One of the most often questions I get asked, when I talk about having Alpha and Beta readers, is: are they really that important?
And to that I say… your work will be released into a world full of readers who will judge you for it. They will be reading and judging your work, assigning an arbitrary star rating to it, and talking about how much they love, or hate, your book.
Yes, you need to have other people read your work.
Alpha readers and Beta readers are there to do one thing, and one thing only, at the very root of it, and that is to read your work and tell you their opinion on it, BEFORE you release it out into the world. With their feedback, you can add scenes, make changes, or even catch huge plot holes!
And before anyone thinks, well, isn’t that what an editor is for?
Yes. And yet, despite an extensive budget and hundreds of editors, a Starbucks cup still ended up on the table of a Game of Thrones episode.
So let’s talk about it.
WHAT IS AN ALPHABET
In essence, an Alphabet is your team of readers who look at your work while it’s still in the basics of ABCs. They’re there before you “finish”. Arguably, this is a very fanfic way of looking at things, but it has transferred beautifully to the indie world, and almost everyone I know uses Alpha and Beta readers, even big authors!
But, what’s the difference?
Well, just like A comes before B, Alpha readers come before Beta readers. Even more than that, an Alpha reader is there at the very beginning. They’re there when you’re working out the initial plot, and helping you as you first formulate your plan. In turn, once your first draft is done, you have Beta readers. They give feedback on the written work.
Let’s just… break it down for a minute.
Alright, so you have an idea, and you write down thoughts, but then you get stuck. How do you get character A over to plot point Z? Well, of course you’re going to send a voice message to your bestie, who immediately rolls their eyes and fixes the problem in two seconds flat.
Yes, hello, that’s an Alpha reader.
But, it’s a little bit more than that.
An Alpha is there to look at the rough edges, the first draft. You get stuck, they go and look at what is currently written, and help to figure out how to move things along. They’re there when the weird squigglies are still in place. They don’t care about the grammar – they’re there looking at the overall picture of the plot.
They should be concentrating on, and you should be asking for feedback on, three things:
1. Do they like the characters / world / universe / the cute puppy that trails along?
2. Do they see any plot holes? Anything that doesn’t make sense? Anything that left them questioning what was going on?
3. What is their overall vibe? What did they take away from the plot? (If you have a blurb ready, do they think the blurb compliments the work itself?)
You want basic raw feedback about the storyline itself. The actual writing is secondary. This is the bare bones. What do they think of your story?
If you’re using my Editing Plan that I mentioned in Step 3, this is where you are going to start editing… unless there is an error of some sort. In that case, it’s back to the drawing board with you. Get back to work on your draft! Your Alphas found a problem, so go fix it, double check with them it works, then move ahead with starting your self edits!
So your work is ready, you think, for new and fresh eyes. You’ve been self editing for days, you can’t find anymore plot holes, and you’re sick of looking at it. This is where Betas come in.
Now, betas can still be looking at and checking above, and they should be! They should be looking for plot holes, and they should be letting you know if things don’t make sense, but it’s more than that! They’re there to read and enjoy! They’re there to tell you their favorite lines, to point out favorite characters. They are great sources for quotes to use in promotion.
They are there to give you genuine reader feedback… which is why I then offer a questionnaire. Think of it as an interview with a book. It gives them something to think about while they’re reading, and gives them something more to say beyond “I liked it.”
Things you might consider asking:
- Favorite scene
- Did you connect with the characters?
- Thing you liked least about the main characters?
- Did any part of the plot feel too fast or slow?
- Are you left with any lingering questions or confusions?
- Did anything feel too cliche?
By having these questions to answer, it gives your beta a place to have feedback for you!
And, some might also find editing errors, which is amazing! They might find typos! They might find tense shifts! They might find wrong names used! There’s no telling what they might find!
And then, with your beta feedback in hand, make the changes as needed. Betas are normal regular readers, and if they hate something, then it might need to be changed, and if they loved something, move forward confidently!
Now, this is not an option I currently use myself, but I have used it in the past. A critique partner is somewhat like a beta reader, however, it’s another writer with whom you swap works and give feedback to and with. A critique partner is someone who you need to have a professional and honest relationship with.
The goal of having a critique partner is to get your book ready for an editor, and to have it at the best level it can be. Perhaps they have an idea as to how to fix an error, or they notice that you’ve shifted patterns, or… there’s no telling!
A few things to consider when looking for a critique partner:
- Their writing schedule. Do they have a similar timeline as you? You do not want to be sitting waiting for feedback while you’ve been done with their work for some time.
- Their genre. You want someone similar to you, but not identical. Something that, you know they will know what to look for, but it won’t have any overlap.
- Their experience. You want someone with similar styles as you, and this includes how much or often they are reading, how much you have written.
Find someone you can vibe with. Someone who you can match with. The goal is to have someone you feel comfortable swapping manuscripts with, who you know will give you open and honest feedback, who will not make you wait for weeks on end, and who will give you feedback you can trust!
HOW DO I FIND THESE PEOPLE?
I’m going to start by mentioning Critique Match. I’ve never used them, but they were recommended to me, for finding a Critique Partner.
Next, I’m going to mention reddit, which has a huge number of resources for writers in general. /r/BetaReaders is a community for working on and receiving feedback for your manuscript.
And now moving forward… how I found my Alpha/Beta Readers, etc… Social Media.
Tiktok: I posted on Tiktok that I was looking for Beta Readers. I specifically talked about exactly what I was writing, and what I was looking for, and when. The more specific you are, the better chance you have at finding someone. I had so many people banging down my door. Make a few videos about this, in fact.
Instagram: This is where I found one of my most trusted Alpha/Beta readers, who I heavily rely upon. You should already have an Instagram account, but I participated in a number of Writing Community challenges, where you post about yourself daily, and follow others in the group. I then posted on my Instagram story a few times what I was looking for, much like Tiktok, and got an offer from someone that way.
Discord: If you are not in any discord servers, I highly recommend finding some. Not author specific ones, but booktok discord servers. There are a number of them, and I will happily get you an invite link if you would like one, but there are frequently Author channels and Authors seeking help channels, where you can post that you are looking for a Beta reader. I found a lovely beta reader that way, posting in an Author chat that I was looking for someone.
Facebook: Ahh, facebook. First and foremost, there are actually facebook groups dedicated to finding beta readers. Search Beta Readers and see all of the groups that pop up! But, you can also join genre specific writer groups, and post in there that you are looking for Beta readers, as per following the rules. I guarantee, you will find people on there!
People want to read your book. If you talk about your book, talk about what makes it unique, talk about how much you love it, how you want to share this and let someone look at it first before anyone else… people will come. It never fails that, I see a video on tiktok of someone looking for beta readers, and I open the comments to see 20 people banging down the door!
You just need to put it out there that you’re looking for them! They’ll come out of the woodwork, excited! Promise!
Please Note: This post was originally published and share on Elle’s Authoring Chaos Patreon on 6 March 2022.