You may be one of many who look at the title of this article and wonder just what in the world I’m talking about. Alpha and beta readers? Isn’t a reader just a reader? Next, I’ll be telling you that there are gamma readers, too!
But they’re known as angry internet commenter and it’s best to avoid them. You can tell who they are by a trademark “WRITER SMASH!”
No, no, that’s a joke, but alpha and beta readers are real, and they’re a vital inclusion to the pre-publisher writing process that you may not have thought of!
What are Alpha and Beta Readers?
Simply put, alpha and beta readers are what you call the select few people you allow to read your novel before it’s ready to be shown to the entire world, similar to video game beta testers and TV show test audiences that you may have heard about. There are a few differences between the two, but their jobs are very similar.
An alpha reader is the first person you allow to read your writing. Some writers like to show their work to that one special person even before they finish their first draft, but we recommend waiting until you’ve given it a once over yourself.
They are a trusted friend or very small group who you can be sure will give you their honest and fair opinion. Generally, it is best if your alpha reader is a fellow writer, or at least someone who knows about the writing process or really loves your genre. This way you can be assured they know what they are talking about and will (hopefully) give you the most in-depth advice and be much more willing to put up with your first draft mistakes.
Many authors seek out other authors who are in a similar stage of their career to trade books. This not only helps both authors improve their work, but often times leads to new friendships.
After your alpha reader(s) go through your work and you’ve picked their brain on every aspect of your story, it’s time to do the major edits.
Once you fixed the plot hole where a character dies in chapter 2 only to be sitting with the main character, eating a meal in chapter 12 and found all the places where you misspelt your beloved Juan’s name as Wong (curse you, Starbucks!), it’s time to seek out your beta readers.
They can be friends, family, or just about anyone you can trust. You’ll need to have multiple beta readers, we suggest at least three, although some authors have as many as ten. This is because you are now looking for opinions on the plot, characters, and everything else that makes up your story. The more you have, the wider range of opinions you’ll get back.
Think of Beta readers as your test audience. They are the ones less likely to be experienced writers and more likely to be the casual readers that pick your book off the shelf at the store. Beta readers aren’t looking for good sentence structure or how long a paragraph is, they read for the experience and the emotion. They can tell you if part of your story gives them a different emotion than you were going for, or if a key plot point was too boring to pay attention to. Ask them things like what their favorite scene was, who their favorite character were, and if any chapter stood out over the others, for good or bad. Beta readers give you the best sense of how the general audience will react to your book and if anything huge needs to be changed, or removed completely, before publication.
With so many writers sending their work to publishers every day, it’s important to have your work be as close to perfection as possible, especially if you haven’t been published before and don’t have credentials behind your name. Too many writers forget or skip this step, and that is the biggest mistake you may ever make in your writing life.
By working with your alpha reader as closely as possible and by having as many beta readers supply you with their opinion, you can see flaws that you would never have noticed on your own and work them out before your potential readers catch them.