Sunday, May 15, 2011

Alpha Readers (a.k.a. Critique Partners)

So, a little while ago, I won a 1,000-word critique from Michelle Merrill. She sent it back with all sorts of comments and suggestions. She made one comment (which I'm sure she didn't think would mean anything) that really got me thinking and pointed out a major flaw in my subsequent chapters (and it was actually a positive comment).

Now, I should clarify the difference between alpha-readers/critique partners and beta-readers (which the guys over at Writing Excuses helped me understand, so go visit them here). Alpha readers (or critique partners, whichever term you prefer) are the people you send bits and parts to during your writing process; they help you keep your story moving in the direction you want to go. They help you identify problems so you can fix them (without having to rewrite your entire book). They are the ones who can tell what you are trying to do (and don't try and get you to do what they would do) and help do it better. These are the people you want it a writing group.

Beta readers are the people you send your book to once it's finished (I use 'finished' loosely). They provide you with general feedback to the story as a whole. They give you substantive feed back on plot and character and writing, based on a comprehensive evaluation of the story. Just about anyone can be a beta reader, as long as they know how to explain why they think what they do.

Alpha readers are going to be infinitely more helpful than beta readers, but they're a lot harder to find. And, unfortunately, the only way to find them is trial and error. So, if you meet a fellow writer that you like, ask him/her to join your writing group, or at least to exchange manuscripts (like I said before, usually only a chapter or two at a time), and see if you are a good match.

So, do you have a critique partner? How did you find him/her? How has your CP helped you?


  1. Having great critique partners is a definitely like receiving a gift. They really do help. I belong to a group and swap chapters with other writers on occassion.

    And I agree, it is trial and error to find partners/groups you click with. :)

    Great post.

  2. Oh, I love Michelle! She's one of my critique partners, and we knew each other from high school. :)

    I found my other critique partners through Twitter, actually. It was kind of a fluke. I followed another local writer, she saw that we wrote in the same genre, and invited me to join her critique group. And they. are. awesome! I was really lucky.

  3. You nailed it, Reece. It wasn't until last year that I finally understood the difference between the two. I don't know what I would do without my Alphas and Betas, even though my Alphas get more work from me than my Betas. :)

  4. So that's the difference! I had been thinking for a while that the two--CP and beta reader--were interchangeable. (I suppose it's obvious I don't have a critique partner, then. :P)

  5. Love this post! I just started looking and critiquing others. Not because I don't have a ton of things that need both beta and CPs, but because I've been clutching onto my work as if it was going to explode if anyone else read it.
    Turns out it won't.

    I do need another partner that likes fantasies. Because I have a few that need betas and a few that need alphas. (fun terms.)

    Nice "meeting" you Reece.

  6. I honestly just started with a critique partner last year. Now there are four of us, and it's really fun getting together. We all write different genres, which is kind of hard, but kind of good at the same time. It makes me work harder to keep them interested in my stories. Which is working so far... Hopefully! :) I also met Michelle a few months ago and we've been critiquing each others pages as well. Love her!
    Alpha readers are harder to find. I have one that I send stuff to, but haven't really found another one. I also haven't been looking really hard either. I probably should...
    Great post!

  7. I've always wondered what the difference was! Thanks! And BTW, I'm Chantele's critique partner and she doesn't have to work too hard to keep us interested.:)

  8. I've also always wondered what the difference was. I've had many betas, and than people started talking about alphas, and I thought, "Uh-oh, I missed a step." Thanks for the info!