Alpha, Beta… Your Test Readers

Are you a writer? And do you let others read your work? The word beta reader has probably touched your ears. In short, it is someone who tells you what they like about your story and what they don’t. But the writing world is, as everything else, evolving and the whole beta reader thing is more complicated now. People are no longer satisfied with the simple beta label and you can find various other expressions in the writing discussions. Each type of reader is expected to do something different and there are separate groups to find them.

Alpha reader

Usually, it is a person who reads your very first, immature, and unfinished attempts. Pieces of writing that are still very far from graceful style, rich plot, and consistent characters. These babies often suffer from symptoms such as poor grammar, unfinished sentences, or general vagueness.

Good alpha readers are heroes and their work is hard. It takes determination and patience to dig through the first chapters of a new manuscript. But also talent. Properly identifying healthy grains of potential in a pile of straw and mud is the most important thing an alpha reader can do for a writer. These first-time readers of yours should mainly help you identify the biggest inconsistencies in the story, the illogical actions of the characters, simply, point out the worst and best.

The alpha reader is very important, but you don’t have to panic if you can’t find anyone willing. However, it will take many lonely hours of studying and refining your craft on your own. You have to read your work again and again and try to catch the biggest flaws before you try to find a new reading victim again. An alternative is to create a short summary your readers can go through. Attracting readers to this may be easier. Going through three pages is easier than two hundred.

Beta reader

After building your rough book foundations, it is time for finer work. Now you have your manuscript ready. You have read and edited it yourself several times. You consulted it with someone. Time for the next level. Of course, you can also reuse the readers who went through the previous version of your story. If they want to. But it won’t hurt to find also new readers and get a whole new perspective. A beta’s life is a bit easier with the complete and more or less comprehensive manuscript. At the same time, it may mean much more reading for them. They can still find inconsistencies, but they can also focus on the little things. Minor fluctuations in the dialogue, pointing out the dead ends and small plot holes. The need to emphasize the character’s reaction somewhere, shorten it somewhere else… For example, they may also come up with an idea for a favorite coffee brand for the character. If you’re lucky, your beta will be happy to bring you ideas. And some ideas might prove useful.

One thing to point out: the opinion of your readers is not to be taken as sacred and truthful. You don’t have to use their advice. You are the author, your decisions are final. The readers may try to help but they can be also very wrong in many cases and not spot a problem in your work but cause it. The whole idea of these readers is to give you ideas and personal opinions. Beta readers can help you save a lot of money since the editors won’t have to polish your manuscript so much.

Sensitivity reader

This is a person who knows something in greater detail than you. And you need this something in your book. Is your main character a chemist and you yourself cannot see a difference between the baking powder and pudding? Your laboratory scenes need more. Or did you cause psoriasis to someone in your third chapter? Fortunately, you have healthy skin yourself, so it’s hard to imagine how the character feels. Or you put the story in a culture other than your own. Your characters have a different skin color or eye shape than you. These are big challenges, and you should definitely want to avoid writing nonsense because of your ignorance. It is, therefore, time to look for an expert.

Advanced copy reviewer

You need a lot of these readers once your book is about to be published. Your goal is to contact as many as you can, reach an agreement with them, send them a copy of your book just before publication, and receive a review for it. Ideally, the reviewer uses multiple platforms (blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram…) and will recommend (hopefully) your work wherever possible. This is a very useful thing to help with promotion. People can’t buy your book if they don’t know about it.

 And what about you? What is your experience?

7 thoughts on “Alpha, Beta… Your Test Readers

  1. There are varities of novels as there are readers. Descriptive novels are very popular in literary circles. A writer can be commended for “magnificent descriptive style.” Another commendation is -” A very well and authoritatively researched novel.” In both case there may be very little story line. Description is important and can cleverly awaken in the reader memories perhaps of for example -The Lake District; an Alpine skiing holiday; and of course a romantic relationship. Many novels follow a pattern of romance and the names of the characters are really only what change. Crime thrillers, at present, need to be dark or stark, dependant on your view point. These two genres of novels have a vast readership following. It is important that minute attention is given to presentation for all novels. Correct grammar, punctuation and a good edit are all necessary compnents A good storyline, will hopefully draw the reader in. Re-writes and corrections bring forward a final manuscript. A question remains? Those who edit and alter a manuscript; are they likely to be those who go online or into a book shop and buy the novel to read themselves? In many cases the answer will be no. Those who like to pull apart a poem or novel might be well intentioned, but can also have no interest in the subject or storyline. This leads into emphasising another powerful content that makes a novel into a successful read – a really good storyline. Not necessarily evident in novels that are highly commended for – descriptive style and for being very well researched.


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