Writer Bio

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Storytelling is a talent passed down through the generations in my family. It is a way of life in that the more you live, the better the story; the deeper the experience, the broader the plain to connect with readers. Just like life is about people so writing is about people - about their love, their loss, their triumphs, their failures, and their x ever after. I write to understand myself and make sense of life. I share my work in order to find others who can relate to my characters, or their lives, or the moral of the story.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Beta Reader vs Alpha Reader

Listening to: Unbreakable - Fireflight
Revising: Shadow Legacy (w/t)

Back in the day, when I had the luxury of morning and afternoon two-hour-duration naps to do my writing in, I was very much addicted to writing fanfiction(FF). The first writers I ever encountered and befriended were reviewers and authors on That was the allure of it - the reason why I opted to spend more time writing something I couldn't make a dollar off of rather than working on my originals - it was the people. The sense of community and belonging.

And let's not forget the reviews. They are evil.

I knew my writing needed some serious work, but no one seemed willing or able to point out my flaws and help me through it. They had other obligations, other responsibilities, like focussing on their own FF's lest they incur the wrath of their fanbase for taking too long to update. Then I heard about this mythical creature - a beta reader.

I found a few and queried with them if they'd be interested in helping me with my work. Only one of them ever got back to me. I was nervous but elated - I've found someone who was going to genuinely critique my writing! So I happily sent my first draft of my first chapter to this beta-reader and... nothing.

Not a peep. Not a whisper. It's like they dropped off the face of the world. I ended up plaguing them with emails, first because I was worried my writing was so terrible that it was taking them weeks to go through it, then later because I just wanted to annoy the hell out of them until I got some kind of response from them. I got nothing.

There's nothing more discouraging or infuriating than sending your baby to someone and never hearing from them again. I'm just glad it wasn't any of my original work that I sent to them, else I really might have lost my mind. This is also the reason why I have issues sharing my work with anybody other than my close family and friends.

So I went and thought about what had happened to me, and noticed that quite a few writers leaving reviews for others stating that they ought to find themselves a beta-reader. One in particular referred a young writer to one of the very beta-readers who had never bothered to reply to me. I contacted the writer personally and warned them about what had happened to me, just to give them a heads-up. The writer got back to me a week later and asked if I would mind critiquing her work because the same thing that happened to me had happened to her. Somewhere along the lines of my email to her, we had gotten lost in translation, and she assumed that I was another beta-reader.

I wasn't then, but I told her I'd help her out as best I could, and a few months later I got a heartwarming thank you from her, a dedication and referral to me as a beta-reader on her profile - and the rest is history. If there is one thing I love more than writing and reading, it's helping other writers.

I'm no guru at writing, don't get me wrong. You can never know everything there is to know about the craft since it's a on-the-job-learning kind of experience. I've always shamelessly declared this, but a couple of young writers have taken this statement the wrong way before. False accusations and observations were made, it became a personal matter - it was pretty ugly. I followed up on it with this writer and we made our peace, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't knock down the little confidence I had in my writing skills.

That was only one unhappy writer I ever had to deal with. For the most part, all the other writers I've beta'd for have either given me genuine thanks for my input, or we've become friends and keep in touch ever so often via MSN chats or Facebook.

Different writers are at different stages of developing their talents. Some need more work than others, like the ones who have English as a second language (like me); others just need someone to help them fight a two-man battle with things like characterisation; some have just started out and need to be guided and made aware of the rules.

Some have been writing for years and, very similar to someone who has been driving for years, have picked up naughty little habits that they don't even notice until you point it out to them (overuse of the comma or fragmented sentences, as a couple of examples).

The thing is, every writer has talent, whether their talent is in their vast knowledge of their subject matter, or their particular voice, or their imagination. And like every writer has talent, every writer has one single thing in common - we all need to hone our craft.

I've done beta work for some of my favourite writers on My nerves were dancing with excitement and terror, though. My beta abilities have also extended from FF to rough original manuscripts of others. I feel I'm qualified enough, after three years of being a beta-reader, to offer my input to 'real' writers.

This has become extremely handy for me because I now have experience with what to look out for in my own manuscript. Not that I'll ever stop wanting a critique partner. My hubby offered to crit my work for me, so once I'm done with chapter one, I'll be getting that feedback I crave so much.

Oh. I also recently learned that I'm actually not a beta-reader. I'm an alpha-reader: that other person who sits patiently waiting for you to finish writing the next chapter so they can read it and critique it for you. A beta-reader, according to definition, is someone who critiques your work when you have finished writing the whole manuscript.

Like I said, you can never know everything.
Though I always used the term 'writing buddy', I never knew it was called an alpha-reader. So I did know what everyone else was talking about on that forum after all!


  1. Huh, I never knew it was called that! Do you know why it's like that? To me an alpha-reader would be the one who read a finished ms, because they're trusted with something much bigger (literally and figuratively).

  2. As far as my bubble of knowledge extends (and it doesn't go very far, it's a very small bubble) alpha is a term used for anything that takes first place. Like, the first star in a constellation would be called an alpha-something. It's also the first letter in the Greek alphabet, I think. So as far as alpha-readers go, I think it's that one reader (or readers, if you're so lucky to have more than one) who gets to read your work FIRST (the horrific unedited first draft) as it comes pouring out of you. You get to brainstorm ideas with them, and they're kind of like your cheerleading squad in that they encourage you to keep on writing. They're a very influential force while you're writing.

    A beta-reader is someone, as I understand it, who reads your full manuscript and points out all the problem areas to you.