This article is mostly designed for those who have never had a critique group, or have had a bad experience and have decided not to try it again. People decide not to have peer readers or beta readers for lots of reasons. I’d like to talk about some of the ones I’ve heard.
#1 – People Will Steal My Ideas! Probably the most often-expressed reason for keeping your fiction to yourself, this one has both more, and less, truth to it than you might think.
In the first place, there’s no way to keep your ideas from being stolen. Can’t be done. The reason is, ideas can’t be copyrighted. If they could be, everyone from Shakespeare down to James Cameron would be in trouble. “Nothing new under the sun” is totally true in fiction.
However, your treatment of your ideas (the actual words you write, in the order you wrote them) CAN be copyrighted, and in fact is protected by copyright law as soon as you write it down. You then have the same recourse anyone else does if their creative work is stolen. No one can legally take your stuff, honest.
On the gripping hand, other writers do not have any good reason to take your stories. Even if you genuinely believe other writers would be dishonorable enough to cheat off your paper, they probably feel their stuff is better than yours. Don’t you? They are writers too, and they don’t have time for your ideas – they have their own. They probably have fourteen ideas for every one they get down on paper. Don’t you?
Worrying someone will take your ideas is like worrying that your pennies aren’t safe, right next to your credit cards.
#2 – I Don’t Want to Show My Stuff to Anyone Until It’s Ready! Let me ask one question: how were you planning to make it ready? Writing without any input from readers is like making food you don’t let anyone eat. The results are going to be uninformed, and may taste unexpectedly bad. One thing’s for sure – if people don’t like it, you’re going to be surprised, upset and hurt.
#3 – Speaking of Hurt, I Don’t Like Criticism! Yes, I feel the same way… criticism, however tactfully put, is painful. But there’s no better way to get ready for your novels getting rejected by publishers (they will) and/or getting negative feedback on websites (they will). Every professional author gets rejections and negative feedback. Reviewers may not bother to make it tactful and constructive. A good critique group will.
If you truly can’t handle it, then having peer readers on the internet rather than face to face might help – you can holler at the screen, cry in private, and keep to a stern rule that you don’t respond to anything until 24 hours have passed. Sleeping on criticism can make all the difference.
#4 – I’m Afraid My Critique Group Won’t Be a Good One! Now, I can help you there. Next week’s article will touch on that subject. How to find the right critique group for you, what to look for in beta readers, and how to get the most out of yours.