The Alpha and the Beta

New and aspiring authors will do well to surround themselves with experienced readers and writers.

Notice I didn’t say young.

In my previous vocation, I’d written a number of articles, a dissertation, co-authored a book, and self-published two more. Even so, at fifty-six I was unprepared to enter a world where neither previous accomplishment nor reputation gave any credence to my work. My writing had to stand on its own.

The draft of my first novel became an insane 750,000 word monster. The unformatted beast was filled with development and grammar issues. I’d written the dialogue in period language only a trapper in backwoods Mississippi could understand.

Fortunately, I was rescued from myself by honest readers/writers unwilling to simply tell me how wonderful my writing was. I listened and learned—and continue to do so.

With the help of my writer’s group and publisher’s talented editors, I split the book into what became a five book historical novel series. I sanitized the archaic lingo, cleaned up development issues, and purged grammar errors that would’ve shamed my high school English teacher.

Here’s the take away: be humble enough to allow good literaturists contribute to the efficacy of your budding authorship. Let me suggest just two as you consider submitting a manuscript for publication: Alpha and Beta readers.

No experienced writer believes s/he has the last word on their manuscript. I’m sure many a self-absorbed writer thinking they’d be the next Stephen King would tell you rejection comes at the high price of pride. Why risk your writing being unclear to your readers? Alpha and beta readers serve only to help you say better what you’ve already expressed, but from a different point of view.

An alpha reader is sturdy enough to work through your rough manuscript and offers general feedback on your hard work. The alpha examines the big picture, looking to strengthen major ideas and find areas that may need purging. They want your intent and good ideas to land firmly on the page.

A beta reads the corrected manuscript as a casual reader to help fix remaining issues with plot, pacing, and consistency. Put on your thick skin and ask what they liked and disliked. Good beta readers will help your story have the emotional impact you desire for your book or story.

Remember, you are the only one who thinks like you, so invite other perspectives into your work. Constructive criticism is essential to good writing, even if it hurts. Humbly consider your alpha and beta reader’s suggestions but trust your author instincts as well. Together, you can offer readers a fine piece of literature.

Anthony Wood
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