“Do you write, like, fanfiction?”
Few things make my blood run cold like a question like that asked IRL, let alone volleyed across the table from one of my coworkers as others filed in the conference room for a staff meeting. I felt my face turn red and decided to just lean into the embarrassment.
“I’ve been known to dabble,” I said. Truthfully, I’d published only two meager stories that I felt fully comfortable releasing to the world. But my comfort only went as far as anonymous strangers on the internet or my closest friends–never the people I worked with on a daily basis. To this day, the idea makes me dizzy with anxiety, and my fanfic material is dry and canon-rigid by comparison to the sort of stuff you can find these days.
My coworker asking, Casey, explained that she had a friend who wrote fanfition. Said friend had also had a few books published. Not self-published, like, legit small-press Published with a capital P. “She gave me copies… I need to get better about committing to reading them,” Casey admitted.
I perked up. “Does she need an editor?” I was finishing my certificate program in editing and eager to get my hands on some professional material. The projects I’d taken on thus far as a fledgling freelancer (emphasis on the free) were in desperate need of TLC by way of a heavy copy edit, something that neither the author’s budget nor my capacity could afford.
Casey squinted. “I think she has an editor,” she said. “But she does need a, um…” She groped for the description. This was something I’d encountered many times already: the confusion surrounding the nuances of jobs of all people involved in the production of a book who weren’t the author. After some prodding and a few email exchanges, it came out that what she needed was a beta reader.
If I could get a job doing anything, it’d be beta reading. Fortunately for authors, this role is typically unpaid. The closest equivalent for an editing role may be that of a developmental editor, a job that I’ve done before and crave doing again. But while the Wikipedia article proffers that betas have “little to no experience in writing,” I couldn’t completely turn off Writing Brain. Unlike Edit Brain, which operates like a highly specialized small business and only as needed, Writing Brain has lights on day and night like the neighborhood 7-Eleven.
Celeste Castro’s Lex Files caught my immediate attention: a paranormal thriller with a lesbian romance, exactly the kind of thing I’d like to write someday if I had the expertise. I enjoyed the book immensely, and I think that Writer Brain wanted to be part of it somehow. In whatever way it could.
I sent the author back an embarrassingly long PDF of my thoughts and responses to her specific questions. Reading back on it is a little cringey, but I wrote so much because I truly enjoyed the book. I want books like Lex Files–a fun, scary, sexy supernatural romp that normalized LGBT relationships and featured women of color–to be bestselling paperbacks. And in wanting that so badly, I finished the beta read thinking maybe I’d overstepped my boundaries a bit in my feedback to Celeste.
A little more than a year later, and I get an email from Celeste Castro, with this image:
As I’m continuing on my own journey to take writing and editing seriously, I’m taking this as a chance to say that authors need feedback. Good stories aren’t written in a vacuum, and feedback is equally important to give as it is to get. My name in the Thanks page of Lex Files is just one of many of the people who Celeste was brave enough to share her story with.
That vulnerability in writing–it’s always scared me. But this email arriving on the day I decided to start this blog… I think it’s a sign. It’s all very real to me now. I can’t do this alone. I want this blog to be open, honest, and no-nonsense in my vulnerability and in sharing what I create, whatever reaction it might get. Even if it’s bad. Even if it’s no reaction at all, and I find myself lost in translating the radio silence.