Initial feedback from the beta reader experience has shown me that my expectations for alpha and beta readers are not entirely accurate. It also showed me that my research and the information out there on these two roles is not entirely consistent. Before I expand upon my own thoughts, focusing on alpha readers, information I researched came from these sources:
- Catherine Milos article.
- Leigh Pierce article.
- Shawn P. B. Robinson editing series.
- Aigner Loren Wilson article.
Catherine Milos’s summary is the closest to my own experience and expectations in the comparison between the two roles with this description (I encourage you to take a look at all the articles):
- “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.”
Some of the articles call out that alpha readers look at your manuscript from the perspective of a writer, looking for plot holes and writing issues. While beta readers look at it from a reader perspective looking for what they like and do not like.
My Findings on Alpha Readers
My greatest area of confusion in my first run through this process is around editing. I plan to hire a copy editor for my book before publishing, so I was not as concerned with that aspect before requesting beta readers. I have someone I consider my alpha reader looking for plot holes and character development issues. Upon rewrite I do another review for editing purposes. Unfortunately, I have read my own work so many times that some grammar is just overlooked. This was more of a distraction for some of the beta readers than I initially anticipated.
I know copy editing is not my strength, so I need to adjust my process to compensate. This includes adjusting how I approach alpha and beta readers to better accommodate my style and skills. My sister is my first reader, and will continue to do so. While she will also be a beta reader, I call her my first reader as well because she takes a look at my rough draft. This is the draft where I jump from scene to scene and do not have the secondary characters as well developed as they need to be. The first read for me is: Does the story work? Which characters are standing out and which are bland? What are the big plot holes or world building aspects that are not making sense? These give me some broad brushes to fill in when I go for the initial rewrite to smooth out the rough edges in preparation for a true alpha read.
The second step for me is the alpha reader. First lesson: I need more than one. No matter how much feedback hurts, it is a growing kind of pain. Second lesson: I need alpha readers with complementary skills. I have enlisted my husband for this, as he and my sister have a good combination of skills between the two of them. She will be looking more at plot, characters, world, etc. He will focus on conflicting descriptions, grammar, and clarity. I will be looking for a third as well, and likely a critique partner, but alpha readers need to be people you trust. They read something rough, and you need people who can work with you to build something and not tear you down while doing it.
With this learning, I’m looking at another round of beta readers for this book after incorporating the fixes from my new alpha reader and the first round of beta readers. I appreciate the three of them working with me on this round. It was my first time submitting for a beta read, and they were willing to push through that. The feedback and advice from experienced beta readers has been much appreciated.
I will not go into the beta reader process too much here, as there is a lot of advice on beta readers already out there and easy to find on the beta process. To summarize my findings on getting to that stage: Know your own strengths and weaknesses and your writing process. Tailor your alpha readers to your process and to have complementary strengths with you and with each other. Finally, unless you know your beta readers well and they are not concerned with grammar, make sure your manuscript is clean of obvious errors before you move to the beta reader stage.
Still on track for publication this year!