Monday, August 15, 2011

Pity Reads: Why they are a BAD thing

Do you know what I mean by a Pity Read?

It's like a Pity Fuck. You know what that is, right? We've all had one or offered one (I assume, unless you are a particularly prickly sort who never gives out those good-bye adios vaya con dios love fests just before you break up).

I'll refer to the one as PR, and the other as PF, for simplicity and to reduce the vulgarity, as if that matters to me. It doesn't, but I do it as courtesy to those light-hearted souls.

Often in a relationship, One person is more in love than the Other. Since this is an unbalanced relationship, it is doomed as a one-winged bird a-flapping with the left wing and a-scratching his ball-feathers with the right.

The One wants nothing more than to soar up into the sky and shit on something clean. The Other is busy trying to find bird-balls, which it soon will realize don't exist.

So in the end, just before the dooming occurs, and maybe a few times before, the Other (who is less in love, the scratcher) offers the One (who is more in love, the flapper), a good old-fashioned banging pity fuck.

Other doesn't enjoy it.

Ironically, neither does the One.

It's a lose-lose situation.

Even if it's a guy, he may not be into it. He'll give it a few good thrusts, but then he leaves with a lazy salute, hasta la vista, and he jumps off the balcony onto the carport and rolls into the back of a truck and walks buttoning his pants and pulling on his shirt across the parking lot. He forgot his damned shoes but he'll never go back for them because he doesn't need to -- the One is on the apartment balcony tossing his shoes and socks down after him and screaming to the world how small his Johnny is and that she's glad she gave him herpes.

Now, flip it and Godferbid it's the woman offering the PF, because folks, this can be quickly boiled down into a bone fide long-term guilt-trip, or even worse, a date-rape accusation.

Either way the PF is a bad thing. It's not a safe way to end a relationship, nor is it a healthy act to indulge in.

Doing something out of pity is a sure way to reduce your own personal worth.

So what's that got to do with writing, and reading?

I'll tell you, since you asked politely.

I call it this: The Pity Read

It's when you ask someone to read your book, or your story, or maybe they ask to see it and you show it.

Now, just as one person disliking your pelvic thrusts doesn't make you a bad lover, neither does one person disliking your writing make you a bad writer.

It just means you didn't do it for them. You weren't their thing. They're not into you. No hard feelings, it's me, not you, but not really.

But the reader, the Pity Reader, the PR, is your friend, your confidant, your spouse, your relative, your co-worker, your online buddy.

And since they are your friend, they trudge through the piece. They ache their eyes against your blasphemous words. Your phrase makes them want to peel their eyeballs like the skin of a plum. My God.

My God.

It's not bad, they tell you later, after their Pity Read, as they run through the parking lot buttoning their pants and pulling on their shirt.

Not bad at all.

The first thing wrong is this: They gave you dishonest feedback.

The second thing wrong is this: They will tell their friends.

Oh Lord in Heaven, do you see why this is the Gonorrhea of writers? Not only does the Pity Reader mislead you about your writing, but they then sabotage you with would-be readers inside your own circle.

So I tell you this: Avoid the Pity Reader like the clap!

This comes up because I am at present soliciting beta readers for my novel, and I tell them this, without exception:

I only want you to read this if you want to read it. If it doesn't grab you, put it down. You won't hurt my feelings. Even if your feedback is that you got through the first twenty or so pages and didn't like it, it's not your bag, no problem. That's feedback. That's what I need to know.

And I only want you to be a beta reader if you want to be a beta reader. Just because I asked doesn't mean you are obliged.

Or something like that.

I recommend you do the same thing with your betas, and with your readers, and with anyone inside your globosphere who offers to buy or read your work.

Read it not because you know me -- read it because you like what you're reading.

I say the same thing to you, my online buddies -- only read me if you enjoy this sort of fiction, and for Godsake don't buy me if you don't think you'll like it!

Because I don't need your pity.

What do you tell your readers? Buy my book or I'll cut you!

- Eric


Loralie Hall said...

I'm sorry, what? I'm still stuck back at the ball-feather scratching. And I got a little hung-up on the image of jumping off a balcony, rolling of the back of a truck, all while getting dressed....

But, you made your point. And I agree. I've been in those situations where a story just isn't doing it for me, but I can't tell the person who sent it because they won a critique in a contest, or just because I said I would read it. I'd hate to think I do that to other people...


Cynthia Lee said...

You are so right about the Pity Reader. Funny post.

Wine and Words said...

It's tough. I've been asked to read a chapter of someone's book and critique. Not being a "writer", I said I would, but ya know...what the hell did I know, so take it with a grain of salt. I was able to find a lot of gramatical errors, which was some kind of divine intervention because I suck at grammar...and spelling. But I am good at continuity, and found several issues where things were assumed or known by the author but not translated to the reader. I gave my honest feedback. I wasn't sure if I'd hear from the guy again.

Next thing I know, he asks me to read his screen play! I was thrilled, having never read a screen play before. So I said, sure...but I know shit about screen plays so take it all with a grain of salt. I gave my honest feedback overall...which was that the diaolgue read too antiquated for a modern day story, but the scene setups were great. I also mailed him a red-line copy. Damn if he didn't call. He was so happy I had taken the time, and I was so worried he would be offended. But I figure if someone asks...they want your honest opinion and you owe them that. Like my husband always says, "don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to."

Anyhoo...sheesh Eric. You crack me up. I think I had a point. I think it got lost. *sigh*

Oh, hey...I've been collecting work from bloggers I read and getting my copies autographed. Which book is your favorite? I'll purchase it and mail it to you for a signature if you're okay with that.

Joshua McCune said...

Love the analogy b/c they both deal with very intimate matters and honesty, in the end, will bear the ripest fruit (after we've dug out all those bitter worms).

Jemi Fraser said...

You made me smile all the way through! :)

I agree -- honesty is the only way we get better - and there are always going to be lots of people who don't like it. That's normal. I just have to keep working on that tougher skin :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Spouses tend to be pity readers. I let my husband read all of my books, even though I knew they weren't his style. But at least he caught some errors.
And Eric, your comment today came to my inbox, but for some odd reason, it didn't show up on my blog! Do you want me to email it to you so you can try again?

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

I really don't want people reading my book if it isn't their thing either. But you will never stop good and kind-hearted souls from buying your book with good intentions.

I've bought books to support fellow writers because I know just how damn hard it is to be the newbie. I don't think there is anything wrong with that, even if I never read the book. Sometimes it just takes selling a few books to make the writer want to keep trying. I would never wish anyone to give up on their dream.

When your son or daughter is in the school choir, you go, even if they can't sing a note. You go because you love them and because you never want them to stop trying.

Now, I may buy your book for support, but I'll never tell you it's good if it isn't. And even at that, it might not be good to me, but it might be great to hundreds of others.

A bad review just means you didn't hit your target audience, but you don't give up, do you?

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I believe Wendy is right. Sometimes buying a friend's book is the one thing that will keep them from quitting. Stephen King saved CARRIE for the rest of us by picking it up from the trash can.

I never ask for someone to read my book. And I will only send a book in answer to a request if that person reads my genre(s).

Do you think Michelangelo ever nudged a friend, pointed to his painting, and said, "Hey, Lodovico, you a'think this is any good?"

We must believe in ourselves, train ourselves -- for teachers can only teach how they would write a passage we show them.

No one can teach us. We can only learn from the masters we read and assimulate their skills.

But that's just my opinion -- and like belly buttons, we all have them.

Great thought-provoking post as always, Eric

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I meant that Stephen King's wife saved CARRIE for the rest of us. Sorry. Writing in an oven apartment will do things do things to your fingers!

And John Locke (of a million eBook sales fame) said the same as Wendy earlier, negative reviews often say that person is just not your target audience.

Now, Sandra, my beta-reader, has at times looked up from the pages and said, "If your target audience is brain-dead morons, you've hit the mark with this one!" LOL.

Anonymous said...

You are a breath of fresh air. There is never any threat of misunderstanding what you mean!

Your post reminds me of an author talk I once heard. In it Donna Jo Napoli said she bribes kids in the mall to read her manuscripts. For a box of chocolate all they have to do is quit when they don't want to read any more and tell her exactly where that was.

There's a lot of truth in that method.


Phoenix said...

Good LORD I missed your posts. I might have missed your posts more than anyone else's. Uh... don't tell anyone I said that.

When I give people my (trite, over-sentimental) stuff to read, I tell them: I don't need compliments. I already know I'm an awesome person. I don't write to fulfill my ego. I write to be a good writer. If you are truly my friend, you will help me become a better writer. By giving me honest feedback.

It usually works. And then I end up with a lot of my writing on fire on my porch at 4 am, but hey, that's another story. ;)

Jessica Bell said...

LOLOL! I'm speechless ... (not in a bad way).

Sarah Ahiers said...

oooh good post. You are so totally right about the pitty read. I do that waaaaay too much for my own good. Luckily, i typically keep my mouth shut, but still. I should try and break away from that.