Alpha and Beta Readers: What’s the Difference?

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Alpha and beta readers do the same job—pinpointing how your story could be better—but they have different focal points.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what these readers do and what my approach is when helping authors through Book Breath.

These Definitions Aren’t Set in Stone

Traditional publishers may have precise workflows and expectations from alpha and beta readers, but self-published authors come across all sorts of readers with different processes and attention to detail.

If you’re the latter and want to avoid any confusion, it’s a good idea to learn what these terms mean, so that you know what people to look for at different stages of your writing and what to ask of them.

What Is an Alpha Reader?

Alpha or first readers look at your book as writers, meaning they dissect things like your story’s opening paragraph, whether there are plot holes, how your themes could resonate more, and any good or bad writing habits you have.

You can approach them after writing just one chapter or completing the first draft. The text being a mess won’t matter, because alpha reading’s whole point is to ignore that part and focus on improving the story. You can proofread as you go, but it’s okay to leave it for later.

Finally, alpha readers can be friends and family or your creative writing group. But make sure they’re people whose opinions you trust.

At the same time, remember that you have the final word. If a reader suggests something you really don’t agree with, it’s your book, your choice.

What Is a Beta Reader?

A traditional publisher typically approaches beta readers for the absolute final draft before publishing a book that has already been tweaked by several people. In self-publishing, that’s a bit of a luxury.

So, if you’re an indie author, get your manuscript to as good a condition as possible. If you don’t trust your own editing skills, invest in reliable help. There are plenty of proofreaders, copy editors, developmental editors, and more online.

Whatever you do, don’t just rely on people in your close circle. They may be too polite to give you honest feedback or hack away at your book if necessary.

The goal is to reach a point where, for you, this is the final draft, even if you think you may need one more run-through after you get some nudges in the right direction. That’s the ideal time to reach out to beta readers.

Their difference from alpha readers is that they approach the story as readers—pull stop. They will tell you about their reading experience as a whole, whether the plot flowed well, what impressions the characters made, what other books they would compare it to, and so on.

Hearing from a bunch of readers with and without experience in your genre will give you a good consensus on how the story would be received and how you can change that.

At this point, you amend the manuscript as you wish and, ideally, have it professionally proofread, at the very least. If up to this point you do a good enough job on your own, you can choose to only pay for an editing service at the very end, saving you a lot of money.

What to Expect From Book Breath’s Beta Reader

As already mentioned, individuals and companies offering beta reading services might not follow the exact same process.

In my case, I expect a final or polished manuscript and provide a detailed beta reading report, but I also like to leave in-text comments while I read.

This particular feedback can include some alpha reading like pointing out plot details or writing patterns that don’t quite work and correcting the occasional spelling or structural error, if only to highlight issues you should keep in mind.

It’s a bit of extra work, but I choose to do it because, being an author myself, I know how helpful such information can be, whether for the story in question or your creative writing in general. To find out more about what I offer, check out my beta reading service page.

Use Your Readers Wisely

Hopefully, alpha and beta reading is clearer in your head, and you can get the right feedback when you need it.

If you do have the support of such readers, listen carefully to their different perspectives of your work, ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to utilize any great ideas. The last thing you want to do is let your pride block your constructive development as an author.

More Creative Writing Tips…

Author: Electra Nanou

Wordy weirdo supporting authors

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