We’ve talked about the importance of letting others read what you’ve written. We’ve talked about the way in which an author can make use of alpha and beta readers. Now it’s time to discuss the trickiest part of the process. Now we get to deal with the chaotic landslide of feedback.

And you should be hoping for a landslide. That was the point of using your alpha and beta readers. This feedback can come in a variety of forms. From notes they’ve taken for you (more common and necessary from beta readers) to notes you’ve taken yourself as you discuss the work with them (most commonly performed with alpha readers). Today, I want to focus on beta readers and their feedback because this is where you’ll receive the most volume. It’s also where the most detailed critiques will occur. But first, a note on alpha readers particularly those found in critique groups.

Writing critique groups are a great way to get your writing in front of others however, the efficacy and quality of this form of critique can vary, a lot. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of multiple critique groups over the past few years and each was useful in its own way. One was a group where five fixed members attended once a week. We were thus familiar with each other’s work and with each other’s style of critique, making the task of analysing that feedback much more easy and consistent.

Another group I attended had a core cast of regulars plus a rotating cast of writers each week. This meant that, while always great company, not every piece of feedback was useful. This also boiled down to familiarity or a lack of it, both my familiarity with their personalities, preferences, and critique skills and their familiarity with my work. The feedback from a group like this can be and has been very valuable to me but I had to work harder to evaluate their critiques. It’s much more difficult to establish the necessary trust, though with some of the regular members, it was there in spades.

Okay, back to beta readers. Here’s is where the “fun” really begins and by “fun” I mean work. I’ve received anywhere from one to ten pages of notes from beta readers in the past and tend to provide between five and ten or more pages when beta reading for others. That’s a lot to sift through and sifting we must do. (Note: This volume reflects beta reading for a novel sized piece.)  (more…)

No matter how good your first, second, or even third draft is, it’s not ready for primetime until someone else can evaluate it. Like a doctor operating on their dying child, it’s a bad idea to only trust your own work. You’re just too close.

In the traditional publishing world, at least a few sets of eyes (agents, editors, etc.) will scour your book to help you make it something worth printing. Self published authors who are doing it right also hire editors. These people are paid. Their time is precious and limited. Your book isn’t the only one on their plate.

What if you could fine tune your work so that a.) you could present agents with writing that is attractive and b.) you could present editors with work that is already mostly fixed, therefore leaving them more time to scrutinize the small stuff? Well folks I’m here to tell you it’s very possible. Enter your best friends, alpha and beta readers.

I say “best friends” because chances are, that’s who they are. Your friends, your family, your coworkers, the cool lady from your ultimate frisbee league, these could be the saviors of your story.

Before we dive into how to utilize alpha and beta readers, let’s get clear about what they actually are. (more…)

Your eyes suck.

No, not like they’re damaged or whatever. I mean maybe… If so… sorry about that. (Insert awkward staring at the floor here)

What I mean is that as a writer, you have a set of mental filters that actually keep you from seeing your writing for what it is. What it truly is.

Some writers, have the sparkle and shine filter that makes their work look as polished and ready for print as the fifteenth draft of some Cormac McCarthy novel. Most, have the broken and muddy filter that makes their work seem like it was scrawled on a cave by the idiot brother of the lady in charge of the good cave painting. Some carry both or even other, more rare filters fuelled by other, more rare neuroses.

Regardless, if your eyes are the only set that ever look at what you’ve written, than the truth about your work will always be obscured by whichever default filter(s) your brain possesses.

Thankfully, there is an easy-ish fix. Let other people read your work and listen to what they have to say.


Calm down, I said easy-ish. If you’ve never before let someone read your work, chances are some form of the above panic has crossed your mind. Handing over your word-child to be scrutinized by another can be a terrifying prospect. The thing is, in almost all situations, those worries aren’t justified.

You see, before others can actually read your work, they have to AGREE to read it. If you choose the people who critique your work carefully, then you’ll find that they’re almost always excited to read what you’ve written. So let them. Oh, and make sure you ask for feedback. Smiles and back slaps make for fuzzy feelings but notes and critique make for better writing.

“Notes and critique?” you ask.

Yup. Welcome to the land of alpha and beta readers. In part two and three I’ll talk about why they’re important to your writing and why being one for others is just as important. Stay tuned.


Click here to read more about my take on the importance and benefit of beta reading for others.