S2, E21: Alpha, Beta, Gamma

Let’s talk feedback, as in getting feedback on your work and just what the heck people mean by alpha, beta, and gamma readers! In this episode I go through what each of those means and what you can generally expect for each. I’ll also talk a bit about how to find readers and give some general tips on handling the feedback you get.

  • Why get feedback on your writing before it’s submitted or ready for publication?
    • We can’t always see the flaws in our work, especially if we’re heavily invested in it emotionally or time wise
    • While it is always “our” story, it is important to consider reader reaction; staying true to your story does not mean you write badly, leave too many readers confused or trying to slog through a story that’s unreadable due to errors
  • Alpha Readers:
    • Alphas are your first line readers who read through early drafts, often the first draft, or just single chunks of in progress work to help determine if the story is going in the right direction
    • Feedback from alphas is focused on purely high level stuff: plotting, pacing, character development, story arcs, inconsistencies in the story, voice & overall style, marketability, and work as a whole; pretty much no line editing at this point unless it’s a complete derail (i.e. wrong character name, etc)
    • Feedback is generally “briefer” in that you usually get some per chapter/scene notes and notes on the overall work, but few line by line markings; it also is usually faster – the regular time it would take them to read a novel
    • Alphas also generally make great sounding boards for ideas you come up with during the revision process, i.e. what do you think if I do X instead of Y?
    • Ideally you’ll want 2-3 alpha readers, but unfortunately, can be the hardest to find!
      • Most critiquing/workshopping sites don’t like “rough” work, though some will allow it with notes (fair warning: most people ignore the notes). So it often comes down to very trusted people you know who will honestly tell you the good and bad of things; personally I prefer my alphas to be non-writers as well, as I’ve found that most fellow writers tend to be unable to get past line editing and getting into critique mode (i.e. beta reading)
      • Some writers will look for alpha readers on sites like GoodReads – I personally shy away from that versus reputable critique sites; I just can’t see it as a good way to find someone trustworthy and dependable, though clearly it does work for some of them. Others may post a call for alphas on their social media or websites, but again I think you must be even more careful here as it would also make it much easier for some less honorable people to get a hold of your work. And no, I don’t believe there are tons of people out there stealing others works, but sadly it does happen at times, and with the scope of the Internet it can be months or even years that you find out, if ever, that someone took your rough draft and threw it up as an eBook somewhere. So much like you lock your house even though 99% of the people around aren’t trying to rob you, take sensible precautions when looking for someone to be an alpha or beta reader.  This does not, however, include officially registering your copyright early (sure sign of an amateur) or requiring a non-disclosure agreement (unless maybe you work in non-fiction or something).
    • Beta Readers:
      • Your work is ready for beta readers when you’re fairly happy with it and it’s almost at the final draft
      • Beta’s give more detailed feedback than alphas as they look at all the stuff the alphas did, but hopefully most of that is settled so they can also focus more on line editing and the “nitpicks”; feedback can also take longer, a month or two for a whole work as each chapter can take 1-2 hours apiece.
      • Ideally your beta readers should be different from your alphas and you’ll want to get 3-6 if possible; finding betas is much easier, as you can find fellow writers who will trade critiques through trusted sites like Critique Circle andScribophile and often within your local writing group (and if you local writing group has no workshop function – maybe you could get one started! 🙂 )
        • The draw back with critique sites though is that they are generally chapter focused; finding someone to beta the whole novel can be tricker. For whole novel review, I’d look to fellow writers you know and trust, preferably with a mix of those who do and don’t read your genre.
    • Gamma:
      • Less commonly used term, but basically post Beta readers
      • Gamma readers give your work a final read through after you’ve processed the feedback from your beta readers and before going to the editor/submission; can also be considered going back to the Beta stage
      • This level can generally be skipped unless you made a big changes to key elements
    • For extra fun and confusion:
      • some people forgo the idea of alphas all together so that no one ever reads their rough work
      • others use the term beta readers to apply to a blend of alpha/beta, such that they are reading an early draft but also giving line edits on that work
    • Paid feedback
      • Sometimes, it can be hard to find alpha or beta readers, especially good ones you can work with on a regular basis
      • There are services out there that will provide similar feedback – either at the alpha or beta level – for a price
      • Would be a last resort option – can costs $100s of dollars and you’re still just getting 1 person’s view, even if it is a “professional” editor
    • Handling the feedback
      • Thank the person, profusely; whether you agree or disagree, be polite and thank them for their time; they did you a favor! And never argue with a critiquer, even if you disagree. Again, thank them and be on your way if you can’t say anything nice beyond that.
      • After reading received feedback – do nothing! Let it sit for a period of time, a few days, a week. Then read it again with fresh eyes and, hopefully, with all the initial reactions out of the way
      • Remember, it’s your story, so take what you can use and toss the rest if suggestions/comments would dramatically alter your story
      • But, also consider the why behind comments. If someone says they don’t get a character, is it because the character really is confusing or that you haven’t put in enough of their personality to let them be understood?
      • If the person giving you feedback is okay with it and you do have follow up questions, then ask them (i.e. to clarify a remark or maybe ask “if I did this would it help clear things up” – but again, no arguing!
      • Return the favor! One most critique sites its required that you give critiques to get them, and this applies to all level of feedback.  It’s one reason its important to cultivate relationships with folks who can be good alphas or betas, particularly betas if you like me aim for non-writers for alphas: so you can help each other with feedback!

Progress Report:
It’s the start of a new month!  So how did I do with the monthly goals?

  • I’m 2 days late, but the novel adaptation’s line editing is done! I’ll be applying to my formatted copy after I post this episode and should be able to get everything submitted for proofing by the end of the day.
  • For Aisiru, I certainly didn’t get 4 chapters editted…more like 1 or 2. To better address this, I’ve redone my weekly schedule, dropping two things that are not as important to get done right now and giving Aisuru and the novel adaptation project 2 days a week each.
  • I’ve also met one of my yearly goals in deciding what my second novel release will be

Monthly Goals: Edit at least 4, preferably 8, chapters of Aisuru and write the first draft of new scene; write at least 8 chapters of Tome 2 of the novelization project

Randomness: “The Everything Wrong With…” YouTube channel by Cinema Sins. (http://www.youtube.com/user/CinemaSins)