Some while ago I joined a writers' website called Authonomy. It's hosted by Harper Collins and the premise is that aspiring writers post their manuscripts for critique by their fellow writers. Those few that get enough backing (read, become popular) are awarded with a visit to the HC editor's desk, for review. The rest try valiantly to learn from their peers and continue honing their writing and story-pitching skills.
It seems like a pretty good system: one gets live feedback from actual human beings, learns to take and give good critique, and hopefully benefits from hearing about the flaws and strengths of their work. I've just gotten active over there in the last two or three weeks, and it's interesting.
But there's a side of it that I find frankly ... weird. Mind, I have yet to post a manuscript there, though I plan to by or at the first of the year. But amidst the drive to reach the Editors' Desk and climb the ratings chart, there is a culture of self-promotion that I don't think I'll ever find personally comfortable. People pounce on each other with read requests and/or offers of read-swaps like a convention of door-to-door salesmen. I'm not sure how anybody even finds me, amongst the hundreds of members there, but they do, and almost daily I receive requests to read and back someone's book.
Which is fine, but sometimes it's so out of the blue, I just ... don't know what to say. Why me? What makes this person think I would make a good reader for their topic of choice? Another quandary is that I'm apparently a picky reader. Sometimes the writing is perfectly fine, but the story just doesn't grab me. Sometimes the story might be okay ... but the author and punctuation are not friends. (Do they have a volunteer proofreader's pool, there?) And sometimes the writing, the story, everything, is just ... not something I would look at for three seconds in a book store.
Suddenly I have vast and growing sympathy for what agents and publishers must experience. The worry here is that, on Authonomy, I have to consider that I'm going to want my book read and critiqued, so I can't be too much of a snob, or nobody will give me the time of day!
Oy. I don't know if I'm clever enough to play the game, over there. But I'll do my best, and try to be fair and kind, and if I really can't get my teeth into someone's book, I hope they'll forgive me if I decline to read. I feel I would rather say a polite and kindly, "No, thank you," than try to read and end up blathering some response that would help them not at all.
Well, that's half an hour I'll never see again. Back to working on my long pitch for my book. The end of the year is only days away ...