Beta readers and potentially triggering content

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ChaseJxyz

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I know that cws/tws really don't happen with books once they're published, but I want to be able to make sure that any potential beta readers don't get too triggered/upset to keep reading. Many of them will be my friends and I don't want to push them to that point if I can help it.

Herein lies a problem. One of my friend I've been talking to a lot during the whole writing process. Sometimes I bounce ideas off of him, his job keeps him up so he's around when I write late at night. I know that he's really interested in reading it and I really want him to. But last month he suddenly lost a younger sister and he's been taking it very hard. I don't know what sort of place mentally/emotionally he'll be in however many months it'll take me to be ready for beta readers, and that's only relevant because several characters have dead loved ones. One of them learns that the sister she's been hoping to find throughout the story was dead the entire time and someone important to her was lying about it. So you can see my worry.

There are no "on-screen" deaths of any good guys, the loved ones have all died in the past. And this is a book for adults, so sometimes it's going to go over difficult topics. I know there are other things that might trigger other people I know (like certain kinds of violence or description of blood). My plan originally was to ask each person what things would be too upsetting for them to read and we can decide from there if they still want to beta read. For my friends that already have a list of triggers compiled it won't be an issue to reference that, but the friend above, to my knowledge, has never requested anyone to cw things for him. I don't want to really upset him, but I also don't want him thinking that I'm walking on eggshells around him and changing how I treat him because of what happened.

So I guess my question(s) are:


  • How have you handled asking someone to beta read when they might be triggered by your content?
  • How would you handle a friend wanting to read your stuff when you believe that there would be upsetting content for them?
 

Roxxsmom

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I think all you can do in this situation is ask him and make it clear you're just fine with his taking his time to beta read or with him passing entirely. I don't know your friend, so I can't speak for him. But I know I would appreciate someone asking if I still wanted to do it, even if it wasn't a big deal for me. I wouldn't necessarily feel like someone was walking on eggshells to acknowledge my loss and say they understand if I don't want to read something with death-related themes or follow through on a commitment I'd made previously. Because even if the book is completely cheerful, it may be a commitment he doesn't have the focus or energy to take on right now. I know after my dad passed away I was really blue for a while, and I kind of flaked on some commitments because I just didn't have the emotional energy.

In general with asking someone to beta read or to be a critiquing partner, I'd let them know what kind of book it was in terms of genre and also how graphic and whether there are any dark themes or plot elements as well as sex and/or swearing. Because at the very least I don't want someone to beta read my book and say, "What's with the talking animals?" or "I don't understand what arcane energy is supposed to be" or "Why are women running around in breeches and having adventures in a pre-industrial society?" because they never read fantasy. I also don't want people tut tutting over swearing or a semi steamy sex scene because they just don't like stories with swearing or sex. I really don't want to trigger someone who has had trauma with a scene that includes torture or war or abuse of a child or animal, or sexual assault that I have weighed carefully and deemed necessary for plot and story purposes, but it is emotionally stressful for them to read it.

Also, some people are okay with reading certain things, but they prefer a warning.

I have seen some trade published books in recent years where there is a content statement at the beginning, where the author lets the reader know the book contains certain elements that may be upsetting. That's not the same as plastering a rating across the cover or not allowing the book to be sold to minors, the way we see with movies or video games. But it gives people looking for something closer to Narnia or the Hobbit that a given book may be more for Jacqueline Carey's or Joe Abercrombie fans.
 
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TulipMama

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This situation hits close to home for me. I lost my sister to depression a few years ago, and even reading your post, I have a lump in my throat and I know I'm not going to have a very cheerful day going forward. The point of me saying that isn't to make you feel bad, it's just a very present example of how little it takes to pull up very powerful and unpleasant emotions, even years later. Your concern is very valid.


How have you handled asking someone to beta read when they might be triggered by your content?

I haven't come across this just yet, I don't tend to ask my friends to Beta read because they're not really interested in doing it.

How would you handle a friend wanting to read your stuff when you believe that there would be upsetting content for them?

Just go in with full disclosure. You're friend sounds genuinely interested in your book, if not invested because he had a hand in some of the elements. I don't know him, you or your relationship, but if it came down to my friends it would be a matter of letting them make that choice. Let them know there IS a hard to swallow trigger in there, tell them what it is even. Some things are better spoiled if it means your friend has time to build up the mental fortitude to weather the blow. Ensure they know that this is a zero pressure decision, you have other Beta readers and while you value their input you care about their health more. Even if they stress that it's okay, don't be surprised if, part way through, they have to stop. Be accepting of their pace.

Good luck with your friend.

Tulip Mama <3
 

Cephus

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I don't go around asking individuals to read my work. It's all part of a critique group and people can independently decide what they want to read and discuss and what they don't. I describe the book and I expect that the people who are going to read and critique it are conversant and experienced in my genre. I write to typical genre conventions. There's nothing in my book that you won't find in many. many others. If you can make it through those, you can make it through mine.

However, we are expecting these people to be adults, as the OP said. Adults are personally responsible for themselves and their reactions. They need to be able to make their own decisions without being constantly babied. That's what makes them adults. Tell your friend the truth and let them make up their own mind. Then go find beta readers who have no personal stake in making you happy as a friend. That's where you get the honest feedback.
 

averyames

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When I'm prepping to send to betas, I type up a description of possible triggers and put that in the email where I ask for beta volunteers. (Sent to those who have expressed previous interest only, of course). This would include your friend that you're worried about. If they know the warnings, they can make a reasonable decision whether they can read it at the moment.

In the email, I'll mention that I understand if anyone would prefer not to read based on the triggers and just ask those who are still interested to email me to request the manuscript. That also relieves the pressure of having to say no, for those who are uncomfortable with the material.
 
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Chris P

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Just be honest. As a friend, I think he would appreciate your empathy in what he is going through. If it were me, I would lay out my concerns as plainly as I could, and let him decide. Who knows, maybe it will open a door for him to process his hurt in ways not available before. But even without his recent tragedy, you want your beta relationships to be based in honesty anyway.

Just speaking for myself; we all grieve differently: I lost my brother about 30 years ago, when I was 20 (he was 25). Although I appreciated people's consideration for my feelings, I thought it was too far when they wrapped me in cotton wool and avoided not only discussing his death, or any death, but even him at all. Relatives took down his picture, nobody told stories that included him, and then fell all over themselves whenever I did bring him up. It was so rigid it felt like I wasn't allowed to even remember him at all. Being able to talk, both the good and the hurt, was necessary.
 

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