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Okay, maybe you aren’t all that confused about Alpha and Beta Readers. Maybe you’ve got an awesome team behind you. Great! But a quick internet survey clearly indicates there is confusion abundant for new and veteran authors and those readers who might be interested in such a role.
What is an Alpha or a Beta Reader?
Well, the short of it is:
Alpha Readers assist writers by offering a reader’s perspective for a manuscript after an initial draft. The manuscript often has not been edited. It’s not uncommon for an Alpha to read before the author edits the first draft.
Beta Readers assist writers by offering a reader’s perspective for a manuscript which has been edited and is shortly due for publication.
What do they do?
They read. The main goal is to provide feedback to the author to help them gauge audience reception, improve and catch last-minute plot/story holes, and catch embarrassing errors that can easily occur after review after review and hour after hour an author and their professional editor put into a work.
How are they different?
Alphas look at a book for general issues in the story, they don’t concentrate on grammar or punctuation or syntax. They do focus on abhorrent characterization, missing dialogue, missing description and general appeal of the work.
Betas look at a book for appeal to an audience, they catch plot holes, grammar, punctuation, spelling issues, characterization issues, and focus on reader experience including why they loved sections or were thrown out of the book by something.
What’s so great about them?
For the Readers
Alpha/Beta Reading offers the reader sneak peaks into upcoming books, or gives them an opportunity to get goodies from the writers they love before anyone else does (alphas usually get the work even before the editor). It’s a pretty awesome gig for the bibliophile.
For the Authors
Alpha and Beta Readers offer invaluable perspectives from different walks of life. Some authors seek out Alpha and Beta Readers for their experience, cultural awareness, profession, and genre likes to ensure their work is on the mark with facts, industry, and reader perspectives. They’re a first or last line of defense against the never-ending edit stream, helping to stop major problems and minor annoyances.
What isn’t so great about them?
For the Readers
Good Alpha and Beta Readers can also end up spending time on a manuscript they despise or by an author who is ‘precious’ about their work – as my communications consultant has described. Authors who are precious about their work, who struggle with criticism can be a big turn-off for great readers. As with all art, which is a very personal creative endeavor, it makes sense for authors to hold their works close to their hearts. As a professional artist who seeks to make a living off of their talent, it doesn’t make sense to let that care and investment create a barrier to growth and connection with fans. The impact on reputation is strong. Adam Dreece offers a great example for how to handle criticism point blank from a fan (and Alpha and Beta Readers are fans).
For the Authors
Good Alpha and Beta Readers are hard to find. Authors need constructive criticism, keen eyes, and willing hearts. The reader who just reads works to offer an ‘it’s good’ or ‘it was okay’ is a hindrance on a team of professionals. This is why I advocate that Alpha and Beta Readers be compensated for their time. Good ones are working for the author. They deserve to be paid or somehow appreciated for the time and energy they’re going to put into a work.
There is a great deal of contention in the community about this. Some readers and authors believe whole-heartedly they should not charge or pay for these services. Others won’t waste the time on readers who aren’t professionals. Why? Professional Beta Readers tend to offer higher quality works, are often other authors and editors and reviewers with industry experience, and can deliver constructive criticism. But not always. There can be a great number of fee charging individuals who also just don’t cut it.
How Do I Become an Alpha or Beta Reader?
It’s all about networking, and how you present yourself. But first, you have to decide if you’re going to do it for free, or professionally. If professionally, you may have to set up an actual business. Check with your local municipal, provincial/state, and federal offices regarding a home-based business.
You’ll need to decide if you’re Alpha or Beta Reading or both.
Next, decide how much time you’re willing to dedicate. Make sure you’re willing to offer constructive feedback by deadlines. A little research can go a long way – find question sheets or checklists online to help identify key issues to look for.
Know any authors? Ask them if they need one.
Another great resource is Goodreads.com. There are many groups set up just for readers and authors to connect. Find an author’s post seeking a reader, or put a post in the right group/topic indicating your favorite genres, themes, topics and authors and that you’re available to Alpha or Beta Read.
There are some online groups and community groups set up as well. Check your local library, writing association and guilds to see if they have any connections you can tap into.
Not a professional? Don’t worry. Audience readers who enjoy the genres they read in still have a lot to offer. If there are sections you hate or love, the authors need to know that.
How Do I Get an Alpha or Beta Reader on My Team?
Ask supportive friends and family who can offer truthful, constructive feedback. Or check out Goodreads.com (which you should be on already if you’re a published author). There are many groups set up just for readers and authors to connect.
A google search or inquiry to your author community might yield professional reader groups or editors willing to Alpha or Beta read for a nominal fee. An editor Alpha/Beta reader is good, they’ll catch a lot of things audience readers won’t. Have both on your team, audience and professionals, but make sure you offer compensation to both. You’ll create a team of loyal supporters who can help bring magic to your manuscripts for years to come. Not to mention, you have a small group to tap into for reviews. I recommend you have no less than 5 and no more than 15 for a manuscript. Integrating comments can be a real challenge from more than 15. If you have more than 15, split the group. Have two phases of read through with two different Alpha/Beta teams. Alternatively, ask some to offer reviews online shortly after/before the book is published and some to Alpha or Beta Read. While reading the reviews, you should take notes on areas for improvement and success.
Want to know more or want Catherine on your team (she’s an editor/Alpha/Beta Reader too!)? Contact her.