Alphas are your hand holders. They are the people you mine for story ideas when you’re stuck and need a shoulder to cry on while they tell you in no uncertain terms that you better get writing the story in the flattest voice possible. These don’t have to be writers. They are on your side, know all your writing quirks down to the fact that you will most likely insert x thing here, and act like cheer leaders, but force you to write the damned thing eventually. They will read your bloody typewriter syndrome you just happened to put out 2 minutes ago with all of your typos and mistakes. If you get one… hang on and don’t let go.
A Beta you burn through. The less they know you the better they are at their job. You want someone with a whip that will and can use it against you. A beta is usually a fellow writer versed in your genre, but completely cold about you and your hours of whining about the story and how hard you worked. They will pick up grammar, spelling, story points, plot holes, comment on character, character flaws, etc. Unlike an Alpha they aren’t there to hold your hand. You want them to be cold towards your mistakes so they can spot them for you. If they get used to your mistakes, their effectiveness goes downhill and fresh eyes are more likely to pick up the problems.
Editors come in two types in the industry. There are copyeditors who do grammar, etc. And then the Editors that work on story arc, etc. The idea that these are different people from Betas and Alpha is plain wrong. All of the people who ask you to change your story are editors. Flat out.
Critique partner is like a reversible BDSM relationship where you mutually agree to destroy each other but within limits. They can come in two flavors. Either as Alpha where you get the hand holding and the skipping through the field of bloody poppies, or the Beta version where you both agree to destroy each other without mercy until you’re both sloppy fetal position masses before you rebuild the story.
I, personally, don’t do the Alpha critique partner relationship because I kind of feel like it’s asking a teacher to give you ideas on what to write for a midterm exam specific topic. It goes against your best interests in a lot of ways. You want someone to whip you, but give you ideas? I separate those roles and have an Alpha I use for stories who is a great straight talker. <3 She’s really good at parsing what I would normally write anyway even when I’m whining my head off about how I can’t write it.
I do like the Beta swap and someone I swapped with before got published (with mine and other people’s help). I’m definitely a better beta anyway than Alpha. I don’t give ideas away and don’t do “answers” point to problems very well and can tighten up your manuscript really well. But I think if you’re going to swap, you need to be specific about what you want out of it before you start and where your manuscript is in the process as well. Betaing takes a lot more time than being an alpha. Doing line edits, refining story points, drumming up examples, asking the writer to make this or that change and there is a whole lot more fragility involved as well. Alphas have a lot more to put up with whining-wise, but less work on the page. Essentially your personal cheerleader hand-holder who trouble shoots with you.
What sucks, though, with critiques is if you’re in one place in your writing journey and another person isn’t at the same spot–this can cause problems–so finding someone of equal or similar skill level helps a lot more for swaps than casual critiques (one-offs).