Partials, alphas, and betas, oh my!

One of the things I’ve been hashing out with a of the members of my critique group is the different kinds of feedback, and the value of each.

What sparked this discussion is the fact that both of us spend a lot of time editing parts of our wips that will end up being cut, or re-written entirely.

It occured to me one of the ways to reduce this time was to have an alpha reader (someone who reads your manuscript as it is after a first draft). It was pointed out to me that not many people have the time (or the inclination, if we’re being honest) to alpha read.

I’m also not certain if having a manuscript alpha read is the best idea. It seems to me that this type of feedback can lead the manuscript in another direction: one belonging to someone other than the original author. But, then again, maybe not. Yet, more importantly to have someone alpha read for me, would be giving away precious time. Time that I would spend with my characters and in my world, getting to know them even better. I don’t think it would be worth the trade off.

I’ve had partials read, and for me personally those help point out weaknesses that I’m too close to see. Good feedback will ask me questions that enable me to dig deeper into my world. And I’ve been lucky – I have gotten excellent feedback.

Betas are crucial for me. Without them my second to last draft would be missing some of that shine. They help point out the lags, and any relationship misconceptions or plot strains. This type of feedback is invaluable, and if I had to pick only one type of feedback to receive it would be this one.

I’m convinced (most of the time) that all this editing – much of it what I perceive as superfluous – is absolutely necessary for me to get my ms to its end stage. There’s just no milky chocolate path, or yellow brick road, that enables me to bypass it. And if I consider it, I’m not sure I’d want to bypass it, after all part of what I love about writing is being immersed in my work. It’s just nice to find the tools that help along the way.

What about you, have you given or received partial, alpha, or beta feedback? And  what have you gotten from the different types of feedback?



10 thoughts on “Partials, alphas, and betas, oh my!

  1. I’ve never thought about this. Lately I’ve just been finishing a draft and swapping it with whomever will read. I might not read ther feedback immediately, but I want it so that when I’m ready to edit I’ll have something to work with and consider.

  2. I do have an alpha reader for my short stories, and that’s partly out of my insecurity. She mainly answers my question, “Is this something worth working on?” 🙂

    For feedback on fully-drafted novels, I’ve always had a critique group. The members of my last, and best, group read 3 or 4 chapters of Brevity at a time and gave feedback. Then, after editing from that feedback, I had a few betas read the final draft.

    1. Linda, it sounds like you have a fantastic support group.
      I think this insecurity is in each of us, and sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between when we’re being too hard on ourselves, and when something just isn’t working.

  3. I have a couple of alphas. They read my first drafts – either as I write, or once the first draft is done. If it’s during the writing process, their main role is to tell me whats working for them and encourage me onward, perhaps give some feedback on what they would like to see more of, but never so much as to put me off my process or get in the way of the writing. Basically, they are my cheerleader!

    At the end of the first draft, any feedback is golden as it helps me to see other ways of viewing what I have written, though this alpha reader is different to the first I mentioned, they are still thinking about the bigger picture. I have one who makes lots of comments, many of which leave me giggling – his feedback seems designed to make sure that I feel positive and encouraged, while also showing me which aspects of the novel as a whole need working on. I pick my alphas carefully because they need to be able to see where the potential is and their comments will help me towards shaping the final story line. The readers I have know my writing pretty well, they know my style and don’t ever seem to suggest things that don’t line up with MY vision – they don’t try to make the story their own.

    I never send anything in first draft out to someone who is not an alpha, or if I do it’s with the attached warning that its a first draft, and as such, I still have work to do on it – the reason I try not to send first drafts is because often the comments will suggest things I had already picked up on, so I feel like I’m wasting their time and mine.

    I only send to betas once I’ve got it to a point where I can’t see what else I can do it on and need another opinion. These readers go through with a fine tooth comb and point every little flaw or inconsistency out to me. They give me their impressions on the novel and ideas for things they want to see more/less of, or whatever else crops up for them. By the time I send it to betas the story is more solid, so it’s more about the details within the story, character motivations, anything that sticks out.

    Like Linda, once I’ve made more revisions, I get another set of eyes on the story to see whether there is anything else I’ve missed. I think it’s really important to pick your alpha readers carefully, beta readers are a different kettle of fish, as by that stage your story should be pretty solid anyways, but if your alphas aren’t a good fit, you’re likely to feel disheartened and discouraged. I find that being really clear with people about what I am looking for helps (ie: please don’t worry about the grammar and punctuation! I still have editing to do, and those things will be picked up – I leave proofing until last).

    Wow, sorry about the big comment!!!

    1. Thanks for such an indept response, I really appreciate it, JC!!
      You have such a nice system going on here – I’m envious!!!
      I really like how you have fitted it all together, yet every step is clear and distinct.
      I can see how this method does not take anything away from you and your connction / immersion with your work – if anything I think it enhances it.

      I’m really curious how you managed to find and ensure that each reader is the right fit?

      1. I usually ‘know’ a writer for some time before trading stories with them, that way I can get a feel for who they are as a person, and as a writer, and can make a reasonable assumption about whether we’d mesh as crit partners. I am all for trying people out – trading a chapter, or a short story, and giving feedback, from which we can both make decisions about whether we want to move into ‘reader’ zone, or just stay writer friends. It’s only a good relationship if both people are happy, so open communication is a must. Some people just aren’t going to work well together as readers – it doesn’t have to mean the end of the friendship 🙂

        This system really works for me! I have a bunch of people who I read for, and who read for me – not everyone sees everything, obviously different genres or themes are going to hit the spot with different readers. Plus, having a lot of people to ask means that I’m not burning any readers out, and get a nice range of feedback. The more the merrier lol

      2. Good for you, Casie! It’s great that you have created such a network for yourself!

        I have my live group, and we read partials on a monthly basis, and we beta read for each other.

        I have just recently swapped work with someone that I only know from here in the blogosphere. We have known each other since my very first blogging days, and it’s going really well on my part (not sure but I may be driving her crazy with my nit picking). I was always hesistant to swap work with someone I didn’t know for ‘real’, but this just happened naturally, and I certainly see the benefit.

        Thanks for taking me through all this, it’s very helpful.

  4. I found Alpha feedback destructive rather than constructive…as you say, at that stage one hasn’t really spent enough time with the characters one has created and early interference by another party has typically made me give up the entire project and start something else instead. I don’t let anyone see my writing until I’m happy I know the characters I’m writing about really well and THEY know where the story’s going…at that stage I’m confident I can deal with critics and accept suggestions without loosing confidence and more importantly, the will to continue writing the story.

    1. Hi Maria! Nice to see you – it has been some time!

      Congratulations on the release of your book! Looks like fun, I’ll pass the link on to my niece who is 11 (my own kids are still too young, but I’ll keep you in mind! :))

      We all have different experiences, don’t we? It’s good you know what works for you,and what doesn’t. I know that sometimes at the early drafting stage it’s hard to see the visiont the author has. As JC points out, one has to be very selective with alpha readers, and your own comment here affirms that to me – shoudl I decide to endevour to find an alpha reader.

      All the best with your book~

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