Some Thoughts on Advance Reading (Part 2)
In a previous post I talked a little about the process of being an Advance Reader for an author. So this time around I thought I might talk a bit about what that actually means for me as a reader of fantasy, science fiction and genre literature. The pros and cons of the job, if you will.
From a fan perspective this sounds like the world’s greatest job… you get to talk to/meet/e-mail/have dinner with authors whose work you love, you get to read the books well in advance of publication, and… very occasionally… they may make some changes to the book based on your opinion. What’s not to love? It is a fan’s dream.
However, as with any job there are a couple of downsides.
The first is rather straightforward. You don’t always get the finished book. Sometimes you get it chapter by chapter, strung out over months. That might not seem so bad, but imagine reading one of your favourite novels, one that you have been waiting to read for a year or more, only now you are only allowed to read a chapter every month or two. Not only that but the chapter has not yet been copy-edited or proof read (that is part of what you are doing), and is still in a Word format so unless you have reams of paper to waste, you end up reading from a computer screen. Other times you get a large section of the novel and then nothing for the next six months. It can be torture and does not resemble pleasure reading in any way, shape, or form. So, on the one hand you get exceptionally early access to works, but on the other hand, it isn’t really the same as getting your hands on a freshly printed copy straight off the presses.
Secondly, one of the great things about being a fan of a genre, a series or anything, is talking to like-minded fans about the works. As an Advance Reader you can be privy to a whole host of information, spoilers, developments and plot twists that you are desperate to share, not only because you are reading ahead of everyone else, but also you are seeing rough drafts and ideas that might not make it into the final version. The desire to share that information can be more than a little tempting. BUT YOU CAN’T. NOT EVER. You can’t even drop veiled and subtle hints to other fans because if they were sufficiently veiled and subtle then the other fans won’t be able to work them out and therefore prove nothing… if they are not sufficiently veiled and subtle and other fans work them out, then you have just betrayed the author’s trust. You can’t join in speculation discussion when people are asking questions or merrily wandering down the ‘wrong’ path and you know the right answers, because if you give the right answers, correcting their speculation and making yourself look like some sort of prescient god… you have betrayed the author’s trust. Simply put, you cannot ever risk betraying the trust that an author has placed in you.
Even worse, by the time the book has come out and other fans are now all abuzz about the book it might be a year or much more after you read the book. Yes, publishing schedules can be that attenuated. They are excitedly talking about the brand new thing they have read and you can be left trying to think back to the scenes they are discussing that you read 18 months ago. Not only that, but you are potentially reading the next one and therefore the embargo on discussing things that are potentially spoilers or privileged information comes back into play. Rinse and repeat. Trust me, it can suck.
There is also no guarantee that the author will listen to your advice/opinion, and you end up feeling a little useless. What is potentially worse is that the author did listen to your advice/opinion and you have accidentally steered them in the wrong direction. Because this is their career that you are messing around with, this is their story that you are getting your sticky little fingers all over, it can be a little off putting to think that you could mess up their great novel in an effort to help.
So why do it? Well apart from the job aspect, you get to read books in advance of other people. I can’t deny the pleasure of that. It is great being in the know. It gives you a buzz to be months, or even years ahead of other readers. While they are speculating endlessly about X and Y, you already know that it is Z. That can give you a serious smug factor.
Also, you sometimes get the chance to help the author fix a mistake before it happens, or point out an issue, dangling plot thread, overlooked continuity error and give the author a chance to sort it out long before the book hits the shelves and a thousand fans jump all over it. So there is always a chance that you can have a substantive and positive impact on the works of an author who you admire. It is an awesome privilege and a great source of pleasure.
While you might not be able to talk to other fans about the book while the author is working on it, you can always talk about it once it is on general release. You just have to be very careful and ensure that you are discussing the published version and not the first, second or third draft that the author let you see.
I suppose the biggest benefit is that you get to talk to the author about the book, you do get to correspond directly with authors, sometimes meet them, have skype chats and dinners. It is pretty cool. You get that chance to directly speak to them about the book, the story, the characters and all the stuff you love about their work. You get little insights into how their fictive reality is created, populated and works. You gain an appreciation of their process and how they go about writing. You get to see how they change a blank page into a wondrous secondary world and make it come alive. And, unlike in fan discussions and speculations, or even some author interviews, you get honest and upfront answers about their work because they know you won’t betray their confidence and have seen the rough work that went into producing the polished page. I won’t deny it. This part is pretty damn good.