Writing is a solitary business, right? I mean, we all sit cloistered away in our respective cabins in the woods, plying our trade with keyboards, pens, and quills. It’s easy to feel isolated, especially since, until we get these stories out of our heads and onto the page, we really are the only ones that visit these worlds we work in. I often get the feeling that I’m rowing this boat alone, struggling toward that distant shore with none to aid me.
But that’s just not true. Maybe the way I wrote ten years ago, it would have been, but no more.
Alpha readers These are the folks that get the words pretty much as soon as they come tumbling out of my mouth (or fingers, I guess- whatever the point of egress may be). These people get my work in all its unedited glory, complete with goofy punctuation, oddball spellings, and gaping plotholes so massive, they threaten to suck in the whole story. My alphas get these things, grimace a little, and then help me tease out the tale in the midst of all the distraction. I have two of them: my ever-loving Husband, without whom the sun would not rise, and the inestimable Ms. M Elizabeth Tait. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been explaining something to one of them and they ask a simple question and I just stare at them and think, ‘Wow, I’m dumb.’)
Beta readers These people get the story after I have a) finished it and b) run it through a spell checker. It’s in a little better shape than what my poor alphas read, but it still needs a little more love. These people stoically sit down and pour over my manuscript for no other reason than that they inexplicably like me and that they love to read a good book. So in the hopes of finding one, they willingly slog through my stuff. Since they don’t get the book in a piecemeal fashion, they tend to have a good sense of whether the story flows nicely, whether the pacing is good, whether there are any inconsistencies between the different sections. They can tell me if the world as a whole is believable, if the characters are compelling, and if the ending is satisfying. They know what needs trimming down and what needs plumping up. And they’re like sniffer dogs homing right in on all my self-indulgent little non-essentials. In short, they’re fantastic. By the time my manuscript gets to these fine people, I’m so tired of staring at it I want to claw my eyes out- they’re able to look at it with fresh eyes and without any of my biases. I have a fair number of betas, but my sun and my moon right now are Nanopals and Madison, either of whom would be worth their weight at least in Cheetos.
And this is as far as I’ve gotten on the readerly food chain, but I know there are much bigger fish out there, too. I could go forth and hire a professional editor. Goodness knows my manuscript will be visiting one if it ever piques the interest of an agent, or at least a publisher. But for a girl just starting out on a very tight budget, alpha and beta readers are hugely important to me. It’s been great having other writers that I trust to swap manuscripts with, and it definitely makes the writing experience feel a whole lot less isolated.
How about you guys? Do you share with betas? Do you do beta reads for other people? What’s been your experience?