I know there are plenty of people out there that likely get this a heck of a lot more than I do, but since this was my first run-in with this kind of behaviour, it really stood out to me. Now, your mileage may vary on this, but I’ve heard more than enough stories to make me think it’s more common than I’d like to believe. Here’s the problem: someone likes your work and has followed you for some time. Now that they’re delving into the field themselves…
…well, guess who they come to?
I’ve been writing in one form or another since I was about eleven years old. It’s a core piece of who I am, and what I love about myself. But before I was writing in my own worlds, I started out in fanfiction. I’m a major supporter of the fanfic world, and still write it on occasion. (Actually, I’ve just come up with an idea for a fanfic writing exercise of sorts which would end up being the oddest self-insert fic ever…? Not my usual, but I think it could be good…)
In any case, I have a decent library of fanfics that I’ve written over the years posted up online in one of the major fanfic hubs. On that site, I’m also listed as being available for beta reading. I’m always willing to look at people’s stuff and help them get better; that’s part of what I like about writing communities. But I got a message the other day which had this in the body of the text:
“I’ve read a few of your fics, and enjoyed them a lot, so it’d be really nice if you could help me with my writing too.”
Now…it may just be me reading into this, but that sounds…a bit presumptuous to me. Sure, you’ve read my stuff, and I appreciate that you liked it, but… That doesn’t give me any reason to help you or read your stuff. Would it be nice? Sure. Do you need to tell me that? Absolutely not. Leading the witness, Your Honor.
I’ve seen stories about authors being hounded by readers that believe that they’re owned something by them, because of the time and/or investment they put into the author’s work. Actors who are hassled and bothered because of their characters. Wil Wheaton posted in his blog recently that a fan once cornered him outside of an event (not an event he was attending specifically to be with people; just somewhere he happened to be) and demanded he give them the attention they wanted, and then berated him for not giving them what they “deserved” after “waiting all that time” for him. (That’s a bit of a paraphrase, since I don’t have Wil’s blog open right now, but it captures the feeling of the matter.)
This is awful. And under classic thinking, I read something like that and think, “Wow, celebrities have it rough. That’d never happen to someone like me; no one would care enough.”
In the end, I worded a very careful letter back to the fledgling author, saying that I’d be happy to help but since I am a student and writer myself, depending on how fast she wanted results and how in-depth she wanted them, it might take a while. She was exceptionally nice about the rest of the ordeal, and ended up not asking me to beta because she didn’t want to chew up my (apparently) very busy schedule. We may work together in the future, but I don’t know what her plans are.
And in the end, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt on whether or not she wanted to sound entitled there. Given how nice she was, I don’t think she did–but it’s an interesting thing to think about, and something we all may want to take into consideration. How do we word things? How are we treating other people, especially those who we may have sunk a lot of time/money/emotion into? It’s good to remember that from the lowest on the totem pole to the highest, we’re all human. As Wil put it, “if you cut me, I will bleed.”
And hey, I bleed too.
Thoughts? Opinions? Personal stories about this kind of thing happening to you, or someone you know? Share in the comments! I’d love to hear.