Alphas, Betas, ARC… sigma chi? The last doesn’t exist in the writing world, but for as many years as I have been writing, I only heard about betas—you know, those people who read your work after you’ve done a 1,000 drafts on it and hope to God it’s finally really done. The idea of alphas and the fact that I have been using them all along was quite a revelation. Don’t even mention ARC readers. I just recently discovered the real meaning of those too!
What is an alpha reader?
The first person you let lay eyes on your first draft is an alpha reader. It’s a person you trust to read past your unpolished beloved mess and guide you on what parts they loved, what they didn’t like, the characters they connected with, and the ones that needed more development. Your alpha should always provide you with honest feedback supportive to helping you revise and rewrite the story to refined greatness. They should be an encouragement to keep going, citing only those aspects of the story that would enhance it and praise the parts that are well done. You may use your alpha many times over until the necessary revisions are finished.
Is it necessary to have an alpha reader? Only you can decide that.
What is a beta reader?
When you’ve put the shine on your story and finished revisions, that is when you call in the beta.
A beta reader is a friend, writing partner, trusted associate that you turn your manuscript over to after you’ve done all the revisions suggested by your alpha and caught on your own. The idea of the beta reader is that they are a casual reader, not looking for grammar, editing, and other mistakes, but their opinion overall of your story. They share the parts they enjoyed and highlight the parts they found weaker. They catch the issues hidden from you during your billion revisions—like that missing word, typo, and improper usage of those psycho pronouns they’re/their/there. They should be supportive yet honest, an asset to your next round of revisions. They play a role after you’ve done all your alpha has suggested.
Is it necessary to have a beta reader? Yes. You need other eyes on your story that will just read it.
What is an ARC reader?
In a nutshell, the ARC is a copy of your final draft which gets sent to a select group of people. These people are readers of your genre who post reviews so on your book’s launch day, you have reviews ready to go. They are not supposed to catch typos and grammar errors or plot holes. They are simply to read and review.
Is an ARC reader a necessity? For the most part, yes, as Amazon ranks according to the number of reviews.
For a more definitive look into the differences between these three types of readers, visit Indies Unlimited.
Where can I find these readers?
It’s true that finding quality alphas and betas can be one of the hardest parts of writing. Often friends and family are afraid to hurt your feelings, so they don’t provide real feedback that helps you turn your mess into perfection. You aren’t really doing yourself a favor if you continue to use these people over and over again.
With so many writing communities out there, it can still be difficult to find alphas and betas that know exactly what is expected of them. They should not be editors at all. They shouldn’t concern themselves with your overuse of commas, your run-on and fragmented sentences, and whether you need a dash, emdash, or ellipsis. They are readers first and foremost. They are your first “reviewer,” the first to offer feedback on your story.
Build your tribe. Seek out other writers in your genre and follow them. Pay attention to their followers. They could be assets to your own writing if they love the genre. Start a “street team.” This is a perfect place that should just be for you and your stuff. Use your author page to share other author’s stuff and save your street team for you. This is where you have the best chance to build your tribe. Reach out for betas and ARCs from within this group. Not sure how to do that? Here’s a great article for you.
You can join mine right here, too!
What should I look for?
Writing communities are great places to start. They are bountiful on Facebook, Goodreads, and LinkedIn. You should seek readers that enjoy the genre of the manuscript, are familiar with your writing, and are known to give honest, constructive feedback.
Another important factor is time. You should always ask a potential reader how long it will take them and set a deadline for them to get back to you.
Seek out a writing partner, someone with whom you can trade stories, someone you can always count on to be available to read over your stuff when you need it. Writing partners are so much more than alphas and betas, however. They cheer you on when your inkwell is dry. They brainstorm with you when you can’t quite get the idea out. They are valuable assets to any writer, a partner with which to celebrate and cry over all of your successes and rejections.
Ok I got it, but what’s next?
Most people don’t really know how to beta properly, even if they are fellow authors. You know what you’re looking to gain from their reading. Create a cheat sheet or checklist with things they can look for during the read, or send them a link to a Google sheet with questions they can answer after they’ve finished reading. Point them in the right direction and your questions will be answered and your manuscript will be that much better.
Do you have any tips to add? I’d love to hear what works and doesn’t work for you in the comments below.
Get your reading on! Find your next favorite new fantasy in this giveaway and snag a copy of Wings while you’re looking!
Looking for a way to support your favorite author (me)? Buy me a cup of coffee or two.