It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a merry band of word warriors to turn a first draft into a great book. Although every writing team will look a little different, these four teams are the mainstays for any party. They’ll give you the support, hard truths, and exciting news you need.
The first people who read your work bear a huge responsibility. On the one hand, you must trust their opinion and taste enough to tell you honestly if your work has major flaws. On the other hand, they are cradling your fragile, delicate heart, soul, and ego in their (hopefully gentle) hands.
An alpha reader should be a big fan of reading in general, a fan of stories. They don’t need to write. They don’t need to professional review or edit anything. That said, they do need to know you. And you need to know them. An alpha reader should be able to tell you how they felt about your book and whether or not any major problems interrupted their experience. Then they need to phrase all that in a supportive way that will help you push forward with the nightmare that is writing.
Your beta reader pool is the step between your work and a professional editor. Each reader should serve as a mirror. Their insights will help you see your own work more clearly. A beta reader ought to ask a lot of questions, and they should let you know when they feel glee, surprise, shock, horror, and despair. If they have to stop reading a certain scene when it gets dark, a good beta reader will let you know.
On the other hand, a beta reader should not try to write or rewrite the story for you. Suggesting upping the tension is different than suggesting that two characters should be secretly related and only discover their shared lineage after falling in love. You’ll recognize a great beta reader when they praise your high notes and still hold you to account for that one scene where absolutely no one stays true to character.
These readers may be fellow writers. Those who’ve learned to workshop well with others can be incredible beta readers. However fellow writers may be too story-hungry to drop the writer angle and focus on your work as a reader. Again, professional training isn’t needed, and some of the best beta readers will be people who know you well and love stories.
There are many editors, and editors play many different roles. You’ll need professionals to help with at least four different processes:
- Developmental Editing
- Copy Editing
- Line Editing
The first step, developmental editing, is essentially professional beta reading combined with an intensive one-on-one tutoring session. Your editor will comb through your story and find the problem spots, the weak points, and the shiny bits that need polishing. Copy editing addresses language, pace, etc. Line editing drags a fine-toothed comb over word choice while hunting for passive voice and generally honing language, punctuation, etc. Proofreading is a final step to ensure continuity, spelling, etc. One of the great advantages of traditionally published books is that they go through all of these steps. If you want to compete with that market, your book deserves the same treatment.
You can find editors at multiple price points online. It pays to make friends with indie authors online who can recommend great editors who specialize in the self-publishing market. Check their work by reading a few books (sometimes research is fun), and see if the final product meets your standards. Go over some client reviews to ensure they’re reputable and then make a connection.
Unlike editors and readers, you only need one agent, or at least only one agent at a time. Finding your first agent, however, can be as daunting as publishing your first novel. The trick is to find a professional with a track record for helping authors with whom you have something in common.
Begin with their work. Look up the agents of your favorite authors. Ask around on Twitter and other social media sites to see who your writing friends are working with. They may have some recommendations.
Once you’ve found some interesting names, follow them on social media, check out their websites, and begin formulating a pitch to grab their attention. Just as every query to a publisher should be unique, so should every word you send a potential agent. Be sure to check for guidelines on their websites before making contact.
Is your party assembled? Have you ever worked with alpha and beta readers? What suggestions do you have for writers looking for their first team?