Alpha Readers vs Beta Readers

February 28, 2015

This is so good, I simply had to post it. describes the difference between alpha and beta readers perfectly (and you must admit, when many of us ask for betas we really would like alphas...)

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Your first draft sucks.

Note that I didn’t say “may” suck or even “probably” sucks … it does. There are varying degrees of suckitude, mainly involving how much practice you’ve had editing your own writing, but in general and in specific, first drafts suck. On the bright side, they are SUPPOSED to suck. I don’t mean they “can” or that it’s totally understandable if they “do” — they are “supposed to”.


Your first draft is a flurry of left turns, discoveries, boring bits, madcap madness, and premeditated plot all whizzed together in a magimix and spat back out on the page. Your first draft is your way of getting to know your story, and even die-hard outliners like myself know that your story and your characters will surprise you along the way.


PLEASE Won’t You Read My Story? (Insert Disney Eyes Here)


That being said, please stop foisting your first draft on folks, begging your friends and family to read this untamed smoothie of a story.


I get it. I really, really do. You want validation. You want someone to tell you that the time you just spent was WORTH it. That the words you wrote are good, and fun, and entertaining, and have the desired effect. I feel for you, my heart aches for you … and I do not want to read your first draft. Even if I am your alpha reader, I want to read your SECOND draft.


Alpha Readers

Alpha readers are the ones who go in first. Typically, you owe them favors the size of Texas, and they owe you the same ones. Alpha readers are the folks who will read your stuff multiple times and who give you crits … and in almost every case, you do the exact same for them.


If you have alpha readers, folks, LOVE them. Tell them how much you appreciate the HOURS and HOURS of time they spend on YOUR writing. Spend the same amount of time on THEIR writing. (Bre, Steve, Steven? I love you.) Do not waste your alpha readers’ time. I’m going to say it again, in all caps. DO NOT WASTE YOUR ALPHA READERS’ TIME.


If you hand me a manuscript to read and I have to draw myself little maps to keep track of what’s happening because you haven’t quite stitched together scene three, or you had a great new idea in scene 7 that you dumped in scene 10. THEN, when I hand over a list of critiques, your response is, “I know! I just haven’t had time to fix those yet!” I might set you on fire with my mind. Just so you know.


Alpha readers get your SECOND draft. The one that turns the glorious, creative mess of your first draft into a recognizable story and that fixes all the things you already know are wrong.


Beta readers get your “polished” draft.

You may go multiple rounds with your alphas, making changes, tweaking things, deciding what needs to go and what needs to stay, and does the phrasing here really work, and is “taxidermied” really a word or not?


Your beta readers get the book you’re pretty sure is ready for you to hand off to an agent or publisher. You know there will be further edits down the line, but THIS book is good. It’s not perfect, but it’s good, and you need some FRESH eyes on it — people who never read version 2, where you killed off the main character’s best friend in scene 32, or version 3, where space aliens landed and kidnapped the main character’s pet beagle as part of a sub-plot.

Beta readers come in when you and your alphas can’t find anything else wrong. Beta readers are READERS more than they are critiquers (though if you’re lucky, your beta readers know enough to point out flaws you couldn’t see). They’re your test group.



Beta readers may only read your manuscript once. (You will be expected to read their manuscript once as well, if they have them.) The first time someone reads your manuscript is a magical thing. Much like unicorns, in fact. In small doses, unicorns are delightful, delicate, glorious beings of majesty and light. In large doses, they trample your garden and eat all your carrots and poo all over the back yard, and you keep waking to find your eyes caked shut with glitter.


Love your beta readers. Especially as a fledgling writer, you may need some extra hand-holding to get you through. Writing is awfully lonely business, and waiting MONTHS to share something that’s “finished” is painful. If you’re that new and that delicate, find other new and delicate writers to hold your hand, and grow together. Writers growing together is a beautiful thing. However, if you don’t have time to fix the things you know are wrong with your story OR if you don’t love your story (YOUR STORY, not your manuscript) enough to polish it up?


Then I don’t have time to read it. Period.

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