Tuesday, October 26, 2010

21 Alpha & Beta Reader Exchange

I read a post yesterday about someone finally finding a beta reader after going it alone forever. And a while back, when I posted about the types of critiquers, there was a lot of interest. So, I'm going to try something a little different today. I'm pimping. Hopefully I will hook you up.

Here's how it's going to work. I'm going to define two of many types of critiquers: alpha readers and beta readers. Then I'm going to ask anyone who is interested in doing an alpha or a beta read in the near future to comment below this post. Anyone who needs an alpha or a beta read can check in with you, but once you have committed to enough reads, be sure to comment again to take yourself off the list. If you want readers yourself, you can use the list to contact them--after checking the whole list to make sure they aren't full up. Readers, please, please make sure there is contact information somewhere to reach you!

Alpha and beta readers are both crucial to the success of a book. Often, it can take multiple passes with a lot of rewrites and drafts in between to get your story right. It's possible we also need a post on the proper care and feeding of readers, including the fact that they should always be acknowledged in your book, but for now, I'll let you figure out how to show your appreciation properly. Meanwhile, on to explaining the difference.

Alpha Readers: Alphas read the first draft or a portion of it at a time, a third or a half, etc., to tell you what is working and what isn't. They are looking ONLY for macro things including:
  • concept and marketability
  • plot making sense
  • structure working for the story
  • interest and variation in the setting
  • action rising and falling as appropriate
  • voice sounding authentic and credible
  • main character seeming likable and believable
  • emotional connection
  • tension to keep the reader turning pages
  • trends in language, diction, grammar, punctuation, etc. that need to be corrected or changed
Alpha readers should not be marking individual word choices or doing line editing. They aren't really even looking at things like action beats in dialogue that don't make sense. Truly, an alpha read is a BIG PICTURE read. It makes no sense to look at little things, because the little things may--and probably will--change. The whole scene could get thrown out, and all the work and effort of critiquing it would be wasted. If an alpha reader encounters a problem, she should make a comment in the margin about believability, or being taken out of the story, or being confused, or finding herself skimming etc. But that's as far as it goes until she writes an overall report on the individual issues and strengths of the piece.

Beta Readers: Betas are looking for the same things as your alphas, but in theory the plot and structure should already be in place, you should know your characters are likable and capable of getting your readers involved and connected. You should have read through, and hopefully had your critique partners read through, the manuscript several times to check for grammar. That should leave a beta reader able to read smoothly, the same way she would if she was reading a book. And the beta reader, ideally, should do things in two passes. On the first pass, she should look for everything but line edits to make sure there aren't whole sections that will need to be deleted or rewritten. But because that shouldn't be true at this point, and because typos and grammatical errors should be few and far between, she should mark them when she sees them. As she reads, a beta reader is looking for:
  • pacing and structure
  • a smooth beginning without info dump
  • a non-sagging middle with plenty of conflict
  • a taut, satisfying climax and ending
  • plot holes that need to be filled
  • resolution of all subplots
  • general structural problems
  • variation and detail in the setting
  • main character seeming likable and believable
  • places where the emotional connection is lost
  • scenes, paragraphs, or passages that don't seem credible or authentic
  • anywhere the voice or point of view seem to have been lost or violated
  • sections where she is skimming because the action or pacing is off
  • specific instances where language, diction, grammar, punctuation, need to be corrected or changed
These are tall orders. Most readers don't know what they are looking for. They simply read and mark line edits, or one or two issues that need to be repaired. They aren't seeing the big picture or articulating problems that left them less than satisfied when they reached the end. That kind of a reader makes a good critique partner. An alpha and beta reader, however, needs a different set of chops. Alphas and betas have to be good critical readers. Critical reading will also help you develop your writing skills. Truly, it's a win, win situation.

Are you ready to go? Think you have what it takes? Put yourself to the test. Leave a comment with your contact information, what you've been reading, and what you are reading now. Also be sure to say whether you want to alpha or to beta!

Happy reading!



  1. What a great idea! I'm up for being either alpha or beta, but I think I'd be stronger with beta. That was the approach I used to take in writing workshops. I found it really helped me with my own writing.

    Right now I'm re-reading Catcher in the Rye, but I've recently read things from YA fiction to writing handbooks. I feel I'd be strongest critiquing literary/realistic fiction.

    You can contact me via allison(at)allisonwrites.com, and also check out my blog (and what I've been reading) at www.allisonwrites.com.

  2. What a great idea! I'd be happy to be a beta! I'm currently reading a lot of YA paranormal, dystopian, and sci-fi.

    My email address is emilywhite_1112(at)yahoo(dot)com. You can also come visit me at www.emilytwhite.blogspot.com.

  3. Thanks so much for doing this! Fantastic idea :)

    I'd love to be either an Alpha or a Beta, though I'd probably be better at Beta reading.

    I would also love to find a Beta for my own work - a YA Fantasy/paranormal that I'm getting ready to query (though I do stray to writing adult sci-fi/fantasy occasionally)

    I'm currently reading a ton of YA and Paranormal/Urban Fantasy, but I'll read almost anything. My email address is greyjamie1(at)gmail(dot)com. And my blog lists more of the recent books I've read. http://greyjamie.blogspot.com

  4. What a great idea! I'm looking for an alpha for the first half of my YA urban fantasy. ...And possibly the whole thing if I finish the second half while you're reading the first.

    I just started reading the Prophecy of the Sisters after a break from fiction for awhile to read The Fire in Fiction.

    You can see my blog at madameduck.blogspot.com
    or email me at acasile AT gmail DOT com


  5. This is such a great idea! I'd love to Beta read. I read everything from YA to Romance to Literary Fiction to Nonfiction. I am also looking for alpha readers for my own current WIP which is contemporary women's fic/romance.
    I can be contacted at cweaksblog@gmail.com or http://charissaweaks.blogspot.com

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  7. Love this. I am happy to read for any YA, spec fiction, or historical romance projects -- These are the areas I write in as well and would love to have a partner in crime! Contact me at thebluestockingblog@gmail.com or via my blog as well: thebluestockingblog.blogspot.com

    Thanks to Marissa and Martina for this!

  8. I love that you broke the Alpha & Beta down into manageable bites. I am going to bookmark this page so I can give with my ms to family and friends.

    My current WIP is almost complete (I mean days away!) and I am open to reading as an Alpha. I write adult horror, but enjoy reading YA with a horror, Sci-fi, or paranormal bend. You can reach me at lsamantha500(at)hotmail(dot)com.

  9. Thanks for the informative post, and for the postings--I found myself a new beta critter to try out! Excellent!

  10. What a great idea! Good luck everyone on finding a benefical partnership. :D

  11. Yes, this definitely fills a need! Hope many matches are made here!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  12. Thanks so much for this info! I wasn't aware of all these details. Would love to be a part of something like this, but won't sign up now - too many other commitments. Perhaps in the future!

  13. What a great service! And thank you for the lists of what to look for. Definitely starring this post. :)

  14. What I fabulous idea - thanks for doing this. It can be hard to find like-minded critiquers.

    I'm happy to alpha or beta read - and I have experience at both, as I've been in a couple of critique groups.

    I've been devouring the entire YA fantasy/paranormal section of my bookstore and library. Recent favors include Graceling and Fire and I just ordered Grace, Hunger and Plain Kate.

    I would also like alpha/beta readers for my own YA fantasy project.

    Please contact me at gillysegal at gmail.com

  15. I'm going to have to take my name out of this now that I've got a quite a list now! Sorry! And thanks again for arranging this!

  16. I've done this on my blog before--so much fun. Hope some of your readers find a match. I'm also doing an experiment on twitter using the #betamatch hashtag to try to connect people to betas as well. So if anyone is interested in that, just check out the hashtag. :)

  17. Either alpha or beta is great with me! I'm reading Middle Grade, adult horror, and YA - whatever I can get my hands on!

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  19. What a wonderful idea! I'm always looking for CP to read my work. I feel comfortable being an alpha or beta reader. However I have had more experience as a beta reader through my writing groups.

    I read mostly MG to adult realistic fiction and historical fiction and some fantasy. I am up for reading anything but sci-fi and horror.

    I am also looking for a beta reader for my finished WIP YA historical fiction.

    You can contact me through my blog at haleywhitehall.wordpress.com

  20. Superb idea! I can alpha or beta. I need an alpha or beta. Anyone interested we can swap stories. I'm currently editing my YA urban fantasy.

    I read YA paranormal, dystopian, urban fantasy, Adult historical.
    my email is muoki.cece at gmail (dot) com

  21. I write action,christian fiction, comedy e -mail francisdavenport1957@rocketmail.com. My pen name is Francis Davenport. My heroine name is Ebony Diamond Davenport.


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