Monday, June 20, 2011

Alpha, Beta, Huh?

If you’re new to the industry or have been poking around the internet you may have been hearing words like alphas and betas floating around. Some of you may know what betas are but have the burning question… should I use a beta reader or not?
Well, honestly, that’s completely up to you. I know authors who’ve been published without using a beta and authors who’ve used betas and still struggle breaking into the publishing “world,” so to help you make that decision I’ve put together a pro/con list.
First let me clarify, for those who are unsure, what alphas and betas are.
An alpha reader is the writer/author.
A beta reader (betareader, or beta) is someone who reads a written work, generally fiction, with a critical eye, aiming to improve grammar, spelling, characterization, and the general style of a story prior to its release to the general public.
PROs of using a beta reader:
*A good beta can tell you when your characters are acting out-of-character, when your plot has holes, and when your verbiage is off
*Betas check for typos, grammatical errors, continuity issues which you all know: it doesn’t matter how many times you read your ms, it’s impossible to catch them all
*Beta readers are FREE (This is a no-brainer. Why pay a critique company so many $ per page when there are plenty of experienced, intelligent people willing to do it for free?)
*Often times, writers will beta read for each other (story swap) which is a great way to see what other writing is approaching the market the same time as yours
*Beta readers who have a connection sometimes become longtime crit partners and even friends (this happened to me!)

CONs of using a beta reader:
*Finding a beta who has the same interests/tastes and experience in your genre can be a bit daunting (true, but finding that perfect match can also prove to be priceless)
*Not all betas are good (but a lot are, you simply have to do your research)
*You may not agree with what your beta says (you don’t have to, but I guarantee a good beta WILL point out something that will IMPROVE your manuscript)
*Why not just have your friends/family read your ms? (Because most non-industry people either don’t know or will not be brutally honest about what is working and what is not. You need someone who understands and can recognize things like voice, plot threads, story arcs, etc.)
*What about protecting your work? Can’t someone steal it? (United States copyright laws state that "Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device." Beta plagiarism isn’t common, but that isn’t saying it doesn’t exist. If you’re truly worried, go here for ways to protect your WIP)

Where can you go to find a beta reader? I’m sure there are more, but here are a few places:
www.egroups.com (type the words “beta reader” in the search box)

There you have it. Have you had a good or bad beta experience? YA Stands wants to hear your story.

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