Alphas, Betas, and CP’s, Oh My!!

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The writing world is full of esoteric terms and weird abbreviations. If you’re a part of writing Twitter, you see a LOT of them.

An event is coming up shortly called #CPMatch, hosted by Megan Lally (link). Maybe you’ve heard of a CP before and are wondering what to expect from a CP before you participate in this event on the 15th!

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What’s a CP?

In writing, CP stands for Critique Partner. The key word here is “partner.” Most often, they will critique your work, and you in return will critique theirs.

 

Finding a good CP can be difficult. Not everyone is great at giving thoughtful, fair feedback on their first try. And, of course, you may find yourself matched with a very nice person who just isn’t a good fit for your project.

To avoid this: if you think you’ve met a good partner, I recommend swapping your first two chapters. The first chapter is often the most polished, and sometimes there will be a drop in quality in chapter two. Maybe that’s exciting for you—you’ll be able to give a lot of notes and may help your new CP completely overhaul their story. However, it’s best to be very open with one another about what sorts of changes you’re comfortable making, and how intense you expect your critiques to be.

Another note: you have to be passionate about the manuscript (MS) you read. If it’s not your cup of tea, you will be spending a lot of time and mental energy thinking about this book that you aren’t crazy about. It’s the same reason an agent will sometimes reject saying “It’s just not for me.”

It’s far better to tell your potential CP “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m not a good fit for this” instead of reading their whole MS only to give half-hearted comments.

The key to a healthy CP relationship is lots of communication. If you’ve found a potential CP, be clear with them about what sort of feedback you hope to receive. If you’re on a time constraint, give them lots of notice. Don’t be that guy who says “Read this in two days and give me a ten page report.” Remember, you’re reading and critiquing each other’s works FOR FREE. You’re doing one another a service. Be kind, be understanding, and be patient.

Don’t commit yourself to something you don’t have time for. Just because CPmatch is coming up doesn’t mean that your draft OR your calendar is ready to commit to reading for a CP just yet. Don’t rush into this partnership. Make sure that you are able to give back and give good help to your CP, who is helping you in return!

What’s an alpha?

An alpha is an alpha reader. They’re someone who reads your first draft even while you are still writing it. Usually, this means they are someone you trust, and someone who’s there to cheerlead you or ask prompting questions. Maybe they want to know what happens to side character. Or maybe they’re there just to tell you “I love this idea and you’re executing it so well!”

You don’t always need an alpha in your writing process.

Sometimes you can write better if you know you can write a full draft without anyone seeing it. And sometimes a friend reading and saying “when can I get the next chapter?” helps nudge you along and actually finish your draft!

What’s a beta?

Betas read your finished draft. Unlike a Critique Partner, you don’t have to critique your beta’s work in return.

You decide what expectations you have of your betas. It’s best to be upfront in general about what you expect of your betas; for example, if you are looking for general thoughts, compliments, critiques AND compliments, or notes on a specific element (like character, narrative voice, tory structure, or a plot element you aren’t sure about).

Some tips:

Be careful about choosing your betas – and how many! Getting a flood of feedback can be overwhelming. I’d recommend maybe 5 beta readers to start out. That way, your feedback will be varied, and if you see consistencies between betas’ comments, you’ll know what you definitely need to fix in your story. If you end up revising from your betas’ feedback, you can ask your original betas if you can send it again, or maybe you can find a new group of five to try your MS out on.

Remember—betas are reading YOUR BOOK! If you are sending your book to new people or acquaintances, make sure you can trust them and that they’ll be kind to you. It’s nice to have a mix of people who’ve read your previous work AND people who have never read this iteration of your MS before.

Give your betas a generous deadline. Just like I said for CPs—your betas are real people with busy lives. A deadline is nice to have (because sometimes you may NEVER get your notes back), but make sure that it is fair and clear from the beginning. I gave my betas around 6 weeks to read and give feedback, but I let them know that if that wasn’t possible or they needed some wiggle room, I was happy to give it.

Be open-minded. You will get some feedback you don’t want to hear. You will get some feedback you totally disagree with. You will get some feedback that may even hurt. You never have to apply any feedback you don’t want to. HOWEVER, it’s best to reflect on feedback before tossing it to the side. Sometimes a suggested change will actually lead to a stronger story, even if it’s a difficult change to make or may go against your original creative vision.

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GOOD LUCK! I hope you are soon able to find the perfect teammates for your MS! Here again is the link for #CPMatch, and feel free to contact me on Twitter at @catbakewell if you would be interested in joining my ongoing Slack Group for querying and revising writers.

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