Alphas, betas, and CPs, oh my!!
In my last post I talked about Pitch Wars, and how important it is to build your writing community. A few of you reached out on Twitter to ask me how to go about building this community and finding your critique partners, so that’s what I’ll talk about this week! Also, at the bottom of this post, you’ll find instructions for participating in the CP connection I’m opening up in the comments!
First, let’s break down the terms I’ll be using throughout this post:
Alphas: This isn’t a term that gets used very often, but alpha readers are the ones who view your manuscript in its absolute worst condition. They will read your work in its raw form, AKA the first draft. Many authors don’t like to use them, because we want to present the best draft we currently know how to produce at all times.
Betas: Beta readers read your manuscript and provide general feedback on one of your drafts. You would likely send your work to betas after you edit it yourself, and are looking for how to improve your work.
CP: Critique partner. The term “partner” here means that there’s an equal exchange. They put time and effort into reading your manuscript (whether it be chunks at a time or the whole thing), and provide detailed feedback. You’re expected to eventually do the same for them.
What’s the difference between a CP and a beta reader?
So this is kind of a tough one, as I’ve noticed different people will give you different answers. For me, I use betas when I’m mostly done editing and am looking to get general feedback from a group of 3-4 readers. When I say “general feedback,” I’m looking for things like: did you like the book? Did it ever feel slow? Did you hate any of my characters? Did things make sense? You want readers to tell you their overall impression on how your book made them feel.
For critique partners, I recommend having two, maybe three. These are the readers whose opinions you really trust, and who dive deeply into your work. They will not only tell you your pacing sucks, but will also recommend strategies to remedy this. If something isn’t working with your character, they should explain why, and give their suggestions. They are more of the technical helpers, rather than just providing general feedback.
So, to recap this, I use trusted CPs to provide me with detailed information about how to better my work, and I use a group of beta readers to better understand the general impression of how people are feeling about my book.
Well that’s cool and all, but why do I need a CP? Or a beta reader?
Because unless you are a magical wizard, your work can always use the help.
Think about it for a second. You’ve spent weeks, months, maybe even years writing a manuscript. You’ve fallen in love with the plot and the characters. That giant amazing twist took you MONTHS to figure out. You’ve made pretty aesthetics, have done one edit pass, and you think all is well.
But you’re too close to your work to really know that.
Getting another perspective from someone who has never read your manuscript before is, in my opinion, one of the absolute best things you can do for yourself. I’m surprised I still have any friends, because every time I have a new project ready to be read, I send them sweet texts and beg until they agree to read it (not that I recommend this technique. Haha). Others will point out issues you would never have thought of, and raise questions and ideas you never had. Everyone’s mind works so differently, and every reader is going to bring something different to the table. This is invaluable.
But what if everyone has different feedback? Or what if I don’t agree with something?
Here’s the thing, you don’t have to agree. But you do have to be polite. That’s not optional.
Someone just spent hours of their time reading your book and trying to help you. They get NOTHING out of this. If you disagree with their opinion, then thank them and politely ignore it, but do not fight them on it or belittle their opinion. I love my CPs; they’re amazing, but they’re not always going to be right (though most of the time they are! <3) You as the writer know your characters and story better than anyone else, and only you know what’s right and what changes will strengthen your story.
That said, if 3 people tell you something is seriously off, then it’s probably seriously off, even if you disagree. It’s time to thicken your skin and truly consider the issue being presented.
How do I know if this CP is right for me?
Finding the right critique partner is harder than online dating, I swear. It’s all about trial and error. I highly suggest only exchanging around 3-5 chapters in the beginning. This will help you A) see if you like their writing and style, and B) see how they critique. Do you guys vibe well? If so, try exchanging the whole manuscript. If not, move on to the next one.
Yes, this takes a ton of time, but finding the right one is SO worth it. And when you do find that one (or two, or three), hold on to them tight. Pet their heads and tell them they’re wonderful. You want them around for the long haul. They’re hopefully not only going to help you with your stories, but they’ll also become your friends and your support system throughout this journey.
Okay, okay. So how do I find these magical CPs and beta readers?
So, at any given time, there’s going to be a group of people just like you, in whatever position you will be in. Looking for an agent? Agented? Left your agent and are looking for a new one? Debut about to come out? Seasoned writer? There are others going through the same thing.
For some agented and pubbed writers, they’ll meet friends and build their community sometimes through agency siblings, or by being published by the same house and meeting at different events. There are also some FB and Twitter groups for writers who debut the same year. Throughout your journey, your community will undoubtedly expand. For the purpose of this post, however, I’m going to talk about resources for unagented (or newly agented) writers.
Here are some place you might look to find a CP:
1. Maggie Stiefvater’s Critique Partner Matchup
2. Pub(lishing) Crawl’s Critique Partner Matchup (slower activity, but still going!)
3. Twitters tags! Such as #ontheporch, #amwriting, and #pitchwars
4. Contests! Such as Pitchwars! (There are usually Facebook groups for the hopefuls each year, and this is SO amazingly beneficial for getting connected with like-minded writers!)
5. RIGHT HERE! (read below!)
If you’d like to join the CP connection I’m hosting on my blog, post in the comments below with the following information:
- A very short pitch for your book (a line or two)
- Genre and category. (YA fantasy)
- Word count
- What you’re looking for in a critique partner (someone strong with characters? Big picture feedback? Pacing help?)
- Your critiquing strengths
- Please mention whether or not you’re agented
- What are you looking to critique?
- Your name and email. (write it out like: adalyn[at]hotmail[dot]com – This is not my email though, so don’t message this one. Haha)
GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE!