The Importance of Alpha and Beta Readers

Peer review is one of the most useful tools for revision, but most writers are reluctant to hand off unfinished work to readers. This is because excessive criticism during the early drafting process can have quite the impact on morale, even for the most thick-skinned author. That’s why most writers employ two different kind of readers: alpha readers and beta readers.

What are Alpha and Beta Readers?

An alpha reader is a reader that reviews early or unfinished drafts. They are usually people very close to the writer, such as a friend, family member, or spouse, and they generally provide very light feedback designed to motivate the writer. A beta reader is a reader that reviews the later, finished drafts. They are usually a small group of people that can be trusted to provide objective critical feedback of a writer’s work.

The two roles are very different, because the primary focus of an alpha reader is to motivate the writer, while the primary focus of a beta reader is to provide feedback. An alpha reader might say something like:

I found the hunting party really interesting and I can tell you put a lot of effort into getting all the details right. I would’ve loved to seen more of the older sister in this chapter, but it was great and I can’t wait until the next one.

While a beta reader will tend to say something like:

The hunting party was pretty interesting and well researched, but for something you spend an entire chapter describing, it doesn’t actually move the plot forward. I would suggest cutting it down and increasing the older sister’s part.

Benefits of Different Types of Readers

The advantage of this sort of system is that it allows you to receive feedback at all stages without losing motivation due to harsh critiques of unfinished work. It also helps avoid being overtly influenced by feedback in the early stages of development. It is an invaluable system for any professional writer and something I would suggest everyone experiment with.

However, some people might have trouble finding a group of beta readers. That’s why next time we’ll be discussing how to start and lead a writing group. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!

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