Should You Use Alpha and Beta Readers?

by Kerry Kerr McAvoy

I rechecked my email box—still no message from my Alpha reader. I sent the manuscript’s last chapter several hours ago and can’t wait to hear her thoughts.

I’ve never used an Alpha reader before, although I’d heard others mention the benefits. It’s been tricky to find the right person until recently.

Role of Alpha and Beta Readers

Alpha and Beta readers can play an essential role in a book’s editing process. Alphas often see the work early, sometimes the first draft, and can offer a valuable perspective on its development. Is the storyline cohesive? Are the characters believable? Where does the story move too fast or too slow? These are the typical problems alpha readers address.

Currently, I’m revising my second draft. I sent the initial pages to an editor who I’ve worked with before and trust. She spied trouble with the piece; the character development of the protagonist was weak. That spells trouble since the story is a memoir, and the principal character is me.

After some self-reflection, I hit on the problem. I’ve been too afraid to delve deeper into the emotions and motives of the story since the topic is traumatic.

So, I’m making another pass through the piece, this time adding more context and back story.

Is it working? I’m too close to know. My Alpha reader explicitly has that focus in mind, and she has been a fantastic asset.

Quality of an Alpha Reader

The process has been constructive. Within a matter of hours, I have instant feedback. Several times she’s warned a scene doesn’t work. The immediacy of the information enables me to make the necessary changes before I moved onto another chapter.

Alpha readers need to have solid composition skills. The best are often writers themselves. I have a cadre of fellow writers I can call on to look over shorter pieces. We swap the favor of helping each other with tricky articles or difficult passages.

Then, There are Beta Readers

Beta readers get involved as the project moves closer to publishing. They are avid readers who provide feedback for a gift, often a complimentary digital copy of the finished book. I plan to send this manuscript to approximately fifteen beta readers after this current edit is finished. Sometimes I have it professionally edited first, but the timing for this book is a bit tricky.

Beta readers are a detailed list of questions to guide their feedback. These can include the book’s overall tone, the likability of characters, and the satisfaction with the ending. Of course, not everyone will have the same reaction. I look for patterns among the feedback. Is there a majority reaction? If so, I take those under consideration.

There are professional Alpha and Beta readers, freelancers. I prefer to use my email list and personal contacts when seeking interested people. Something special happens between the author and the beta/alpha reader that draws them closer. We both become invested in the project’s outcome. Fans often turn into superfans.

When to Involve Readers in Your Project

Months in advance, I put out a public invitation to anyone interested. Then, as the project approaches readiness for their involvement, I let them know. Finally, I send a digital copy of the book, along with a shortlist of questions and a reasonable timeline to give feedback.

The entire experience is incredible. My finished piece is much stronger for the involvement of these outside readers. Several also leave positive reviews. It’s a win-win for everyone.

If you’d like to find Alpha and Beta readers for your next project, be sure to check out this week’s worksheet, Using Alpha and Beta Readers, and consider becoming a part of our Writers Community. For just $2 a month, you can have access to exclusive bonus content and join our Discord Community. You can come to our LIVE monthly “Ask Us Anything” webinar for a few dollars more.

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