Human Writing Aides: Critique Partners, Alpha Readers and Beta Readers. What It Takes to Be One and What I Have Learned (Part 1 of 2)

A hot topic in social media writers’ groups these days is critique partners/alpha readers/beta readers, and all aspects about them: what are they and the differences between them; where do you find them; what should you expect from them as an author; what the reader can expect from the authors; should they be paid, and so on. The answers seem to vary widely the more you read about the subject and depending on the source of the information. There is also a fair amount of emotion attached to the subject, and rightly so. Sending your hard-fought literary creation out for perusal by an unknown entity takes cajones, let’s face it, that struggle is very real. Everyone who puts pen to paper wants to be encouraged and viewed positively, but just as in life in general, it’s more often the not-so “Ra-ra! Yes, I love it!” comments that promote growth as a writer.

Text Box: CP or α?
Which one do I need?

I read a couple of blog posts on iWriterly and Indies Unlimited recently that described these three human writing aides quite neatly. iWriterly’s Meg Latorre describes critique partners (CP) as:    

“…writers who provide feedback on your work, usually by request (to exchange chapters).” Meg Latorre, iWriterly, (follow her on YouTube)     

Such a person could easily be confused with Indies Unlimited’s definition of an alpha reader as someone who reads a work-in-progress in the early stages of compilation, and perhaps even again after a first edit, but before it is sent to a content editor. They go on to say that an alpha reader’s purpose

…is to see if the overall structure of your book works. Are there glaring issues or plot holes large enough to float an ocean liner through? The idea is to have a trusted reader who might spot issues you miss or have a blind spot about. … If you decide to, the sooner in the process the better. You want to limit wasted effort you’ll expend polishing sections that might get reworked or even tossed out based on feedback from the alpha reader.”

Big Al, IndiesUnlimited, (follow them on Twitter)

Both sites agreed that beta readers come later in the process, after at least a few self-edits.  Betas tend to be other readers who have an interest in the genre and are also willing to offer feedback, both positive and negative. They may offer simple line edits in addition to larger concept suggestions, or not, it depends upon the person and what the author is looking for. Many times these details can be discussed and agreed upon before the document is even sent.


Typically, these three feedback sources have not been compensated, but that is changing some as I see freelancers listing them as part of their core services. I believe that there is certainly room for discussion in this realm, as it all boils down simply to someone spending their time for the benefit of another (and hopefully themselves as well). Everyone’s time has value and that should be taken into consideration. Perhaps there doesn’t have to be an actual transfer of funds, but certainly a signed, messaged copy of the work in its finished form is a well-deserved token.

If you don’t feel that compensation is necessary, that’s cool. I know many don’t.

 Alternatively, a fun way to say thank you could be to gift your reader with a month or a few (depending on the scope of the work) of an appropriate subscription box. I have treated myself to the Scribbler subscription box during the dreary New England winter months, and I loved it. It’s full of writer-friendly stuff, tips, tools of the trade, and of course, a real BOOK, so it is supporting other authors as well. Finding the type-covered box in the mail always brought a smile to my face, and a few hours of Christmas-in-whenever. Subscription boxes are numerous now, there is one for most every kind of interest, finding one that you’d like to send (or receive, which is how I think about it) shouldn’t be difficult.

Here’s another, perhaps more practical idea for appreciation (if applicable): compensate the critiquer the amount it would be to upgrade one of their trade memberships a level. Freelancers and industry professionals alike have many organizations to choose to belong to, such as The Editorial Freelancers’ Association, Freelancers’ Union, The Society for Editing (ACES), The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK based), and several others, all of which have tiers of membership with associated fees. Levelling up many times allows for the purchase of a course or seminar at a reduced rate, or discounted entry fees to conferences and association gatherings. This way each party is continuing to hone their craft and improve their repertoire. That is truly a gift that keeps on giving!

In a similar vein, if your CP is on Patreon, it couldn’t get any easier! Helping our fellow creative souls toward their goals is a productive way to show support and appreciation. In fact, I’m investigating this platform myself…  

Testimonials and/or endorsements of the CP/reader on their website should undoubtedly be part of the author’s response. Testimonials and reviews are extremely important to members of the freelance community, they help to support our business and bolster our confidence. And yes, even if it is a less positive sentiment, it may help other writers judge if the reader is offering the level of feedback they are looking for. We all gotta take the good and the not-so-good— if the CP/reader can dish it out, they better be able to take it in return.  

Freelancer’s lifeblood…

One big difference that is noted in these three human aides is their approach of the manuscript- either from a writer’s perspective or a reader’s. Some authors choose to enlist the services of all three, while some only seek out one or two. I can see value in each one depending on the author’s writing style, time and/or deadlines, and the type of work it is. Some (VERY) basic line editing in the early stages can also reduce copy editing and proofreading costs in the later stages.

Writer-writer

CP’s and alpha readers can often expect to be reading raw, unedited copy—literally right off the pen or keyboard. If you can’t stomach misspellings, a lack of punctuation and often formatting, and imprecise grammar, please, save everyone the frustration and opt for a beta or later stage read instead. You will be SOOOOO much more comfortable! Authors, on the other hand, can receive their feedback in many forms, from list-type replies to in-document notations. But be prepared for some criticism, it is what you should ASK for! This is all just a round-about way of saying that the most important part of the reader/author arrangement is communication about the extent of the feedback.  When each side has expressed what they are looking for and knows their scope, the chances of a positive experience are much better. Which really is the end goal, right?

In the second part of this post, I will discuss the blend of CP and alpha reading (according to the above definitions) I am currently providing for an author halfway around the world from me, and what I have learned from the partnership. Until then, keep writing, reading, and playing with words however you can! ~

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One thought on “Human Writing Aides: Critique Partners, Alpha Readers and Beta Readers. What It Takes to Be One and What I Have Learned (Part 1 of 2)

  1. An interesting review of the types of help that writers can get. I was aware of CPs and Beta readers but hadn’t heard the term Alpha readers (or that it was similar to CPs).

    The suggested ideas of compensation are varied and good. Having been a beta reader for several books,

    I’ve always been happy to do it and never considered or asked for payment in return though some of the said writers have offered to Beta read any book if I ever chose to write one.

    An informative article and one worth referencing for anyone either looking for someone to read their work or thinking about offering to do it for a writer.

    Like

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