Alpha Reader vs Beta Reader
Hey, aspiring authors, you may have heard the terms alpha reader and beta reader, but do you know what they are and why they may be valuable to you? Well, you’re about to find out, my darlings. It’s no biggie. They are test readers tasked to evaluate the WIP that’s become your heart and soul for months or even years.
An alpha reader is the first to closely inspect an author’s WIP. They give their general impression after reading the manuscript or part of it to see whether the author is heading in the right direction.
Alpha readers typically approach their task by reading strictly for content at first, proofreading for grammar, spelling, and punctuation may come later.
THEIR JOB IS FOCUSED ON:
Pointing out characters who are not fully fleshed out
Detecting plot holes
Checking for too much exposition
Assessing the originality of your story
Monitoring the pace of your story; whether there are snags that halt that pace and are boring
Evaluating character dialogue and whether or not it’s realistic
Looking for anything that doesn’t make sense or isn’t believable, with the understanding that your narrative is a work in progress, unpolished and raw
The alpha reader gives broad suggestions about what’s working and what isn’t. This can relate to sections of text, or the overall structure of the book. They can help catch issues that can easily be fixed before the author gets further along and the issues become ginormous. In addition to sniffing out weaknesses and anything that ain't razzing their berries, they can also zone in on strengths and give their opinion on what excited them. The author can accept the feedback and suggestions and expand on ideas or sections of the WIP if they agree.
QUESTIONS FOR ALPHA READERS
The author may wish to ask the alpha reader pointed questions about specific parts of their work.
What was the alpha reader’s favorite or least favorite scene, character, or chapter, and why?
Were any parts too long or rushed?
Does the main character need to be fleshed out more?
Did the opening sentence grab their attention?
Did you find the plot intriguing?
Authors should come up with a list of questions that are significant to them and their narrative. The Alpha reader should provide helpful and practical feedback and answer any questions the author may pose, with detailed explanations.
An alpha reader is commonly someone the author trusts and can count on to remain objective without inserting their own ideas or trying to sway the author into changing their story.
If you’re an author who has completed a few chapters or a manuscript and you feel you have a cohesive narrative, you may be ready for an alpha reader.
An author can hire a beta reader or find volunteers. The beta reader is next in the process on the author’s writing journey after self-editing to the best of their ability. Beta readers are usually knowledgeable about the author’s genre so they can pinpoint specific issues as they drill into the story. For example, if the novel they are evaluating is a romance, the beta reader is skilled at detecting the must-haves of story structure that are expected, such as POV, usually the woman’s, conflict and resolution, an optimism of love the reader feels they too can relate to or attain, and a happy-ever-after ending. Beta readers understand what fans of the particular story genre they are evaluating, expect.
When an author puts out feelers for beta readers on social media or ask members of their critique or writing group to be a beta reader, they may want to consider asking pointed questions in the request or follow-up email that zone in on specifics about what the author is looking for in the beta reader. This may help weed out respondents who are not a good fit. Authors should include an expected turn-around time to complete the reading and written evaluation.
SAMPLING OF INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Is the beta reader knowledgeable in the author’s genre?
Can the reader deliver honest constructive feedback in a positive way?
How much experience does the beta reader have in this arena?
Are they a skilled writer?
Do they have the capacity to be objective?
Those who respond without answering the questions may not be serious or in the end helpful.
QUESTIONS FOR BETA READERS:
Did you find the ending satisfying?
Did you skip or skim any pages?
Could you relate to the characters?
Were you confused at any point?
Did the first ten pages grab your attention and make you want to continue reading?
Authors do your research if you decide to hire beta readers. Thoroughly read through websites, and profiles of potential hirers to narrow down the best fit. Figure out how many beta readers you think you need to gather enough information and opinions to help you make positive changes to your manuscript before you take the next step of finding an editor. This number varies among authors so, do what’s best for you and your budget.
Writing a book is hard but not impossible. I know it seems like there are so many hoops to jump through and a ton of struggles to bulldoze before your book makes it to the shelf and into the hands of your target audience, but please don’t give up. Alpha and beta readers can help aspiring authors tweak their work and get it ready for a professional edit and eventually publication.