Ask an Editor: Alpha vs. Beta Readers

What’s an alpha reader and a beta reader?

You’ve worked for months—or years—on your novel, writing and revising until you think that you’re ready for another human’s eyes to gaze upon your work and tell you what works and what doesn’t quite gel. The first person you let read your draft is your alpha reader. Your alpha reader is someone you trust, someone close to you who won’t mind reading your not-fully-polished draft and telling you what parts they loved and what parts they didn’t quite understand, what characters they adored and what characters felt underdeveloped. Your alpha reader is kind but honest, someone who will encourage you to embark on your next stage of revisions and give you some helpful notes. If your alpha reader is a writer as well, you probably return the favor and read through your alpha reader’s early drafts, letting them know what you think their next revisions should be. If you’re lucky, maybe your alpha reader will agree to read scenes as you rewrite and polish them, or they’ll read additional drafts and let you know if you’re on the right track.

After you’ve thought over your alpha reader’s feedback, you sit back down at the computer and start revising. This is the first big revision you’ll do after getting feedback from a reader. You’ll sweat and labor over a new draft, maybe even a few new drafts, until you’ve done everything you can think of to polish your novel. You do a spell check and reread for proper grammar and punctuation. If you’ve changed character names or deleted characters, you read through and make sure that you’ve made changes consistently through your entire draft. You check for continuity, and you check that all of our plot strands are tied up in a satisfying way by the end of the book.

When you’ve exhausted every option and polished every part of your manuscript and you think you’ve got a great next draft, then congratulations! It’s time for your beta reader to take a look.

A beta reader could be a writing buddy, a friend, or a family member, but the idea is that they read your manuscript as if they’re a casual reader. They read your draft once and tell you the parts that they loved, and the parts that they found weaker. They point out the issues that have become invisible to you during your numerous rounds of revisions. They’re supportive and honest, and they jump-start your next set of revisions.

One of the beautiful things about Swoon Reads is that the community acts like a beta reader. Swoon readers and writers have been giving awesome feedback and have helped writers see where the strengths and weaknesses lie in their manuscripts. Writers, remember to enlist your alpha readers’ help before submitting to the site—you want to make sure that you’ve revised your manuscript as much as possible before posting, so your Swoon Reads beta readers can catch mistakes you or your alpha reader wouldn’t have caught yourselves.

But if you’ve done your homework and fixed every flaw you and your alpha reader can find in your manuscript, then it’s time to upload to the site. One of the wonderful things about an online reading and writing community like Swoon Reads is that you have access to a wide pool of beta readers who not only want to read your work and help you grow as a writer, but they also bring perspectives and expertise that you may not have had access to within your pool of writing friends or your writing group.

Swoon writers, we’d love to hear about your revision process, how you found your alpha readers, and what useful feedback you’ve received from the Swoon community. Let us know in the comments!

About the author - Christine Barcellona

Editor / I blog and edit for Swoon Reads, plus I'm the editor for our paperback line, Square Fish. Find ...

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1 comment on "Ask an Editor: Alpha vs. Beta Readers"

Lisa Buscemi Reiss on Jan. 1, 2016, 6:14 p.m. said:

Lisa Buscemi Reiss


I'm lucky enough to have an online writing partner who is my alpha reader. She reads my work in segments, as I write, and I do the same for her. I also sub to my in-person writers group in almost the same way. Once I make changes, I sub the entire manuscript to them all. Then I'll have a beta reader or two, usually a non-writer friend or family member, read it and I'll make necessary changes again. I'll soon upload my latest manuscript to Swoon Reads ( my second one). I can't wait to get feedback from all the supportive writers there too, as I did with my last. I'm lucky to have such supportive people around me!

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