The Writer’s Sorority: Alpha vs Beta

alpha2Alphas, Betas…delta sigma phi? The last doesn’t exist in the writing world, but for as many years as I have been writing, I only heard about betas—you know, those people who read your work after you’ve done a 1,000 drafts on it and hope to God it’s finally really done. The idea of alphas and the fact that I have been using them all along was quite a revelation.

What is an alpha reader?

The first person you let lay eyes on your first draft is an alpha reader. It’s a person you trust to read past your unpolished beloved mess and guide you on what parts they loved, what they didn’t like, the characters they connected with, and the ones that needed more development. Your alpha should always provide you with honest feedback supportive to helping you revise and rewrite the story to refined greatness. They should be an encouragement to keep going, citing only those aspects of the story that would enhance it and praise the parts that are well done.  You may use your alpha many times over until the necessary revisions are finished.

Your #alpha reads your unpolished manuscript and offers feedback. @theauthorSAM #amediting… Click To Tweet

What is a beta reader?

When you’ve put the shine on your story and finished revisions, that is when you call in the beta.

A beta reader is a friend, writing partner, trusted associate that you turn your manuscript over to after you’ve done all the revisions suggested by your alpha and caught on your own. The idea of the beta reader is that they are a casual reader, not looking for grammar, editing, and other mistakes, but their opinion overall of your story. They share the parts they enjoyed and highlight the parts they found weaker. They catch the issues hidden from you during your billion revisions—like that missing word, typo, and improper usage of those psycho pronouns they’re/their/there. They should be supportive yet honest, an asset to your next round of revisions. They play a role after you’ve done all your alpha has suggested.

You want to #edit as much as possible before finding a #beta #reader. @theauthorSAM #amediting… Click To Tweet

Where can I join this sorority?

It’s true that finding quality alphas and betas can be one of the hardest parts of writing. Often friends and family are afraid to hurt your feelings, so they don’t provide real feedback that helps you turn your mess into perfection. You aren’t really doing yourself a favor if you continue to use these people over and over again.

With so many writing communities out there, it can still be difficult to find alphas and betas that know exactly what is expected of them. They are not editors at all. They shouldn’t concern themselves with your overuse of commas, your run-on and fragmented sentences, and whether you need a dash, emdash, or ellipsis. They are readers first and foremost. They are your first “reviewer,” the first to offer feedback on your story.

#Writing partners cheer you on when your inkwell runs dry. @theauthorSAM #amwriting #writer … Click To Tweet

What should I look for?

Writing communities like ours are the best places to start. You should seek readers that enjoy the genre of the manuscript, are familiar with your writing, and are known to give honest, constructive feedback. Another important factor is time. You should always ask a potential reader how long it will take them and set a deadline for them to get back to you. Seek out a writing partner, someone with whom you can trade stories, someone you can always count on to be available to read over your stuff when you need it. Writing partners are so much more than alphas and betas, however. They cheer you on when your inkwell is dry. They brainstorm with you when you can’t quite get the idea out. They are valuable assets to any writer, a partner with which to celebrate and cry over all of your successes and rejections.

We offer many services to authors, including the option for a writing partner in our Facebook group, Our Write Side Book Club. Join our “sorority” today and jump right in the conversation, find an alpha, gain great advice, share a work for critique, or just spill your writing woes to sympathetic and understanding colleagues.

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Stephanie Ayers

Stephanie Ayers is a full-time world-building ninja, seven-time published author, and graphic designer enjoying the country life in central Virginia, while crafting her own story and resisting growing up at all costs. She mothers her children, loves her husband, attends church, and avoids all things zombies.
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Comment (2)

  • Ohita Afeisume| August 15, 2016

    Thanks, Stephanie for this post. My joining the Wadiya Writers’ Group in Colombo has given me the opportunity to have both alpha and beta readers to critique my work. My writing has improved greatly as a result.

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      Stephanie Ayers| August 16, 2016

      I’m so glad you found a writing community that is very active for you. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’m glad our writing advice is contributing to your growth as a writer. It’s what we set out to do.

      Happy writing!

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