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

In the first part of this Human Writing Aides post, I talked about some of the definitions and nuances of these author/reader arrangements, and some ideas and considerations surrounding the topics. This second part will follow the current human writing aide role I am performing for an author and what I have learned along the way.


Back in the winter, I answered a query in a Facebook group of a new author looking for someone willing to read the first two chapters of his “dark fantasy” work in progress. I have been a fantasy reader and lover since I was around 12, so the genre, and his added footnote of including elves and magic, certainly piqued my interest. I also have to admit that the idea of being one of the first to read something that could be the next bestseller really intrigues me, and I had some free time, so I replied “Sure. I’ll read it.” The reply along the lines of “Great, thank you very much!” came, and after an exchange of email addresses, the document appeared in my inbox.   

I opened the file and began reading. The next day I sent an email back with my observations, questions, and suggestions. I fervently hoped I wasn’t being too critical, but I tempered that with the knowledge that I had approached the document with a few basic thoughts in mind:

  • If this were my work, what would I want to know?
  • How would I receive my comments (as pertains to the emotional aspect of the language used)?
  • This author and I know nothing about one another, so I may need to explain my thoughts sometimes to convey my meaning.
  • This is NOT proofreading! Stick to the larger concepts of story and characters.

The last one was, at times, the most difficult to adhere to, just having finished an online proofreader’s training course, but I quickly came to a comfortable compromise with myself on that topic. Nervously, I hit the SEND button and waited for the reply to come.

Did I say too much?

The return email arrived and I waited until I had enough time to devote it uninterrupted. Even if it was an angry retort, it was important to me that I understand the position the author was coming from, and how perhaps I could have made the exchange better, if necessary. To my great relief, however, his response was upbeat and grateful. In fact, twenty-eight chapters and several months later, our arrangement is still going strong.

Thankfully…

Over the course of that time, my reply format has changed, but my overall approach has remained consistent. As one of two initial sets of eyes on the author partner’s WIP, my main concern is that he gets his story out onto the page. I see the thoughts and scenes sort of like stick-figure people—once they are out of the author’s head onto paper they have a rudimentary existence. Subsequent revisions and edits will flesh them out into substantial beings, complex characters, and strong storylines.

I look for:

  • inconsistencies in character elements
  • random ideas that seem to just show up in the plot
  • tense shifts
  • things that trip me up when I’m reading, especially in setting descriptions and battle scenes

I set my proofreader’s eye aside largely, except where it may help other post-first-revision readers (i.e. possessives). I also suggest using strong verbs that enhance the context and sentences around them. Even at this early stage, it makes sense to me to encourage strong, straightforward writing before the work will be handed off to another reader.

All the while, though, I keep in mind that I am not re-writing, but merely suggesting what could be changed, enhanced, clarified, described, or omitted, as the case may be. Yes, my returned documents contain numerous colored additions of missing words and letters, apostrophes, noted verb tense shifts, perhaps a few commas when I was undoubtedly confused, and comment bubbles FULL of questions and observations. Many times I do stop and wonder if I am overwhelming my author partner. But then I think that if I’m noticing something now, then by pointing it out, I give him the opportunity to fill some of the holes and continue refining his style and voice in forthcoming chapters. My colored ink can always be rejected because after all, it is his work, not mine.

Another aspect that I was aware of in a global sense, but has become a fun part of this project for me, is working with an English writer originally from England, whereas I am from the American English camp. Our differences in phraseology, spellings, and even some word usage are interesting and always make me smile. A few times I have wanted to change some decidedly non-American terminology, but I patted my Yankee brain on the head and said, “Down girl, go relax.” Because this isn’t my story, and the world is largely non-American; it probably sounds perfectly correct to many who will read it. So I say… Let it be! (Lol)


So perhaps then, according to the definitions in Part 1, on this project I am:

  • part CP (reading from a writer’s perspective with attention to style, POV, and tense, the agreement of exchange)
  • part alpha reader (looking for plot holes, picking up inconsistencies and blind spots)
  • and even a little bit beta (reading from a reader’s POV as a fantasy lover, making small text edits)

What is most important, though, is that it is an agreed-upon and mutually beneficial exchange between the author and me. The emails with the next installments always make me happy, and he has told me many times he appreciates my suggestions and observations. I look forward the seeing this story as a finished manuscript, and then as a printed series of books, knowing how far it has come from those first emailed chapters. I’m along for the journey, and since I have just received the last two chapters for this book in the series, I’d say we will be doing some back-tracking and re-routing on the way to the end, but one thing is for certain—we will both be better writers and readers when the last page is turned.~

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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 2)

  1. An insightful view of an approach to being a CP cum alpha/beta reader, what you look for and how you present the information to the author of the work.

    Like

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