At some point yesterday I realized I’m writing with a slight handicap right now. You see, for the last two books I have had a silent collaborator. He wasn’t just my first reader for the Pixie series, he was actively plotting, shaping, and helping me. I am really missing that, but this book he can’t help with in the same way.
So what is the difference between collaborator, first reader, beta reader, alpha, and all those other jargon terms we throw around from time to time? In my case, I’m lucky enough to not write solo all the time. I’ve never tried to write with a co-author, but I think I have described before the process my First Reader and I worked out where I sent him my progress every thousand words or so.
So why first reader? Well, that’s my affectionate internet term for him, but most writers don’t live with theirs. Your first reader would be someone who thinks like you do, who is in tune with you well enough to be able to read your roughest work, see what you are trying to do, and point you in the right direction when you go astray. Also known as an alpha reader.
A collaborator is a little more than that. They will help with planning, plotting, character development, and world building. The trick here is to be able to pull together in harness, because if you aren’t on the same page it can quickly devolve into arguing over where the story is going and who the characters really are. A co-author is someone to whom an outline or partially finished work is given to complete. This is sometimes also used by a publisher to train a new writer, with mixed results, I suspect. I think it would be a difficult thing to step into a partnership with all the preparation of a blind date.
Beta readers come after the story is complete. Well, at any rate, after the first draft is done. Chosen for their knowledge of genre and willingness to be brutally honest, they are to be fed and cared for nicely, as you want them to stick around and help. Usually these are fans who go above and beyond the call of duty, or fellow writers who will expect you to return the favor as soon as you can.
Note that none of these are editors. They may partly fill a role that an editor might, but in general all of them see the manuscript raw, before an editor does. You might find some or all of them in a writing group, but then again, you might not. Writing as part of a group, I have found, can be a challenge all it’s own. Not everyone in the group will have matching abilities, which means critique might not be particularly helpful. You must learn to be judicious about who you listen to, and when.
Writing groups, and perhaps the alpha reader, and definitely the collaborator, all give you someone to be accountable to. It’s easy to say: I’m going to write 70k words in six weeks, at a rate of 1750 a day, but if you don’t tell anyone, who will know if you slack off? Or who will give you a high-five when you double or triple that goal on a good day?
No writer is all alone. I’m not alone, even if it does feel really odd to be over 10K words into a novel without showing it to my First Reader. He’s my evil muse, my ‘unnamed conspirator’ as Amanda calls him, and I feel like I’m working high above the circus floor without a net. This is good for me, right? I need to be able to walk on my own fingertips through a story. But dangit… I miss that creative back-and-forth.
What interactions do you the writer seek out? Or are you a lone wolf?