You beta believe I needed those readers!

Last week, I did a thing! I submitted Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space! to the wonderful Renaissance, who has been the publisher of my previous novels and the anthologies I’ve co-edited. It was a supremely big deal for me to get to the submission stage because my brain has been greatly affected from living in this pandemic. I could barely write anything in 2020, but in April and June of this year, all the words flooded out of me. Looking back, I can hardly believe it; there’s no way I could write that much right now.

It had been important to me to write Iris and the Crew. The world-building was inspired by Universal Design and the Social Model of Disability. I myself am a disabled, autistic, hard-of-hearing, and mentally ill human. I face some form of ableism and lack of accessibility or accommodation constantly. I needed to dive into a world where these obstacles were removed.

My wheelhouse is engaging with folks of a variety of bodyminds, and giving/receiving support, witnessing the benefits of sharing experiences, and having a lot of laughs (mostly from snark). Living in community with each other, even virtually, has enriched my life. I wanted to use my favourite fiction vehicle—space opera—to show this wonderful camaraderie. What could the adventures of a crew on a fully accessible/accommodating ship be like? And so, the world-building began.

After I’d finished the first draft, I tried doing what I’d always done: prepare a cleaner draft for Beta readers. Easy-peasy, right? I mean, I wasn’t new at this.

Wrong. So much all the wrongness.

Holy stars, it felt like pulling teeth to turn the manuscript into a crisper draft. My mind was just exhausted, and I couldn’t concentrate. I had to break things into smaller and smaller chunks just to achieve anything resembling decent writing. Sure, I was battling a situational depression (and the situation causing my depression was pan-global, so yay), but writing has always been my refuge during mental health crises. Welp, this was different. Brain spoons were sorely limited. And I know I am not alone here, as many of my fellow disabled/ND friends were also experiencing concentration issues with reading and writing these past 20+ months.

Still, to the rescue came a band of trusty beta readers. While I have always treasured having help from Betas, this time, I needed them more than ever. I’d just conked out from preparing my manuscript, and it wasn’t up to snuff, but they were so understanding. A few even helped me with grammar and typos (something I am usually sharp at catching myself). Some helped me with inconsistencies and pointing out character strengths and things that could be improved. In short, I received solid feedback for getting to the next stage in the writing process, and I couldn’t be more grateful for their thoroughness. I just couldn’t get there by myself at all.

And going through all the comments also felt like lifting weights in my head. I made sure to edit it really slowly, so I could concentrate. I took much longer than I would have in the BeforeTime. I got there, though!

Now, the manuscript is with my publisher, ready for the next step, which will be putting it under the care of professional sensitivity editors. I did research a ton while writing this first “season” of Iris and the Crew, and from information provided by people with lived experiences, but I know I’ll feel even more confident with another vetting. My goal is for readers to gleefully find something relatable in the crew members. Just enough for them to cry, “Hey! It me!”

I will be thanking all the beta readers (and sensitivity editors/readers) in the Acknowledgement section of the book. Because without them, I’d still have an unfinished work sitting on my laptop.

In the meantime, thanks, folks. You know who you are. ❤

Closeup of me. I'm a white woman with bobbed silver hair tucked behind my ear. I have a youngish face. I'm wearing a grey tee that has in old English font: "Hmmm..." Geralt of Rivia

Cait Gordon is a Canadian autistic, disabled, and queer author of speculative fiction that celebrates diversity. She also co-edited Nothing Without Us with Talia C. Johnson, a 2020 Prix Aurora Award finalist for Best Related Work that has thrice been part of a disability studies syllabus at Trent University. (The submission window for Nothing Without Us Too is currently open until Jan 31, 2022!) When not fine-tuning manuscripts, Cait advocates for disability representation and is the founder of the Spoonie Authors Network.

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