IWSG - The Beta Novelist?


The first Wednesday of every month many of us follow Alex J.Cavanaugh’s leadership in voicing our writing insecurities…or the tactics we use to overcome them.  This month I’ve decided to tell you about one of my insecurities.   

Does everybody know what the difference between an Alpha and Beta male is? Let me define them for you, but before we get started let me just say that although common terminology generally refers to males when speaking in these terms, this could just as easily apply to females. Anyway, an Alpha is the individual in a segregated environment, like a community, who’s a leader, the person others look to for motivation, inspiration.  Others follow and defer to this individual.  The Beta is usually subservient to the alpha, acting as second-in-command.  They are wingmen, collaborative and conciliatory. Although a Beta can be either a dethroned Alpha or simply biding his time until it’s his turn to become an Alpha, most of the time they are content with their status as number two. 

Why is so interesting to me?  In my opinion, Beta’s are what really makes the world go round, but they are hardly ever recognized for their contributions.  Alpha’s may be trail-blazers, but it’s the Beta’s that put down pavement, widen it to four lanes, erect guard rails and directional signs.  The beta has poetry in him, and a touch of youthful idealism. He’s sure of who he is, and not burdened by constantly trying to prove his value in physical or materialistic terms. Credit rarely comes their way, and that’s ok with them.  Acknowledgement – yes.  Recognition – No.

So who are these Beta’s?  Me – I’m one.  The limelight is something that holds no interest for me; in fact it unsettles me when it shines in my direction.  I’ve mentioned numerous times here on my blog about my introverted personality and how I prefer to work behind the scenes to ensure that things are done the way they should be, while at the same time making sure that those around me who need it, get the attention they crave.  I am comfortable with my role in this world and embrace it heartily.  I have no high aspirations or lofty goals.  As a result stress is a force that can find no purchase on me.

I believe that knowing and understanding your place in the world is something that very few achieve.  Even fewer can accept.  I thought I had accomplished both, at least in a small part.  But recently I’ve been asking myself if a Beta like me could become a successfully published author.  Is there such a thing as a Beta Novelist, or do I have to transform into an Alpha to achieve that goal?  Can a person be a Beta in one part of their life, and an Alpha in another?

You’ve read the stories like I have…the ones about the long, hard, solitary struggles to become published -- written by a countless number of writers.  And this isn’t a team, a group, or even a community craving that accomplishment…it’s just me.  There is no “behind-the-scenes” where this is concerned, no valued partner or unsung contributor role to hide behind.  And at the end of this battle-line is a reward that I’ve shunned most of my adult life…recognition.  Have I set myself up for failure…or is this the point where an Alpha emerges to capture his one true dream?

Stay tuned.

27 comments

  1. I don't think you have to be an Alpha to be a successfully published author. At least, I hope not, because I'm definitely not an Alpha! :)

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  2. I hope we don't have to be an Alpha to be a successful writer, because I think I'm more of a Beta myself. Maybe we just have to work that bit harder, especially with the limelight stuff!

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  3. I'm a C, so I think I'm in trouble :)

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  4. I know lots of Betas who are published. They do have to get used to some limelight, but they take it all in stride and go on with life and writing as they can. In fact, I think agents would prefer a beta because alphas are more likely to be high maintenance. If all authors were alphas then all books would be too similar. We need lots of personalities to keep variety in the books.

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  5. Considering most authors seem to be introverts, I think the answer is yes. We're challenged to have more alpha traits in order to be noticed, but we're less likely to be obnoxious.

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  6. I read not to long ago of a writer that refused to market, to do signings or anything but write! It's a personal choice, and to be honest if my books sold without me having to put myself out there, that's definitely what I'd prefer! You can be a success - because you're the one who determines what 'your' success is! Do what makes you happy and you are successful! At least that's how I see it!

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  7. You ask some interesting questions. I think you are the Alpha to your own writing. Others may help you on your way, but ultimately the final choice is yours. Once it's the best it can be, I think you'll be ready to embrace being an Alpha when it comes to promoting and marketing your published novel, too. Everyone approaches marketing differently. You'll find a way to get your name and novel out there that's comfortable for you.

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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  8. Good questions ... not sure I have any answers which I think is okay because it's the questions not the answers that are important for the most part. I'm definitely not an Alpha personality either and I'm okay with that too.

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  9. "I am comfortable with my role in this world and embrace it heartily. I have no high aspirations or lofty goals. As a result stress is a force that can find no purchase on me."

    DL, I don't think this is about the difference between Alphas and Betas, I think you are describing your comfort zone. And you do have some "alpha experience" ... you are a writer! I think what's going to have to happen when you get published is your comfort zone will expand. People who are instrinsically generous are also clueless to the fact that Alphas, deep down, wish they could be like them.

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  10. I'd say you can be a Beta because I'm one. Both do a lot of work, just different work, and the limelight isn't always needed.

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  11. Lots of great comments on here already, so I'll just say that awesomeness like organizing WRiTE CLUB might be a sign of your inner alpha coming out. :) I think your point about being beta and alpha in different aspects of life probably sums it up best.

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  12. Hi DL .. I'm definitely a beta in life - much prefer doing lots of the work and organising behind the scenes - and I'm not seeking the limelight ...

    Interesting thought .. though as Laura says .. we need to be Alpha's for own sakes ...

    Cheers and enjoy your writing process .. Hilary

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  13. Oh, DL, I think I'm a beta too. It's funny, but I would have characterized you as an alpha from getting to know you thru your blog. The creative ideas you come up with and follow thru on. Interesting how sometimes our perceptions of ourselves are different than how others perceive us.

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  14. And see for ME alpha and beta are ERROR TYPES... I'm a statistician. But the BALANCE between alpha and beta is critical--too much of one and you don't have the ability to tell what's going on, too much of the other and you are measuring at such a fine tune that it means you are down to measuring the meaningless. I think that works with writing, too--you need enough leeway to have an original story and a careful balance for the right amount of structure (too much and you have formula)

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  15. I'd say I'm a beta type, since I don't need the limelight, just acknowledgement. I too would prefer to work behind the scenes, as evidenced by my volunteering for behind the scenes work on stage plays, and enjoying being behind the camera or book. I'd rather be the tv camera-person than the talent.

    Betas can definitely be novelists. We may bow to a greater writer, but that doesn't mean we can't join the fray.

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  16. I don't know. It's a good question. I think today we need to be more alpha than we needed to in the past, but i don't think anything's a given as long as you write a damn good book.

    FWIW, i think beta characters are more interesting to read and write

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  17. Interesting. I've often wondered this myself - about whether it's possible to be successful if you're not completely type A. I have to say I believe it is - after all, most writers aren't by nature Alpha's. We tend to shy away from the limelight :)

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  18. I'm glad to see in the comments that we don't have to be Alphas to be successful. I'm like you--more introverted. The scariest things about getting published are the book signings and other public events where I'd be in the spotlight. Thanks for posting about this. It's good to know we're not alone in these kind of feelings.

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  19. You pose an interesting question. I do think every writer who publishes his work reaches some measure of confidence or security about their work... otherwise, they simply wouldn't put it out there. Does that mean that they require the limelight? No, I don't think so. It does suggest that they are comfortable in their own skin and are content with however it all unfolds. In that sort of equation, I do think a Beta would actually be more successful than an Alpha.

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  20. A storyteller tells the story pushing to be told. I don't think it matters whether one is alpha or beta, or a Martian, lol! You tell the story. Where the alpha/beta attitude might come into play is how the story is told.

    Author recognition isn't like being a movie star or a rock star. You sell the books because people like your storytelling. A few, very few, may get on to talk show circuit or be sought after for the big interviews but that's not what most authors get. Success is measured by the readerbase the author has.

    So, just tell the story that burns in your mind and heart and worry about the rest, when and if, it comes along. :-)

    Sia McKye OVER COFFEE

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  21. Interesting concept. Perhaps you're the Beta to your story, as the Alpha. After all that's where you want to recognition to go - to the work - right? You're just the guy behind the scenes, seeing that everything is done right, dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's. It's really all about the story.

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  22. Those are good questions Don. I've wondered the same about my own writing - and a lot of areas in my life. I'm "good enough" at a lot of things to get me noticed. Made it to lead worker at the day job, making enough income on my own not to beg for child support and got a pretty good credit rating, slowly coming up in the world with bloggers and got a few short stories published.

    But to ever make it out of the "just enough" range? Unlikely. Things go my way enough to keep me dreaming and hoping. But what's live - writing or otherwise - without that bit of hope to keep us from becoming complacent? I may one day get picked up by a small publisher and sell a few copies of my novel, or perhaps I'll want to see my trilogy published enough to indi-publish before I die. Many great authors were discovered languishing in obscurity years after their death. Right? What a legacy that would bring for my descendants :)

    Keep on fighting the good fight, and stroke those dreams. You'll have hope, and something personal to keep your mind active, but won't have the major depressions and frustrations of those who absolutely count on getting that big contract.

    With all you do in the writing community, and in your day life, there's still a lot of Alpha in you, even if you don't see it yourself. Those that matter in your life recognize and appreciate both sides of your nature.

    ........dhole

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  23. it always seemed that betas in stories were the strongest. especially in romance

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  24. Excellent questions! Definitely gives this beta something to think about...

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  25. I believe you can be both. I've always joked I am an outgoing introvert. I prefer to hide at home but I can also stand in front of people and speak with confidence. Even if you're mostly Beta, you'll probably develop a few Alpha traits.

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  26. Oooh, D.L., way to twist me around and show me an angle I've never looked at before. You're looking at a beta female right here, though life sometimes tries to thrust me into an alpha role, and this being published thing DEFINITELY requires some alpha traits. I've often referred to my marketing efforts as biting and clawing my way for every scrap - because that's how it feels sometimes. But do you know how us betas will survive in this racket? By falling in with a group of authors and working together to promote each other. This summer it's been great to join forces w/ other authors from my publisher & do group events instead of just me, me, me -- and I find the group events much more effective too.

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  27. I love your comments on being comfortable with your place in the world. In regards to my day job it has taken me a long while to come to terms with my place. I'm certainly not at the forefront for recognition, even though my team is really the power house of the company. Without the work we perform the whole place would come to a standstill, and yet I'm frequently forgotten by all those at the top.
    It used to bother me but now I find it's a blessing. The job's ok but not my everything, and I can happily leave it there when I go home at the end of the day.

    Thanks for reminding me of this.

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