If you haven’t got a trusted team of alpha and beta readers yet as an author, why not? It’s never too late to get started!
A common question that many new authors ask, ‘Is what are beta readers?’
There are always more questions than answers for new authors, and beta readers and alpha readers are just another question that needs an explanation for many self-published authors.
If you have heard other authors talking about their beta reader team or alpha reader and thought, ‘Should I have beta readers or alpha readers?’ then you’re not alone, and the answer is yes.
Are you ready to dive deeply into the world of beta and alpha readers? If the answer is yes, then let’s get started.
In the following article we’ll cover:
- What is a beta reader?
- What’s the difference between an alpha reader and a beta reader?
- Where can you find alpha and beta readers?
- Why are beta readers so important?
- 5 Tips for working with beta readers.
- 15 questions to ask your beta readers.
- 10 questions to ask your alpha reader.
What Is A Beta Reader? – An Author’s Best Friend!
To put it simply, a beta reader is someone who will read your draft manuscript with the intention of providing you with a reader’s perspective in the form of feedback.
It’s important to note that a beta reader isn’t a professional editor and shouldn’t be used as one.
While they may not be editors, and a professional manuscript evaluation and editing is an essential step, beta readers and alpha readers play an important role in helping an author improve their work by pointing out any plot holes, errors, unclear passages, and inconsistencies.
Beta readers could be readers you’ve met online, personal friends, family members, or complete strangers who understand your chosen genre well.
In the following guide to beta readers and alpha readers, we’ll be covering every aspect of working with beta readers and how to get the most out of your alpha and beta readers.
Beta Readers Are Your First Test Audience
It’s essential that your chosen beta readers enjoy your genre. There’s no point in having someone who only reads romance books beta-read your fantasy book. The more familiar they are with the genre, the better they’ll be at picking out any over-used tropes or perhaps crucial elements that you’ve missed from your story.
Ideally, your perfect beta readers are your target audience.
Another idea to consider is having beta readers who understand the subject matter from a professional point of view. For example, if you have a firefighter, doctor, nurse, or perhaps a police officer or detective character in your book, and you know anyone who does this professionally, then reach out to them. They could be able to provide you with valuable insight while ensuring your book is procedurally accurate.
Your beta readers can’t and shouldn’t replace a professional editor.
Think of your beta readers as an early part of your quality control as a writer.
This is how your writing and editing process should typically go:
- Once you’ve finished writing your manuscript, start by taking it through several rounds of self-editing.
- When you’re happy with the manuscript, begin by sharing it with a few beta readers.
- After you’ve received feedback from your beta readers and made any revisions or changes, it’s time to submit your manuscript to your editor.
The old saying, ‘Good editing isn’t cheap, and cheap editing isn’t good,’ still holds up.
Professional editing isn’t cheap, and if you’re on a tight budget, doing as much work as possible on your manuscript before handing it over to the editor will save you a lot of time and money.
By fixing many small things before it gets to your editor, your editor will be able to spend more time fine-tuning your work and less time fixing basic spelling and grammar mistakes.
What Aren’t Beta Readers?
We already covered that beta readers aren’t editors. Now, let’s look at other things that beta readers aren’t.
Beta readers aren’t alpha readers, critique partners, or proofreaders.
We’ll cover the difference between alpha readers and beta readers in the next section.
And while your beta readers may point out spelling and grammar mistakes, they definitely aren’t free proofreaders and shouldn’t be used as such. While many beta readers may offer to proofread as they read your book, you shouldn’t rely on them to 100% proofread your manuscript.
Proofreading should always be done by a professional. If your beta readers are focused on looking for typos, that’s less focus they’ll have on the storyline, plot, and character development of your manuscript.
Critique partners look at your book from the perspective of a writer, and beta readers look at your book from the perspective of a reader. That’s why other authors aren’t the greatest beta readers but are excellent critique partners. It’s hard to switch from author mode to reader mode.
What’s the Difference Between An Alpha Reader and a Beta Reader?
Like the alphabet, a comes before b, and an alpha reader should come before a beta reader, according to IngramSpark.
Once you have your manuscript finished and you’ve done one or two rounds of self-editing, it’s time to show your work to someone.
Your alpha reader is the first person you share your work with.
Again, like your beta readers, your alpha reader isn’t your proofreader and shouldn’t be used as one. Although they may point out typos or spelling mistakes, it shouldn’t be encouraged.
An alpha reader needs to look at your manuscript through the eyes of both a reader and writer, trying to identify any holes in your plot, loose ends, or clunky parts of the storyline.
They should be thinking about the big picture.
- What’s working?
- What feels weak?
- What makes sense in your head but doesn’t translate to the pages?
- What could be strengthened?
- What’s being overwritten?
- What’s unnecessary?
A good alpha reader will tell you what parts of your manuscript need to be strengthened, identifying the weak parts and what parts you don’t need.
Once your alpha reader has finished reading your book, please sit down and consider their feedback before rushing into making revisions. It’s important to understand that alpha and beta reader feedback is essential, but you’re the author at the end of the day.
Remember, it’s your book.
Take their comments and feedback seriously. Consider their feedback and try to imagine reading your story for the first time as a reader. Think about what they’re suggesting, why they’re suggesting it, and what impact it will have on the final story.
While it’s your book, you’re also hopefully writing it for somebody else to enjoy.
So, if a few people have read it and made the same or similar comments and feedback, then they could have a point.
Who needs alpha and beta readers? The short answer, everyone!
Every writer needs somebody to bounce their work off. Even the greats like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound shared their writing with one another. It often takes someone’s fresh set of eyes to see the most obvious faults in your work. Someone who hasn’t been living and breathing the story for months or even years.
Where Can You Find Alpha and Beta Readers?
Now that we know what they do, it’s time to talk about where you can find them.
Typically, alpha readers are going to be those closest to you. It could be a spouse, close friend, or family member. Other authors who are writing in a similar genre make good alpha readers.
Similarly, beta readers could be close friends or family members or found online.
Social media has made it a lot easier to find beta readers who enjoy reading your genre. Other options include forums and writing groups.
However, for honest and candid feedback, consider looking outside your personal connections. Even if you ask friends and family for brutally honest feedback on your manuscript, they may not always be comfortable destroying your hopes and dreams with negative feedback.
Below, we’ll look at some great resources for finding beta readers:
Online Writing Communities – Writing groups can be valuable resources for finding beta readers. Even if other writers aren’t your preferred choice in beta readers, they may be able to recommend their beta readers to you, which will help you build connections for the future.
Absolute Write Water Cooler – Don’t be intimidated by the sheer size of this forum. It’s packed full of beta readers, authors, writers, and mentors and has been a central meeting point for writers now for many years. They require a 50-post minimum before you can ask for beta readers, so get involved and start interacting with the community.
Beta Readers and Critique Partners Facebook Group – With over 27k members and growing, this Facebook group is moderated by a team of passionate and dedicated writing individuals who are working to keep it running smoothly.
Goodreads Beta Reading Groups – Goodreads, as usual, is an invaluable resource for new authors, including their beta reading groups. The Beta Reader Group has over 25k members, while the smaller Beta / Proof Readers Group has over 4.5k members. Be sure to read the rules before posting or asking for beta readers.
The 10-Minute Novelist Facebook Group – With over 16k members, you’re sure to find some professional beta readers among this experienced group.
Local Writing Groups – Search your local area and see if there are any active writing groups that operate close to you. Almost every state in Tasmania is sure to have a local writing community where you can find help, network, and share knowledge.
Below are some local Australian writing and author groups:
- Tasmanian Indie Author Group – You can read more about the Tasmanian Indie Author Group in this article here.
- Writers Victoria – Has a great list of local writing groups around Victoria, Australia.
- Writing NSW – Has a comprehensive list of different writing groups throughout New South Wales.
- Writer’s Groups Queensland – Will be able to help you find local writing groups and authors in Queensland.
- Writing WA – This will help you find local writers and resources throughout Western Australia.
- SA Community – Features a comprehensive list of different writing groups and author groups in South Australia.
- Canberra – On Meetup, they have almost 1k Canberra writers who hold regular meetings and get-togethers.
- NT Writer’s Centre – Will be able to help Northern Territory writers connect with one another.
Author Mailing Lists – If you’ve already written a book or started building up a social media presence and mailing list, tap into it to help secure beta readers. Beta readers could already be passionate about your book, and getting advanced arc copies or the opportunity to beta-read work before it’s published is very attractive to many readers.
Why Are Beta Readers So Important?
Beta readers will often provide you with important feedback on your manuscript that, as the author, you can’t see. They identify the areas of your book that are working well and the areas that might need more work.
As authors and writers, it’s easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to our own work. After spending months or years writing and re-writing, you start to develop tunnel vision.
A beta reader might identify the smallest detail that could be pivotal to the plot of your story.
A huge benefit of working with a beta reader, or several, is that you’re getting feedback from people who share the same passion or love the same genre. Ultimately, it’s these types of people who hopefully will fall in love with your book and purchase it, becoming lifetime readers.
They are even more beneficial for self-published authors than traditionally published authors who benefit from publisher guidance.
Regardless of whether you write fiction or non-fiction or what genre you write in, the benefits of using beta readers are immense.
Below, we took it to social media to ask some authors what their thoughts were on the number of betas they typically use and got a few different responses.
5 Tips for Working With Beta Readers
Below are five tips for working with your readers sourced from Publishers Weekly.
- Communication is Key – Clearly communicate to your beta reader what you’re hoping to get out of the relationship. Not all beta readers are the same, much like authors. Are you looking for an overall impression, what’s working and what isn’t, plot holes, character development, or just how they felt while reading certain parts of the story?
- You Don’t Need Hundreds of Beta Readers – Believe it or not, but too many beta readers aren’t great either. How many beta readers you choose to work with is up to you, and no two authors are the same, but too many opinions will make it hard to filter out the noise. Try to stick with beta readers you trust.
- Get Everyone’s Feedback Before Editing – Don’t take the first report you receive from a beta reader and cut up your manuscript. Wait until you get everyone’s feedback first. This is where providing a form or template to beta readers will pay dividends, as you’ll get everyone’s feedback in the same format. If multiple people point out the same issues, then that’s where you should start first.
- You Don’t Have to Incorporate Every Suggestion – As we mentioned above, just because a beta reader suggests something, it doesn’t mean that you need to change your manuscript. However, it’s essential to go into the beta reader feedback with an open mind and be receptive to feedback.
- Paid or Unpaid Beta Readers – If you have a very limited budget, then with a little hard work, you can find volunteer beta readers. However, you also need to be tolerant of people’s time. If you want prompt replies, then consider paying your beta readers. Another idea is to offer beta readers things like ARCs, signed copies, limited edition copies, or acknowledgments in your book.
15 Questions to Ask Your Beta Readers
Below are 15 questions you should ask your beta reader from The Writing Cooperative. The more streamlined you can make the beta reading process, the easier it will be to constructively evaluate the feedback you receive and implement it into your manuscript.
- Did the story grab and hold your attention from the beginning? If it didn’t, why not, or where did you get drawn in?
- Did you become oriented into the story from the start? If not, why not? What held you back?
- Could you relate to the main characters in the book? For non-fiction books, did you understand why the author wrote the book?
- Were the settings of the story exciting and vivid, and did they feel real? For non-fiction books, was the topic exciting or interesting?
- Were there any parts in the story where you felt it got bogged down, lagged, or struggled to read through? For non-fiction books, which parts were either boring, unnecessary or could have been trimmed down/removed?
- Did any parts of the story confuse you or frustrate you? Which parts of the story were they and why? For non-fiction books, did any of the research feel inaccurate or unrealistic?
- Did you notice any discrepancies in the storyline or timing, places, or characters? For non-fiction books, were any details repetitive or redundant?
- Were the characters in the book believable and relatable? For non-fiction books, could different parts of the book be punched up or improved on?
- Did any of the characters blend together, or did you mistake any characters for each other? Were there too many characters, or were their names too similar? For non-fiction books, was there too much information and research, or not enough?
- Did the dialogue flow, make sense, sound natural, and keep you interested? If not, whose dialogue needs work?
- Was there too much description or not enough?
- Was there enough conflict, intrigue, mystery, drama, or tension to keep you interested? For non-fiction books, did the narrative keep the book moving?
- Did you like the ending? Was it believable? For non-fiction books, did the book give you the information you needed to take the necessary next steps?
- Did you notice any repetitive spelling, grammar, punctuation, or capitalization errors? Can you provide some examples?
- Did you feel like the writing style fit the genre? If not, why not?
Feel free to create your own variations on these questions to streamline your next beta reading process. By having your beta readers utilize the same feedback form, you’ll find it much easier to analyze the feedback and implement it in a meaningful and practical way.
10 Questions to Ask Your Alpha Readers
Thanks to Entrada Publishing, we also have some tips on the right questions to ask your alpha readers to make the feedback process run a little smoother. Before you send your manuscript, think carefully about what you’re looking to get out of the feedback.
If you think you just want general feedback on the story, that’s okay. However, if you want specific feedback about different parts of the story, then having the questions you want answered clearly defined will make the process much smoother and beneficial.
Below are some example questions you may consider asking your alpha readers:
- Did you feel like the plot was moving at an understandable pace?
- Did any parts of the story feel rushed, too long, too short, or unnecessary?
- What was your favorite part of the story and why?
- Which was your least favorite part of the story and why?
- Did the dialogue flow smoothly and sound realistic and natural?
- Who was your favorite character, and why?
- Who was your least favorite character, and why?
- Could any of the characters be further developed?
- Did you feel like the writing style fit the genre?
- Did you like the ending of the story? If not, why not?
What Are Beta Readers? The Complete Guide to Alpha and Beta Readers for Authors! – Conclusion
The more prepared you are to work with beta and alpha readers, the smoother the process will flow, and the results will be a lot more beneficial to you.
Come up with a list of generic questions that you want them to answer.
Be prepared to sit down with them afterward and discuss their answers and help to clarify any questions they may have.
Please don’t give them a 50-page description of the book in advance. A short synopsis will be enough to gauge their interest without giving them any advanced bias.
Set a time limit for their feedback. If they’re volunteers, this can be a little tricky to navigate, and if you’re on a tight deadline, consider paying for professionals rather than volunteers.
Always take the time to consider any feedback you receive with openness. You don’t have to act on all the feedback you receive, and you probably shouldn’t, but be open to other people’s opinions; after all, that’s why you’re working with them in the first place.
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