1. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Readers

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by aikoaiko, Aug 14, 2014.

    I recently saw a reference to the difference between Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Readers. Since beginning this venture/hobby I have only really heard of Betas, but it seems people employ the use of Alphas and Betas, too.

    Does anyone here use all three of these mechanisms for critique, and if so, why? I'd be interested to know what everyone's experiences are with this, or whether you feel that using all three is just an example of overkill.:(

    Thanks!
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    What's an alpha reader? Someone who reads your first draft? If you're anything like me, you never want to show anyone your first drafts. :p
     
  3. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I don't understand. I thought they were called beta readers after beta testers. In which case nothing about what you said makes sense.
     
  4. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    No. Apparently, from what I read, an Alpha reader is someone the writer asks to read the first draft. Like the first words that spill out of the pen, lol. The purpose of it is to help the writer gauge the work in progress, apparently, to figure out if the plot is working and has merit as a whole, and before the writer even gets down to the first edit. From what I've read they're not used often, I guess, but that's what they're generally called. :confused:

    The Beta is used only after the story is finished. After it's been through an edit or two and is polished enough to approach publishing quality (or something of that nature:)). I assume that a Gamma would then be a reader who critiques the final edit (??), or maybe it's an actual professional edit. I'm not sure given the amount of information I was able to find, maybe they're never used either.

    I haven't heard of anyone using all three kinds of readers and might find it a little excessive (possibly), but I wondered if anyone else had. Maybe an Alpha is just someone to sort of bounce the ideas off informally before the beta takes over with a more serious critique and the gamma finishes it up before you send it off to the publisher. Not 100% sure.:(
     
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  5. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    I agree. Me either.:D
     
  6. ToDandy
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    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    Never heard of Gamma readers but typically I stick to the phrases Alpha Readers and Beta Readers.

    Alpha Readers: are for earlier, more recently completed works that still have a long way to go in the editing process. Usually you will want people with experience in critiquing stories and who really know their grammar. Usually this is a good one to have other writers look at or take it too a group workshop. The big thing here, is that you still are in the heavy editing process.

    Beta Readers: are for later drafts of a work. This is more for evaluation on performance and pacing. Does it do what you want and will the readers loose interest or stay invested? For these, you typically want people close to your target audience or readers that like your particular genre.
    These tests are not meant to pick apart each tiny detail, so critique experience and grammatical knowledge isn't as necessary. This is to gauge general audience reaction. Think of it like a pre-screening for film.

    This is how I treat them.
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe Gamma Readers are agents or editors? :)
     
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  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I actually like the concepts, as you've set them out here. I think there is a LOT LOTTA difference between looking over a few paragraphs of an unfinished WIP, and reading an entire completed draft from start to finish.

    Unless I have a specific question about a specific topic, I NEVER show my work to people until it's completed. So I guess I don't have 'alpha' readers. I'm not a good one myself. I always want to say 'finish the story, then I'll tell you what I think.'

    Aside from uncovering consistently bad grammar—in which case the writer isn't really in control of his tools, and probably shouldn't be trying to write for publication yet—there isn't really anything an alpha can do. Unless you're looking for them to tell you what to write.

    A beta reader can look at a completed draft and see what elements work, what don't, what could be cut, what could be expanded. They see how characters develop or don't develop. They will know if the story starts well or not. They will know if the story ends the way they'd hoped, or ends with a satisfactory surprise, or ends in a flat or unbelievable way. They'll know what parts they skipped over that could maybe use a re-write. They can pick out spots that could be emphasized, to push the story in the right direction at the right pace.

    This is the kind of feedback a writer really needs, isn't it?
     
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  9. Vandor76
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    Vandor76 Contributing Member

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    This is only my opinion, do not take it seriously :)

    It has some similarities to software testing. Before hitting the market a software goes through several stages of testing : (these are called releases and there are usually several numbered versions in each category)

    Alpha : it is not complete yet, several parts are still missing so testers concentrate on the concept, design, etc.
    So an alpha reader will read the WIP or the first draft and critiques the plot, characters, setting. It's like the workshop section on this site.

    Beta :
    the software is completed, testers concentrate mainly on errors (and also usability).
    A beta reader gets the polished version of the manuscript and critiques the craft and grammar (but of course the plot, characters, setting as well)

    Release candidate :
    this version of the software is considered to be ready to launch and usually tested by a much wider audience (usually can be downloaded as a time-limited version).
    This is just before the manuscript is sent to an agent or to a publisher and some people read it through as if it were a published book.
     
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  10. ChronoArt
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    ChronoArt New Member

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    Well, if it's anything like with game testers, then Alpha reader is someone, who actively helped with creating the story. Maybe if you discussed the idea with him/her or like that. Beta reader is someone, who had nothing to do with the creation of story. I have no idea what these words mean in real, but this is how I would describe them, using gaming terminology.
     
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  11. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    I agree that an Alpha (or Gamma, obviously:)) might not be something many writers would use. I have a few people reading my MS who I guess would classify as Alphas, but only because it's still being heavily edited and I don't have the first chapters finished. If I were to do it all over I would probably take a more scientific approach.:rolleyes:

    I also think (and I might be wrong), that too much input could be harmful as well. At some point you really just have to shut out the world and write. You can't alter everything according to what every person thinks. If you try something in the beginning and someone says, 'No, that doesn't work for me', or 'You should try it two different ways.', then how much of it is really yours?:( I'm talking about sending it through a hundred phases of critique with multiple readers.

    I know everyone works differently, but occasionally you have to rely on yourself. You see a lot of people asking for very specific how-to information, and while I'm sure it's helpful to get that, it might take something out of your work in the end.

    I guess it makes sense to rely most heavily on the Betas. It might be nice to have nothing in the way in the beginning. Then later when you're at the point where your head is swimming and you don't have a clue what you've done (haha), you can call in reinforcements.:read:
     
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  12. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I'm not sure you know what you mean. There are in house beta testers, and most games are tested from alpha on.

    no, as far as game testing is concerned that alpha an unfinished product. The beta is a functioning program. Things might not be implimented, but when a game is in beta every level is finished every model is textured, all the weapons work, and gravity still pulls things down. That is the level at which I assume people would want beta readers.
     
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  13. Vandor76
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    Vandor76 Contributing Member

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    @Jack Asher : I like your avatar. You must be a really impatient person :)
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel sorry for the Alpha readers... Seriously, though, I find this concept a tad ridiculous. First of all, if one needs so much reassurance and coaching, that they need to have their WIP read by so many different people, bet is, reading their drafts isn't something I'd enjoy doing. No skilled writer needs so much hand-holding. Show me your final draft (or at least something you are reasonably happy with) - which would make me your Beta. And Gamma reader should surely be an agent, a publisher or an editor.
     
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  15. Vandor76
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    Vandor76 Contributing Member

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    @jazzabel : it depends. One could write beautiful sentences, describe breathtaking settings and flash out living characters but if the plot is full of logical errors then someone has to tell him to fix it before continuing to write a 120k word novel with a poor story.
    Everyone has weaknesses (I have several. I collect these, not stamps :) ) and a close friend or fellow writer can help him with these by giving a few kind (or harsh) advice. Many members here asks questions like "Is this beliveable?", "Isn't this a cliche?", etc. I think about an alpha reader like an adviser to whom you give pieces of your work and ask specific questions. Maybe I'm wrong with that.
     
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  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Vandor76 : I understand that some people feel they need that sort of input. And we all occasionally give our Betas something to read that we need feedback on. But there's a difference between 'occasionally' and depending on something. We live in a society of quick fixes where there's a book or a device or a pill for everything. Google is like a personal teacher you can just yank the sleeve of and ask for anything, and it'll tell you, in under three seconds. All this has undermined a lot of people's ability to tackle things on their own, and in case of writing, I think this dependancy on other's advice or approval is fundamentally counter-productive. Nobody knows your story like you do. But also, at the end of the day, you have a story, you have to make it work. Every time I think about my plot and it seems stupid, or ridiculous or ott, I remind myself of some of my favourite books that made even more preposterous plot points work beautifully, and I start think up ways to make it work. Having someone come along and tell me to change my plot into something easier to negotiate with my limited writing skill is a setback, not help. I don't know if I'm describing this right, I hope it makes sense.

    Everyone is pretty shit when they first start out and it takes time and confidence to tackle things on our own. However, you won't find this kind of 'hand holding' you describe in any successful author's process. You say it's your weakness, as if that's your weakness as a writer. It isn't. It's just your lack of skill, a temporary weakness that will only go away as you take ownership and start learning how to make things work on your own. The only way to get skill is not to get people as unskilled (or close) as you are (most of our Betas, let's face it, aren't successful authors) to 'point out flaws'. Instead, consult your favourite books for any questions you may have, push on, write, re-write, search for ways to spot all the mistakes on your own. Finishing your story on your own is what writers do. To be a writer means that you will find your own way into not writing a 120 k draft so full of holes that you can literally throw it away. Once you are finished and reasonably happy what you produced, then it's time to get feedback. IMO anyway :)
     
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  17. Vandor76
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    Vandor76 Contributing Member

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    As I understand we are talking about when (how early) a writer should ask for the opinion of someone else. I don't think there is a universal "fits all writers" rule for this. Some writers just can't think of letting anyone read their novel before it is perfect, others can't wait for feedback.

    I did not say that you should have alpha readers and also did not say one should depend on them. I can totally agree that it should be occasional. But it has it's benefits.
    If one writes epic fantasy his imagination is totally free and does not need any guidance. If it's a sci-fi the writer may need the opinion of someone with more scientific knowledge. A time travel story can have so many time jumps that it is good to ask someone if it can be followed, before he spends a lot of time polishing the manuscript. I hope this clarifies what I wanted to say.

    Another aspect of this is the social needs of a human being. Several published authors participate in writing groups and discuss their WIPs. Maybe they do not need real advice, just want to talk with other writers about their novels because we are social creatures. You know much more about this topic than I do, though.
     
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  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Vandor76 : I'm only speaking from personal experience, and maybe that isn't very relevant. But when I started to write, I did it very publicly, on a blog, and literally most of my early opus was written with immediate feedback. I had loads of fans, people both criticising and praising, everyone had ideas about what stuff meant, where the protagonists should go next etc. And while it helped at the time, certainly it did for my self-confidence, to see how much impact stuff I vomited on page had on all sorts of people in all sorts of situations, it really didn't significantly influence the writing part, that had to be done alone if it was going to be any good. Eventually, I moved completely away from that because I found it difficult to tell the stories that truly satisfied me because I was too influenced by what others thought or expected. I even went through a phase of finding feedback really useful, but after some time, as you start to do your own thing, feedback started being mainly useful in terms of style. Content itself is one of those things where you can write about socks drying on a clothes line, and then forget about the socks and write about apple trees for the rest of your novel, never tying up your endings, if you do it really well, people will read it.

    For me, the self-imposed exile from the fans and public displays of my WIPs was essential in order to move onto bigger and better things, but I find the silence deafening. I can't put work up online, because of first rights, but also because I recognise that need for validation in me as dysfunctional. I'm not sure which famous writers participate in writing groups, all the ones I read and love are total recluses, lol. Their betas are their spouses, and that's as far as I too go these days in terms of discussing my WIP. Anyway, I hope it all goes well for you, though and best of luck with your project :)
     
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  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I totally agree with every word.

    It is interesting to me to realise that when I wrote the first draft of my novel, I didn't actually know any other writers. In fact, when I started it, I wasn't even on the internet yet (early 1996.) I had to do all my historical research via books, because the internet wasn't developed to the extent it is now—and I was living on the 'wrong' side of the pond as well. You couldn't 'google' information the way you can now. So it was definitely a solo project for me. I didn't even let it be known I was writing at all until I was nearly finished.

    I don't know. If I had started writing more recently, I might have been tempted to enlist feedback earlier. I kind of think not, though, because for me the biggest joy of writing is figuring the story out for myself, and having total control over what happens. That's the difference between creation and merely connecting the dots somebody else has put there.

    After I finished and began enlisting beta readers, I entered a different phase. And edited my butt off. My first draft bears little resemblance to what I have now. (And is roughly 120,000 words less!) But all that writing was not in vain. I learned what works and what doesn't. A lot of that I learned from other people, or from reading books on writing (which I also didn't do until after the first draft was finished.) But the original story is mine. I wouldn't want it any other way.
     
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  20. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @jannert : As much as I adore the internet, it in itself should get a Nobel Prize for awesomeness and advancing human society in so many ways, but one thing about it that's quite detrimental is the deleterious effect it has on the attention-span. Before the internet, I think people felt more comfortable with solitude and doing one thing at the time. Even finishing a creative project was more straightforward because there were fewer distractions.

    Now, I find myself staring at my iPad (cursed, blessed thing) when the book I've been waiting on for almost a year, fresh and beautiful new hardback, is sitting on the bedside table for three days, unopened. I read a mystery novel, and every time I encounter something I'm not familiar with, I go on Google and search, and sometimes, I come back to my book two hours later, with IQ 20 points lower because I got stuck in Daily Mail website sidebar. Even now, I'm supposed to be writing, I haven't slept all night because I was too tired to write but I really wanted to continue where I left off, and what am I doing now? It's half past three, I researched the living daylights out of the Beltane festival in Edinburgh, I have pictures, a plan, and...I'm writing this instead.

    We feel 'disconnected' if we turn off the wireless and can't access the internet, and in reality, we are disconnected, because we are sitting and staring at a screen to the world that has no idea we exist or that we are currently viewing it. It's weird. It takes real effort to weed through the pros and cons and eliminate the cons of internet, in relation to writing or anything else I think.
     
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  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I've got to say that doing research is a helluva lot quicker and cheaper with the internet, though. I've been able to do my research for book number two SO fast. My at-home library will not double in size this time, I'm happy to report!
     
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  22. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can only second that. I guess you have more self-control than me though, to not get bogged down in the cons of it. Ok, I'm switching off the wireless, or I'll never finish that scene.
     
  23. Vandor76
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    Vandor76 Contributing Member

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    @jazzabel : I do not agree with everything you say but I see your point and can agree with your main message. If one wants to be a professional he can't keep asking others "Am I doing it right?". I go further : if one wants to be really good he can't do everything the same way as others do.
    You are way ahead of me on this road so I'm in the comfortable position to watch your footprints :)

    I agreed with my wife that she don't read any unpolished piece so she fell in the beta reader category. She is a very curious type so it was hard to convince her.

    @jazzabel, @jannert : Google is indexing only a small fraction of the internet. The rest is the so called deepweb, several orders larger than the indexed content.
    The content on the internet is not just huge but grows unbelievable fast : more than 100 hours of video is uploaded to Youtube every minute ( http://youtube-global.blogspot.hu/2013/05/heres-to-eight-great-years.html ). What did you say about attention span?

    Signing off (it's 5pm here), going to watch some Youtube videos :)
    Have a nice weekend.
     
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  24. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    I totally agree with all the points made here. This society is being spoon fed more than ever before, and the creative fields are not excluded.

    When I first picked up writing again a few years ago, I couldn't bear to show anything to anyone. It was a secret that I was even writing anything, and I refused to discuss it because A) I knew it was shit, B) I had no idea how to write a novel to begin with, and C) I felt a strong sense of ownership of what I was doing. It was mine and only mine. :) The sense of ownership was important because creativity was a personal process, IMO.

    Later when my MS got better I felt like I had to show it to someone because I was at a point where I couldn't help it move further, if that makes sense. I was writing and moving along but basically feeling my way in the dark, and I had a strong suspicion that if someone were to read my work or turn the light on (so to speak), I would find myself in a different part of the room than where I thought I was, lol. Sure enough this turned out to be true, but I feel like that is what the function of readers, forums, and writing groups is. If I was more experienced I think I wouldn't need the earlier forms of input, but clearly everyone who writes needs it at some stage, sometime.

    Another weird thing that happens is that when you show your work to others it becomes less yours. What belonged exclusively to you now belongs partially to the people who read it, and you have an obligation of sorts to make it palatable to them if you want to publish it later. The ironic thing is that you eventually lose what you've done altogether, so the public need somehow to be part of your revisions. I think that's what 'critiquing' really means, and I think that's one of the things that's really so scary about it.:meh:
     
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  25. bossfearless
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    bossfearless Active Member

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    I use alpha readers, two of them in a specific order, as I finish each chapter of a novel or a group of chapters that form an arc. Alpha 1 is a broad strokes person who is just there to tell me if he's enjoying it, Alpha 2 will catch my proofreading errors. Once the book is done I try to do two betas, so I guess beta 2 could be considered Gamma.
     

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