1. Malisky

    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    Questions considering Alpha and Beta readers.

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Malisky, Dec 1, 2018.

    When the time is ripe to test drive your novel either by Alpha or Beta reading, do you leave a note to the reader about what kind of feedback you are mostly interested in receiving, beforehand? If yes, then what questions do you pose? Is it needed to leave some sort of manual to the reader or is it better to skip it completely and let them decide what they spotted without your direction? Perhaps let them read your novel and pose your questions afterwards? Which way is more efficient from your P.O.V.?

    When you have a specific part in your story you are unsure of, do you point it out or let it be?

    Finally, when you are alpha or beta reading, what are the things you focus in and how do you proceed on bringing them about? Do you go as far as proofreading? Maybe if you get really invested in a story you might walk that extra mile and your critiquing depth varies depending on your level of satisfaction? Do you try to stay consistent upon your method? I mean, it's much more time consuming to review and analyse a whole novel than a few chapters.

    Do you hand in the whole finished product of your labour, or do you find it more efficient to exchange with your readers every once in a while a few chapters when they are finished with some sort (flexible but not to the point of complete inconsistency) of time schedule? Is this considered alpha reading?

    How many alpha or beta readers do you think it's preferable to have. Is there a minimum or a maximum?

    Do you categorize your reader helpers and the dynamic between conflicting feedback, considering whether they are writers or consistent readers themselves?

    I'd like to have your personal opinions and methods upon these matters. Feel free to add anything of interest I might have skipped, but please try to explain your stand so I can understand why you choose what you choose. That's why I'm not making a poll out of this. I care for quality rather than quantity.

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    Now, as for my part. I tried a couple of different approaches which changed throughout the years, as I'm still studying and learning from my experiences.

    In the beginning, I would simply ask: "Did you like it?" and leave the rest to the reader's' perspective. Mostly because I didn't know what to ask exactly. I was still a complete novice.

    Then I started setting specific questions beforehand, since I didn't feel like the feedback I was receiving was complete. The more I studied and learned about structure, pacing, etc, the more I would care to know about these things. Problem with that was that my readers were not into writing themselves and would find it kind of hard to focus in things such as these. So, I subscribed here! :D

    Lately, I've been starting to think again that it's better to just hand in my writing without making questions and maybe this way I'll have a better chance of spotting and evaluating myself whether a reader is a keeper or not. Furthermore, maybe it's best to keep the reader's perspective unaffected from my questions, so they can focus freely and more sincerely on what they normally do. If I see that a reader is really into analysing my writing into bits and pieces (which I love), then I might also go ahead with any extra questions I might have (since their feedback is so damn good)!

    Another observation I made is that consistent readers, in comparison to writers, might lack basic structural knowledge but for some reason they spot emotional impact more intensely and are more eager to analyse it, which is of great importance to me at least. For example, they won't spot if I hammer onto something but if my scene lacks emotional impact, they will very much disapprove of it, since the scene comes off as too dry. Sometimes they might even propose very interesting plot devices if they come up with an idea that are very refreshing. So, I value both writers and no-writers readers the same for different reasons.

    I haven't had many instances of alpha or beta reading though, since I haven't yet completed a novel. So far I've been sending chapter one's and two's (Once, I've sent a whole six chapters)! It's hard for me to remain faithful to a story, although I never quit them. I binge write a lot, although I'm trying to contain myself lately and I think that it's working (due to limited time though; get's you into perspective). :p

    When I alpha read: So far it has been short stories and from-chapter-to-chapter reading and reviewing. I've never tried reviewing a whole novel at once. I prefer being given questions beforehand, rather than after, to be honest. It's not that I mind being asked later on, I just prefer having a direction as to what the writer might be needing, so when I read for the first time or the second one, I will already know where to focus at, especially when it comes to content. (Ex: Does this scene clarify the relation between A and B? Is it too melodramatic)?

    I tend to spot structural (pacing, flow, voice, flashback usage, plot holes, coherency, themes, dialogue, realism), emotional impact (conflict, desire, relationship dynamics, character inner structure and likeness) and although I don't delve so much into it, grammar and vocabulary. (Something must be really standing out in order to go to such lengths. If the writer clearly lacks this skill, then I might correct some lines and then tell the writer that he should edit carefully with someone of a more specialised skill set, since I'm not one to count on. Even if the extract is in greek where I am pretty confident upon correcting, it's just too time consuming to correct a whole chapter, which triggers my o.c.d., furthermore the upcoming chapters and turns me off).

    Although some writings might be much more demanding, might I go as far as to say more tiresome than others, I always try to give it my all, while remaining diplomatically polite, since as a writer I damn well know my own vices and expectations. When someone's hard labor is entrusted to me, I tend to take it personally. I prefer to write an apology to the writer for taking too much time to review, than send a telegram of a review due to lack of time or laziness. It's disrespectful. Although, I think at least that I try to dive deep and give a useful feedback, some of my reviews seem to have put some writers off. Not that I mind so much though, but after spending hours and hours upon reviewing and analysing an extract, it's the most basic courtesy I think to at least say, "thank you for your time". Anyhow, I don't mean to rant.

    I send back a .docx file with highlighted notes and explain why I highlighted this or that, and sometimes offer an idea of improving it, without messing with the core plot or the scene's drive (except if it's completely missing). I might offer ideas on how to improve something but I also note, that my idea should only be considered as an example. Use it as you will of course, but it's not meant to imply that I'm driving your story. For example, if you skip a major fighting scene completely and then go on and describe its' outcome, through a poem an old, wise man - that came from literally nowhere - says, I'll state the obvious: Wtf? Who's he? DELETE HIM NOW! Poem? You lazy bum. Write the damn scene! It's the promise you've made to the reader from word one! (But politely, of course. True story). :p

    I think this sums it up from my part.
     
  2. Some Guy

    Some Guy People-thing Supporter

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    I've never written before, so I would need more one-on-one. I would prefer less SPaG critique, unless the sentence is just incoherent. I would mainly be interested in "did you get it", or "what about" issues, and so on. A set of chapters is enough for Alpha, like setup characters and plot/setting, then a section of conflict/development chapters, or whatever.
    Is that what you mean?
     
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  3. Malisky

    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    Yes. Anything actually about this issue interests me. How to communicate efficiently with your alpha reader to get the most out of it and vice versa.

    Thank you for replying. :)
     
  4. Some Guy

    Some Guy People-thing Supporter

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    Glad to. :) What about structure? Are you interested in how stories should be presented in the forums?
    My current issue is the Workshop threads getting 'lost' or 'buried' in a avalanche of following threads. I'd need to be clear about what to ask from Daniel (as a Supporter) for improvement.
    I suppose the point is that with story threads scattered, critiques become one-offs, forced/hurried.
    This would likely be true for Alpha/Beta, on WF.
     
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  5. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Senior Member

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    "Did you like it?" I think is the over all most important question. Remember they will lie. It's easier to give a good review than a bad one but it's the bad ones you learn something from.
    "Did you find yourself skimming over some parts?" If they answer "yes" that means it's boring.
    "Talk about the opening paragraph, did it grab you?" You have eight seconds to hook he reader,.
    Readers are readers. They are the end consumer. Until you have what you consider a finished, marketable product, I don't think a "reader" is going to do you much good. That's why I post so much crap here with people who have (I hope) more insight.
     
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  6. Some Guy

    Some Guy People-thing Supporter

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    Personally, I agree with all, except "do you like it?". I'd be more interested in whether I'm conveying my vision, at least initially. I'm at the "are you even writing your story?" phase. Writers need input that involves what their mind can process first, and consumer issues come later. I find the first consideration lacking, if not absent. No reader cares if it doesn't get written. I guess I'm talking about mentorship? My observation is there are two separate 'factions', those who want to advise on making a complete product into a marketable product, and those who want to support the writer, including emotionally, to write their story.
    I'm beginning to wonder if it's symantics. There's a story to critique. There's a story concept a writer needs support with. They're being treated as the same thing. I can tell it's pulling the 'concept' folks off track.
     
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  7. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    I generally ask readers to tell me if the story held their attention or if there were parts where it dragged; if they found the characters effective; if they enjoyed it overall. That's about all I'd want to ask before getting their feedback, because I don't want to influence their opinions by making them over-concentrate on a specific area I've asked them to be aware of.

    So if I have concerns about specific parts, I'll often send those as follow-up questions, assuming they weren't mentioned in the initial critique. "Did you believe Character X would do Y?" or equivalent? That comes after the reader has read.
     
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  8. Carriage Return

    Carriage Return Member

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    My approach was to have two questionnaires--one for "during" to be completed at each chapter break, the other for after.

    I tried to keep the "during" questions to a bare minimum and focused on trying to follow them through the MS to get a good idea of what fresh eyes were seeing (before they got to the end--in the end they will have a holistic feel for the piece and you really want to know what they are thinking in the midst of it). It's fun even if they have the chance to send these in to you as they read (but that's for them to decide).

    I also tried to keep the "during" questions more broad and general to allow them to focus on what they found personally meaningful, while at the same time asking enough to ensure that my twists and turns were hitting their mark.

    For the "after" questions, there are a good number of questionnaires floating around on reputable writing websites you can reverse engineer to your purposes.

    Try and get as broad and diverse a beta pool as you can.

    That's all I got.

    EDIT: Forgot to note that I'm not an advocate for "alpha" reading; give 'em a good solid edited beta MS. Don't hurt anyone's eyes or head.
     
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  9. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I actually had several alfa readers reading the first draft chapter by chapter as written. They requested to do this after reading the first third of the story, and their feedback was helpful. It also was really motivating to me that they liked what they read, wanted me to finish the next chapter. I write a fairly good first draft, so I didn't make their heads hurt. When finished I had a number of betas take it on, as well as my alfas, who wanted to see the second draft.

    I did not use checklists, though for some I had some specific requests: I had a professor at the U of London who was a world expert in ancient Central Asia and Central Asian languages. I specifically asked him to review just those chapters for technical accuracy (he had advised me on them) and to read the rest if he so chose. He did, liked it, and gave me a great pre-pub review, which wound up on the back of the book.

    My betas ranged from high school/community college educated to writing professionals and published authors, to the above PhD expert. Some I knew, most I did not. I think it is important to find out how your writing appeals to a broad spectrum of readers.
     
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  10. Malisky

    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    Hm... I see your concern but I think it's efficient as it is. What else can be done? In a members profile page you can see their workshop entries and chose whether you want to dip in. I think that problem is, since most, if not all of us in this forum write our own stuff and also have other things to attend to as well, it's difficult to find the time and critique too often. At least I do. I try to keep the quota though (2 for 1). I'm not sure though, since I have no idea how many stories I've critiqued so far... Hm... That would be an interesting, little gadget! Anyhow, I usually pick the ones that have the least reviews, in a genre or a theme that is not completely unknown to me. I can't critique poetry for example.

    I prefer receiving a balanced critique. I don't mind if my story doesn't appeal so much to a reviewer (ok, let's be truthful, your fantasy can't please everybody and it's not meant to do that anyway in the first place), but I do mind if I get an over-the-top, bad critique without valid justification. Actually, I do prefer it when the reviewer calls it quits from the start. I don't mean to tire anyone. If it's not someone's bag of tea, then it's good to know from the start and simply not continue.

    For me I guess, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Good points + bad points (+ helpful advice as an extra). Bad critiques are just one side of the coin. I'd rather know what I'm doing right as well. You know, direction. Did I achieve to convey the fascination and the emotions I wanted to? If I never know, then what on earth am I doing? A point of reference. It's important. Anyhow, it's in the writer's sense to be able to see whose review feels completely off or not (which can be tough in the beginning). I mean, as a writer you should somewhat have a critical eye of your own to be able to critique your own work as well, and not get blown in a whirlwind of different opinions. Either good or bad critique can be untruthful. It shows in the justification and the way the reviewer phrases his/her concerns.

    I like this method the best. Do you hand in a number of chapters, the whole manuscript or chapter by chapter? Do you have a specific pipeline? A time schedule perhaps (upon handing in your work to be reviewed and getting critique), or do you go with a more flexible way of working?

    By "during", you mean beforehand? How can you get a beta MS if you first don't write and hand an alpha MS? I mean, I do edit before giving my MS, but doesn't that make it an alpha still? Isn't a beta the re-edited version after your first review with the alpha reader? Is there a gamma reader? We can go all the way to the omega! Just kidding. :p
    I try to have a diverse reviewer pool (although not too broad yet), but I prefer it if the reader is somewhat interested in the genre or at least the theme (the basics) of the story I'm writing. In very general terms, I have an image of who would enjoy reading my story and who wouldn't. Shouldn't I focus to the ones that are more prone to reading it? For example, is it any good to give a person that only likes to read fantasy, a crime story to review? Wouldn't it bore them to death? I don't know.

    Yes, I'd like to have my historical facts cross-checked by an expert as well, before I move on to publishing too (chinese names are already giving me a headache). Even if I end up including any anachronisms, I'd like them to be by my well-thought-of decision and not by ignorance. I can only hope I'll have such a fulfilling pre-pub experience as yours, since I know how much effort you have put into this. It's nice to see it paying off. :)

    Thank you for your replies! Very much appreciated! :D
     
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  11. Carriage Return

    Carriage Return Member

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    You write an alpha, you edit that alpha, then you give it to a beta reader is what I meant. I think Lew said he used alpha readers, and others on the entirenet also agree that there can/should be alpha readers. I don't believe in them personally, though I did essentially have someone very close to me serve in something of that capacity it wasn't by design. I think if I were a lone writer in a cave somewhere I would want to have it edited as best I could before first presenting it to a beta reader.

    Oh, yeah, by diverse I meant different age groups, sexes, etc. but all potential readers of your genre. Women will tell you things men won't and vice versa. But yeah, I wouldn't advocate foisting Sci-fi on some grandma who only reads romance. ;)
     

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