Beta and alpha readers. What are they?

Alpha readers, beta readers

As an aspiring writer, you will most likely hear it often: give your finished story to alpha and beta readers. It took me some googling and many episodes of Writing Excuses before I really grasped what alphas and betas are about. 

Simply put, alpha and beta readers are test readers. They are provided with a story and comment on errors that are still present within a narrative before it is sent to a publisher. In order words, alphas and betas help you to see the errors that you just aren’t able to see anymore.

Alpha readers

It seems the actual definition fluctuates depending on who you talk to, but two things are clear: the alpha reader(s) reads the story first and judges it on its overall structure. An alpha gets to see the rough version of the story.

When and if an author decides to use an alpha reader is up to them. Some authors decide on not making use of alphas at all and head straight to beta readers. Others send their very first draft to alphas. Some give them the second or third draft. It really depends on the way you write and how clean of a version you can write on your first attempt.

The feedback an alpha usually gives involves signaling plot holes and any issues that significantly impact the reading experience and the logic of the story.

The general advice when it comes to alpha readers is: have one or two. Don’t hand your uncut diamond out to five people. Why? First of all, because it might discourage you. This is the first time you let someone read your story and it can be quite intense. You still have to finish editing your story and keeping the motivation up is key. Secondly, hearing you have to change a specific thing from five people is just a waste of time if one person can spot that error.

Choosing your alpha reader or readers seems to be more difficult than choosing your betas. Alphas really need a good set of eyes and you need to trust the person you give your story to. I’ve read that many authors choose their agents as their alphas. If you’re just starting out, that may be difficult. Most will not have an agent yet. Rather, think of someone within the business, a fellow writer or maybe even your partner who reads a lot.

Beta readers

Beta readers read your book like an audience would. That basically means that you have written and edited the best story you could possibly craft. If you have finally made it to this fase, it’s up to you to select who will be reading your story. I feel it is best to try and represent your actual audience. That basically means you have to know the genre you have written in, so you can select your beta readers based on this. Are they fantasy readers? Young adult readers? Do they enjoy a romance plot? Will they like a thriller?

Once you receive the feedback, you should be able to tell whether your target audience will enjoy what you’ve written. You will learn what parts work well within your story and which ones need work. Mostly, a beta reader won’t be able to tell in technical terms what is wrong with your story, but it will be able to pinpoint what got them interested and what was really quite dull. It is, however, possible that you have a very experienced reader as a beta. This person may know a lot about storytelling techniques and, thus, can tell you about how to fix chapter or paragraphs.

Alpha readers and beta readers. They can be vital to the finished product! Do you think these should be a part of your editing process? 

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