do a critique for me, then I'm more than happy to do the same.

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  18. I'm pretty easy-going about it, but living in Thailand, online crit partners are the only way I can get another writer to look at my stuff. So:

    If someone crits for me, I always offer to do the same.

    If someone asks me to crit for them, and I have the time, I do it.

    If that person has critted for me, I make the time. (Also, I admit I make more time if that person is someone I know or admire).

    If I crit for someone, I put them on my list of possible critters, but I never assume.

    If someone can't crit for me, I go to the next person on the list.

    So far I've only turned down one person, and I don't think I've been turned down yet. And I've made lots of really great writer friends because of it :-)

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  19. well, I do offer to read folks's writing if they've read mine. I think that's common courtesy. But I'll read others' work without expectation that they'll offer to read mine back.

    There are certain bloggers who I approached about reading my stuff b/c I respected them and valued their opinions. And naturally, I read their stuff in return. (And still do/would!)

    It's a tricky thing, but I try not to set myself up to get my feelings hurt when it comes to reading or being read. Everyone's so busy, and I know time constraints and family commitments make it impossible at times. We all need to stay understanding of each other and flexible~ :o)

    But wow! What a great rec for ELEMENTAL! Now I'M intrigued! ;o) <3

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  20. I always offer to return the favor if someone offer's to read for me. Reading other inspiring authors is great.

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  21. Meant to comment on this great post yesterday, Sarah. Just didn't have the time! Reciprocity: so important! None of us has the time to be a detailed critiquer for everyone, especially when 'everyone' is writing novel-length manuscripts. But it's really worth it to us, as well as our writing friends, to be there for each other. When you've identified your core group of critique partners, it's key to be willing to put your own work aside for a little while to help when asked, but the balance must be there--they must be willing to do the same for you (and you have to be willing to ask). It can be tricky when needs vary significantly, but bottom line, be available when you can, give honest, compassionate and truly constructive feedback, and expect the same in return. If you don't get it, that person is not a good match for you.

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  22. I tend not to ask someone for help if I'm not willing to help them, too. And I start out small so we can each get a feel for the other's critiquing style. Once I "know" someone, I'm happy to crit just about anything for them and don't need them to read my stuff unless I need someone to read my stuff.

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  23. Apart from my critique group (where we have a preset understanding of the way it works -1 chapter/~12 pages at a time), I've never been asked to read someone else's work for them. I've been thinking I need to find a beta reader apart from my critique group, and I'm not sure the best way to find one. I do have an expectation that if I ask someone to read my work (especially someone I don't know), then I kindof owe them to read something of theirs if they ask, and that's something that has made me hesitant to ask people. ...Because I have narrow tastes, and if I hate what I read of theirs, I won't know what to say to them or how to say it nicely.

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