An author does best if they have readers before they publish.
There are several important readers every author should have in their “back pocket”.
Are they absolutely necessary? No. But this is a level of highly suggested that probably should be required.
The three big types are: Alpha readers, Beta readers, and ARC readers.
Alpha readers are based on the first letter in the Greek alphabet. Alpha in most cases mean first. And in this case, that’s true too. An alpha reader is someone who reads the first draft. They could be reading it while the author is writing it or before the author has time to get to draft two.
Why is an alpha reader important?
An alpha reader is there to help complete the story. They give the author a boost as needed and ask the big questions. Such as “Why is MC doing that?” “Are you sure the antagonist would do that there?” or “Does this time/setting make sense?” An alpha reader is more making sure the first draft is a complete draft before things move on.
Many alpha readers also become beta readers.
After the first draft is done. The author moves on to any number of drafts until they hit the final one. Any readers during this time are called beta readers. There are a lot of different types. People see different things when they read. And the more beta readers, the more streamline the story will become aka the stronger the story will become. Hands down, Beta Readers are required. Even if you aren’t getting the best ones. A crappy beta reader helps you improve. Or at least tell you an average reader wouldn’t notice anything. Beta readers cover everything.
Beta readers look for plot holes, line edits, etc. Things an editor would do. Beta readers typically aren’t professional editors and normally aren’t paid or at least not paid like editor should be. (Getting professional editing help is also recommended. There is a reason they get paid to do the work.)
Then you also get beta readers who read for sensitivity. If you are writing about real places/ people/ events/ situations you never went through or dealt with, it’s helpful to have someone who did deal with it give you the thumbs up or help you make it workable.
The final type happens after you have a finished story, but before you hit publish. ARC means advanced reader copy. That can only happen with the final draft. A book may be set to preorder or you are waiting for the right time to hit publish. An ARC reader boosts sales of the book directly by having a review ready to go on day one. That matters.
Can a reader be all three? Yeah.
Can you fill the roles of all three? No. You can alpha read for yourself. And you can do quite a bit of what the betas would do. You cannot be an ARC. ARC readers must be separate from the author and must have a level of distance from the author, or their reviews may be deleted.
Big question: How does anyone find a special reader?
You ask. There are plenty of authors out there who willingly alpha or beta reader for others. Normally it’s with a “You’ll read my book, too” attachment, but not always. To be a good writer, we need to read more. And we do gain when other books are high quality too. So we support each other. Ask around. If there is someone you trust, see if they’ll read for you.
When you ask for someone to read your work be clear what you are asking for. Or clearly ask them what they will seek. It’s different reading a story as a reader, as a writer, or as an editor.
And above all, thank them. Creating a positive interaction with other authors will improve the chances they’ll help you again. If they did not offer you the help you desire right now doesn’t mean they’d be useless later. And even if they don’t mesh with you at all, doesn’t mean you should blow up or get angry.
There is no reason to get defensive. We all see things differently. Listening to other’s perspectives will improve your future capabilities. Weigh the words offered, thank readily, and move on. It’s okay to not listen to a reader’s help. It is still your work. Not theirs. That matters.
- Alpha Readers: Reads first draft typically before completion.
- Beta Readers: Any reader between first draft and final copy helping to improve the story.
- ARC Readers: Final copy before publishing; meant to have a review ready on day one.