"Beta" is a relatively new term in the writing world, but I think most of you are familiar with it. I've heard two different definitions of it. The first definition is where you give your manuscript to someone to pick apart, line by line, chapter by chapter. The whole kit and caboodle. The other is someone who does a quicker read through, and comments on things like plot holes, character development, tension, and story arc, leaving the line by line to others.
Some people like to differentiate between them by calling the quick reader "Alpha" and the more methodical reader "Beta". So as you hear these terms bandied about, you can have a good idea of what they mean.
Soooooo.....anyway. I have a WIP that I had written a lot in. A lot for me, that is. But the story had stalled, and I hoped that by having an "alpha" read, I could get some feedback and see where there were problems.
A week later I got a shortish email that basically said that while she enjoyed the first few chapters, it started to get confusing, so she stopped. And that was it.
Needless to say, the already stalled story completely derailed. I haven't so much as looked at it in months. In desperation about a month ago I talked another writer friend into doing another alpha. I didn't hear back for a while, and then I heard from her that she was going through some personal difficulties, so it would be a little longer. I forgot that I even had it out as I worked on other things.
Then I got that alpha back a couple of days ago, with comments that helped me know WHERE it got confusing, what issues needed to be cleared up, places where it needed more characterization, etc. It was a great critique. And for the first time in a long time, I'm anxious to finish this and get it polished for the Muse It Up Conference in October. Maybe I'll actually try to pitch it to an editor or agent....
So my point in all this is...if you're asked to give an Alpha or Beta read, consider these things carefully:
1. Do I have time to do either of these types of critiques? Can I be fair about that with the writer?
2. Which one would play to my strengths? Do I do better with grammar, sentence structure, etc.? Or do I prefer to look for plot issues, characterization confusion, etc.?
3. Can I be tactful, but thorough? Can I share my concerns with the writer without making it personal?
4. Am I open to questions from the writer? Will I get defensive if he/she wants clarification of my comments?
5. Can I be impartial about the writing? Am I too close (or not close enough) of a friend to be honest? Do I feel like I would have to tiptoe around the person if I said it needed work?
There are lots of other places online that give great instructions on how to be a good secondary reader. If you're interested in giving and receiving alpha or beta reads, then please, I suggest reading up on it, so you know what to expect.