Alpha and Beta Readers: Who are they? Why do I need one?

Alpha? Beta? These Greek semantics serve a different purpose in the writing process. New and veteran authors alike find these phrases peculiar, so let’s break it down: 

What do Alpha and Beta Readers Do?

These readers provide feedback to authors and writers. They help improve, examine, and review plot holes, tonal issues, and errors the writer usually misses. Their expectations are simply reading the book and shaking out the creases (issues) before publication.

What is an Alpha Reader? 

Alpha Readers are known as the First Readers. They assist during the developmental stage of your story. It’s common for Alpha Readers to read before the author edits the first draft, providing an Alpha Reader’s Report like this.

What is a Beta Reader? 

Beta Readers are like a test audience. They usually read a manuscript close to the finished product and provide invaluable feedback crucial to envisioning the story from another perspective, providing an Beta Reader’s Report like this.

What’s the Difference?

Alpha Readers focus on general issues such as character development, general appeal and tone. They do not concentrate on punctuation, syntax, or grammar. 

Writers ask Alpha Readers questions:: 

  1. Do the characters feel real to you? 
  2. Does the tone match the genre? 
  3. Are there moments which do not work well? 
  4. What kind of story do you think I am trying to write here? 

Beta Readers are the closest reader the writer has to an official audience. They catch plot holes, punctuation, spelling, characterisation issues, and grammatical errors. Their focus is entirely on the reader’s experience. 

Writers ask Beta Readers questions: 

  1. When did you feel a connection to the story?
  2. What kind of emotion did you feel when reading? 
  3. Do any characters seem estranged from the story? 
  4. Does the plot manoeuvre well? 

Do Writers Really Need Alpha and Beta Readers? 

Yes. They are vital to the writing process of a story. Great writers formed social groups, sharing their first drafts with one another. The likes of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemmingway, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald circulated their writing from the first draft. 

The greatest ideas don’t always come from your head but from the circulation of ideas and dedication to the story at hand. 

Alpha and Beta readers have your story’s best interest in mind. They match your creative aspirations with their own vision. 

Take it from someone who beta reads in her spare time, I truly believe in helping writers express their stories in the very best way–it works both ways. We make each other better

By Shelby Jones