If you’re an author who uses social media, you might see other writers talking about alpha readers, betas, and CPs (critique partners). These are all different roles and come into play at different parts of the writing process.
Here’s what you need to know.
Alpha readers are one of the earliest readers of your work. In fact, they typically read as you draft or see the very first, unedited draft of your manuscript.
I’ve talked briefly on social media about using alpha readers for the first time. You can read more in this Instagram post.
Rather than provide reader/market feedback, their goal is to provide feedback and look for general story issues, like awkward dialogue, plot holes, and incomplete characterization. First drafts are full of those kinds of problems, and when you’re really close to your own story, having this feedback can create a great roadmap for later self-edits.
There are several reasons why I love working with my alpha readers:
- I trust these friends deeply. I wouldn’t let anyone I don’t trust and respect read my unedited first draft! This is a vulnerable time in the writing process, and you need someone who can give gentle but pointed feedback.
- My two alpha readers give me very different feedback. One isn’t as interested in worldbuilding or setting details but is REALLY great with character reactions and pushing me on character goals and motives. The other has a more editorial style—which make sense because she’s also an editor! Both also give some ‘fangirl’ reactions in the comments, which is fun and keeps me engaged.
- They help me stay excited about my draft(s). They’re engaged in the story with me, and knowing they want to read more of my story is great motivation to keep going.
- They point out what they like. Those fangirl reactions? That’s part of what pointing out what they like about my drafts. Because really, receiving feedback isn’t just about what needs to be fixed; you need to know what is working. It’s good for morale and also helps you focus on what actually needs revisions.
If you’re going to share your unedited (or barely edited) first draft with an alpha reader, make sure they’re someone you know and trust to give you honest but kind feedback. You probably also want to work with someone who is both a writer and reader, as they will be able to point out different levels of questions, problems, and even potential solutions.
Beta readers come after alpha readers. These are people who read your manuscript once you’ve done some revisions. Their questions are going to be less involved than an alpha’s, providing more ‘big picture’ questions your ideal readers might have.
This is a great way to get feedback before sending your book to your editor or before querying agents.
Critique Partners (CPs)
Critique partners, often called CPs online, are similar to alpha readers, but they aren’t necessarily reading your unedited draft or following you closely as you write. Instead, you might swap semi-revised manuscripts with each other.
CPs are always other writers, and you’re both helping each other iron out snags in your respective manuscripts.
How do you find alphas, betas, and CPs?
You can find alpha and beta readers and CPs lots of places! Nowadays, social media and the Internet are the obvious answers. Places like Instagram and Twitter can be helpful. There are Facebook groups dedicated to this. The website CritiqueMatch also looks like a great resource–though full disclaimer, I haven’t used it yet!
You might also work with someone you know from a critique group, shifting your focus to one-on-one time and more in-depth analyses.
How do you find the right alphas, betas, and CPs?
This is the tricky part, right? There are plenty of people willing to volunteer for these jobs. Many writers have compared this process to dating, and I’d agree; you have to find the right alpha/beta/CP for you.
Maybe you need a critique partner with an eye for worldbuilding because you know it’s a weakness in your drafts. You might need an alpha reader who is gentle with their feedback. Maybe you want a beta reader who will push you to your limits and be really blunt in their comments.
The point is that this is a deeply personal process, and you should find the right person for you. You also want to find someone who knows and reads your genre. For example, someone who reads exclusively country western romances might not be a great fit for your urban fantasy novel.
Once you find someone you think you might like to partner up with, what comes next?
- Consider it a trial at first. Don’t just send them your entire manuscript! If they’re an alpha or beta reader, send them a few chapters to see their feedback style. If you want to be critique partners, swap a roughly equal word count. Just see how it goes. Agree to a trial period and go from there.
- Set deadlines. If you need your chapters/manuscript back by a certain date, make that very clear. At the same time, be reasonable; don’t ask someone to alpha read your 100k-word novel draft in three days.
- Remember that it’s okay to ask your alpha/beta/CP specific questions outside of the other feedback they give. Maybe you’re concerned about one aspect of your worldbuilding, or maybe you want to know how they react to that ONE scene! Don’t be afraid to ask.
- Remember that criticism isn’t always easy to digest. Even those writers with the toughest skin will sometimes feel the sting of criticism, even when it’s phrased kindly and very well-meaning. But don’t dwell on it; your feedback partner is there to help you. Writing is not a solitary process, and even the biggest, most famous authors have a team helping them strengthen their drafts.
- It’s okay if you want to end the partnership. If someone is being rude, or if you find you just don’t like their feedback style, you should definitely end that partnership. Just like every potential romantic partner isn’t for you, neither is every writing feedback partner.
Should I be worried about someone stealing my draft/idea?
This is a question I get from clients all the time. They want to work with a beta reader or CP, but they’re afraid someone is going to steal their idea or entire manuscript.
To that, I can’t give any guarantees. There are crappy people out there. But that’s why it’s so important to work with people you know and trust.
Also, remember that if you’re working with other writers, they’re probably invested in their own ideas and worried about the same thing as you. The vast majority of people looking for feedback or interested in giving it to other writers are well-meaning and really invested in the writing community’s success as a whole.
Can I skip hiring an editor if I have an alpha, beta, and CP?
Nope. Sorry! Alpha readers, betas, and CPs are absolutely invaluable and a crucial part of the drafting and revising process.
But it’s still not the same as working with a qualified, professional editor.
That said, if you’re planning on querying and have worked with multiple feedback partners through multiple drafts, you might consider skipping the professional edit. Agents know your manuscript won’t be in exactly perfect shape. But if you’re still not feeling confident about your story or don’t know how to revise after your other feedback, it might be time to invest in a developmental edit with a professional freelance editor.
How much feedback is too much?
Whether you want to work with alpha readers or focus solely on beta feedback, having a range of feedback can bring balance to your revisions and point out what different readers might think. You don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen, but a core group you trust for feedback can make a big difference in your process and final product.
I don’t think there’s a magic number here, but having 1-3 people at each stage (alpha, beta, critique) is probably the maximum I would do. Too many opinions start to crowd the field and make revisions harder than they need to be.
Your Next Steps
If you’re still working on your draft, it might be time to reach out to a couple of trusted writer friends and talk about alpha feedback! And if you’re later in the process, I encourage you to find a beta reader or CP to start working with. Having feedback from other writers you trust and respect will only strengthen your manuscript and push you toward being an even better writer.
Good luck and happy writing!
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Thanks for the detailed information.