Author Toolbox · Writing

The ABCs of alphas, betas & critique partners – Author Toolbox

Welcome to the third monthly Author Toolbox Blog Hop, created by Raimey Gallant to help writers connect and share our experience and advice. My past posts covered plot bunnies and the curse of comparison. Today, I want to discuss the stage of writing that I’m currently at, which is sharing my writing with readers!

Author Toolbox Blog Hop

I recently finished my first novel, The Fair Queen, and sent it to a few trusted friends and family to read. Some of them are actually proofreading it – I keep getting messages with grammatical errors and misspellings! I’m really grateful to them all, and so far everyone’s really enjoyed it, which is amazing to hear.

As scary as it may be, letting people read our work is the only way to progress – whether that’s improving our writing skills by getting feedback from readers and editors, or seeking to publish by sending our stories to agents and publishers. It’s an integral and crucial part of being a writer.

Let’s talk about the process of sharing our work with others.

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Critique Partners

From what I’ve read, most writers recommend having a Critique Partner. This is someone who really gets your writing – they most likely write within your same genre and age range so they really understand the requirements and standards of the genre.

A critique partner is basically a really good friend who loves your style of writing and enjoys reading your stuff. It should be a mutual relationship ideally – well, all the best friendships are! They should compliment the bits they like, critique the bits they don’t, and explain why it’s not working for them (if they can, it’s not always cut and dry). Ultimately, your critique partner should help you see past any blind spots you have for your own writing, and push you to improve your craft. Their work should inspire you to be a better writer, and yours should do the same for them.

The usual process with critique partners is to send short segments of your writing as you go, rather than sending a full manuscript at the end. You can agree on a frequency that suits both of you, whether that’s chapter by chapter, or 1,000 words at a time.

There are some great blogs about finding critique partners, I’ll leave a few links below rather than go into the how, as I haven’t actually got a critique partner so I’d rather you learnt from someone in the know!

And if you’re ready to find your one true critique partner, pop along here:

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Alpha Readers

I’ve seen the term alpha readers bandied about online, and from what I understand they are the people you love and trust to read your finished manuscript first. They’re the friends and family members with an eye for detail and a firm grasp of the English language who you know will appreciate your work and give you a list of notes to help make improvements before it goes out to beta readers.

They might not be big fans of your genre, or know anything about the writing craft, but they want to help you be the best you can be, and they’re willing to give you another perspective.

Not everyone uses alpha readers, or they might not call them that, they just give their MS to their husband/wife, or mum, and get another pair of eyes on it before anyone else sees it.

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Beta Readers

Now these are your potential fans, readers who are willing to read your polished MS and tell you which characters they love and hate, which plot twists they saw coming a mile off, and which romantic relationships felt forced. Beta readers probably won’t proofread, they might not even suggest any edits, but they will tell you what they liked and didn’t like about your book, and that is crucial to any writer. If you want your book to sell, it has to appeal to people other than yourself.

Beta readers might be fellow writers, if so it’s polite to offer to beta read their work in exchange for them reading yours. At the end of the day though, beta readers are just that – readers. They will look at your novel from the perspective of a reader and help you to make it as enjoyable as you possibly can. They’ll point out plot holes and inconsistencies, they might even act as sensitivity readers if they have experience of any of the issues within your story.

ABCs of alphas, betas, critique partners Lyndsey's Book Blog

Not every writer will want or need to use CPs, alphas and betas, but the more eyes you can get on your writing before sending it to a professional editor or submitting it to agents, the better. At the very least you should let a few people read your completed manuscript and highlight spelling/grammar issues and any plot holes you may not be able to see as you’re too close to the project.

You want to iron out as many creases in your work as you can before sending it to agents and publishers, querying can be an uphill battle and first impressions really do count. Don’t waste your chance at publishing by sending in a sloppy first draft that has never been seen by another human being.

I know how scary it can be to share your precious story with someone else, but it’s the only way to make it better, and if your intention is to publish then one day someone is going to read your work and you need to prepare yourself for that! The more people who tell you how great your writing is now – even if they critique it –Β the less it will hurt when that first negative review rolls in, and it will. It’s a fact of life for all writers. You can’t please everyone, and nor should you try. Write for yourself, or that one person you know will enjoy it, I promise you will find others who feel the same way.

Be brave, writer friends! Send your story to a friend today and start building your support network of readers, they’ll be the ones cheering the loudest when you bag that agent, sell your novel, and see your book on the shelf for the first time.

 

Lyndsey

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ABCs of readers Lyndsey's Book Blog

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51 thoughts on “The ABCs of alphas, betas & critique partners – Author Toolbox

    1. You’re welcome πŸ˜ƒ I think as long as someone else does read it you’re good, you wouldn’t believe the missing letters and misused words people found in my manuscript AFTER I’d done a third and final read through! We know our story too well and our brains start to skim unfortunately ☺️

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      1. It’s a YA fantasy, somewhere between City of Bones and Kiss of Deception πŸ™‚ I’ve written a few posts about it and if you subscribe by email you get the first three chapters πŸ˜€

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      2. Well it’s hard to pick similar books, it’s a portal fantasy where a teenage girl finds out there’s another realm with magic and she’s actually the daughter of a King from that realm… A bit like Narnia! πŸ˜„

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  1. Very helpful post! I only knew what Beta Readers do in details and had heard of CPs and Alpha Readers in passing. Good to be able to distinguish them at last πŸ˜€ And the links for learning and finding CPs really is going the extra mile at making this post comprehensive. Thanks!

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  2. I have a couple of writing friends who beta read for me – telling me what works from a reader’s perspective (and what doesn’t) and telling me when I have to kill a couple of darlings (from a writer’s perspective). For me it’s the best of having a critique partner and a beta reader without having to go through the process again and again – but that’s just my impatient nature πŸ˜‰ Advice I’ll add, though, is to listen and only change what you know has to and not just to please everyone.
    Great post πŸ™‚

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    1. That sounds perfect, I don’t think every step is necessary, it’s whichever suit you best. I don’t have a critique partner and I’d be nervous of sending chunks of my first draft to someone when they probably wouldn’t be the same if I kept them in at all during editing. You’re so right though, it’s important to go with your gut and only make changes you agree will improve your story. Having more than one person read it is really helpful because if they agree on an edit it’s probably right for the story, if they disagree you get to choose πŸ˜€

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    1. I can imagine, you need someone who’s a friend, an editor, a mentor and a fan all rolled into one! I’d be so nervous to share my ideas with someone before they were fully formed as well, there are some unscrupulous people out there unfortunately, but if you get to know them well first you can make sure they’re not the type to steal your story!

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  3. It should be “Writer, Write, Pen on Fire.” Just sayin’.

    Thanks for this post … I can really use it! I honestly struggle with what to ask betas and alphas to do. And I’ve yet to find a critique partner … maybe I can use those articles you linked to + what you said here to find one! I hope so. πŸ™‚

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    1. Same! I beta read for someone and she had such an organised system, she added me as a collaborator on the Google doc, and she had a table of chapters and the different types of comment she wanted (general, character, setting) and I could suggest edits directly on the doc or leave a comment in the box – it was impressive! I just handed my MS over to a few people and said tell me what you think, and point out any spelling mistakes. I might have to steal her system! πŸ™‚ The match up created by Maggie Stiefvater looks amazing, and people are still sharing their brief synopses and looking for CPs, so it’s worth a look if you’re in the market.

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  4. I’ve had critique groups, critique partners, and beta readers. I write very fast (NaNo style), so it’s better for me to send out a complete manuscript rather than chapter-by-chapter.
    I love to get feedback. It shows the depth and detail my readers employ. It also kicks me down a peg or two because I think I’ve caught every error, plot hole, or wrong word.
    Writing is a solitary business, but you need others to help navigate it!

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    1. I went to a writer’s group once for a fantasy talk, they did monthly writing prompts and then read out their work to each other – the idea turned my blood to ice! I’d be so nervous to share my writing in that kind of format, sending it to someone for them to read in their own time and come back to me with comments is fine, but seeing their face as they hear it and then getting critiqued on the spot sounds terrifying to me! So far everyone’s really enjoyed my novel which is lovely, and I suppose it gets less scary every time πŸ™‚

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  5. Great post! I’ve always wondered if alpha reader and critique partner were the same. Getting our work out there is scary and I’m a bit like you. I’m not confortable reading my work in front of an audience, I prefer sending it to them and get the comments in writing. πŸ™‚

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    1. I don’t know how I’ll cope if I actually get published and they ask me to do a book tour! πŸ˜€ I’ll just tell myself everyone is there because they love my writing already, that should work πŸ™‚

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  6. Useful information πŸ™‚
    As someone who has only shared a few short stories on her blog, but never her actual WIP with anyone, the idea of sharing can be terrifying! I never realised that you share short segments of writing at a time with critique partners though. That makes the idea much less daunting!

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    1. Yeah I think it’s because they’re fellow writers and don’t have time to sit and read your MS from start to finish, but they can read a chapter and see if you’re on the right track or need to make changes before getting too deep into the story. You should let someone read your MS! 😊 Even if its just your mum, my mum read mine and she’s really critical and has a good eye for detail, she picked out a few spelling errors and really enjoyed the book πŸ˜ƒ

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      1. I can relate to that, reading a chapter at a time is much easier to fit into a time schedule!
        I shall let someone read it when I’ve finished the first draft: At the moment my project is far too messy, and still full of notes πŸ˜€
        Your mum sounds awesome πŸ™‚ Mine barely has time to read the books she has, but I have a couple of friends who I’m sure will give it a first look πŸ™‚

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  7. Congratulations on publishing your first novel! That’s wonderful. I used beta readers, but I don’t work with critique groups. I find when I share my novel and am looking for feedback it’s helpful to be specific in what I’m looking for. My favorite direction to a beta reader: Tell me when you skim. To me this means my writing is boring and I’d better fix it before others read the story.

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    1. Oh I wish it was published! I just finished writing it and have let a few people read it before querying. I’m planning to take part in pitch wars so hopefully I’ll get a mentor to help perfect my query 😊

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  8. “Be brave, writer friends!” Truer words have never been spoken.

    You are so right about the necessity to share your work as a writer. I am lucky enough to have found a local writing community where I have found CPs and am blessed with a husband who is great at constructive criticism (and he really doesn’t hold back.) Just need to start finding beta readers for when the WIP is ready for them.

    Great breakdown of the differences between the three.

    Good luck with PitchWars! I’m sure you will do great!

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    1. My husband is really supportive and helpful too, how lucky are we? He helped me streamline the plot of my novel and remove things that might be inaccurate or improbable (he’s a policeman and very into details). Plus he made dinner for most of November! Lol. That’s awesome that you have a good local writing community, I’m so shy in person I don’t know if I could do it, I prefer the online community πŸ™‚ Thanks, for the luck, I’ve got my fingers crossed!

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  9. “but the more eyes you can get on your writing before sending it to a professional editor or submitting it to agents, the better”

    This.

    Editing will be cheaper if you can present your freelance editor with a clean manuscript which has a clear structure, a plot, and character arcs (yes, I’ve read manuscripts which score 0/3 on that test).

    I’ve also been sent manuscripts where the author said they’ve had no interest from the agents or editors they’ve submitted to. I can usually tell why not from the first page (telling, and omniscient POV are common culprits). Often the underlying stories have merit, but the author messed up their one chance to make a first impression.

    Using alpha readers, beta readers, and critique partners is vital for avoiding such mistakes!

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    1. I think some people just don’t do any research into the craft or how best to successfully query agents, it’s such a shame if they waste that chance just because they never let another person read their story. There’s no room for pride in publishing! πŸ™‚

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  10. That’s interesting that you don’t share full MSs with your CPs, that’s pretty much the only way I do it with mine unless I’m editing a certain section I need them to look at again. But I definitely agree–having eyes on your MSes is an absolutely invaluable experience. I would be lost without the readers I have!

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    1. From what I’ve read it’s usually section by section, but I’ve never had one so I’m sure it’s just whatever suits every individual πŸ™‚ I’m glad you’ve got some great readers though, you’re lucky! It can be really hard to find ones who mesh perfectly with you and your writing. Keep them close! πŸ™‚

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      1. Yeah, it’s just such strange thing you’ve read that everywhere when I’ve had dozens of CPs over the years, and maybe once it’s happened. You normally test compatibility by swapping a chapter/first fifty, but I dunno! Sorry for rambling, it’s just confusing and I talk things out when I’m confused. XD
        Oh yes, definitely! It’s taken a loooong time to get the few I have. πŸ™‚

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