Alpha vs Beta readers
With the rise of the Indie Authors/Publishers, a lot of old conventions are being subverted. Sometimes this has been for the better, and sometimes it makes me want to beat someone to death with a thong. (If you’re not an Aussie, that’s less kinky than it sounds). On the other hand, there are things common in the Indie sphere that are just plain wrong. Take the confusion about what constitutes Alpha, Beta and Advance Copy Readers.
There appears to be a general lack of understanding in the community as to the difference between the Alpha and Beta stages. Alpha and Beta readers are groups of people you trust to give you feedback on your unpublished work. Often after having signed an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement).
Your Alpha’s receive a few chapters at a time and give the writer back a basic, low-level, common-sense analysis. They don’t expect a polished work, but it needs to be readable. Alpha’s proof-as-you-go. Not every author uses Alpha Readers, but they are gaining popularity in the publishing-for-profit arena (I’ll get to that in another post). The Alpha process works as a semi-professional edit, as multiple people review your work for next to no cost. If you are using a program like Google Documents, you can even make editing suggestions that an author can then accept or reject.
When I get involved in an Alpha round, about 90% of my feedback comprises the following four comments.
- Show don’t tell.
- Clumsy: Rework this sentence.
- You’ve changed tense/PoV without warning.
- Repetitive: you’ve used the word X too many times in the same sentence/paragraph/page
The Alpha doesn’t have to like your work, but they need to have the skills necessary to correct/improve it. These readers can’t always give feedback on meta-plot, pick up inconsistencies in style, theme, or naming as they may not see the whole of the story. Feedback at this stage will be about characters acting inconsistently, scenes not making sense, and sections that need more/less explanation. Alpha readers may catch something that readers could find problematic or downright challenging.
When the Alpha feedback comes in, you can do the edits and corrections needed to progress your work to Beta level. The result should be a coherent work without too many glaring grammatical or spelling errors.
The Beta expects to receive a work where the author is happy with the structure, pace, and balance of the book. The Beta group acts as impartial eyes to find those errors that will sink your story, the things that no Alpha can see. It’s a good idea to have readers from different backgrounds, different interests, and different sexes. I always recommend you include someone who isn’t a fan/reader of your genre.
The Beta stage can flag problems with meta-plot, pacing, and logical flaws (including plot holes). Sometimes an insightful comment can trigger a significant re-write. Inconsistent characters, unexpected changes in point of view (head hopping), and insufficient variation in character voice should all be identified at this point.
Some more complex (and devastating if you take it personally) advice you receive from a Beta reader might be
- Drop a chapter or scene that doesn’t progress the story;
- Merge multiple characters into one;
- Cut or expand large areas of your work;
- Speed up (usually by cutting words) certain sections;
- Slow down (usually by adding emotion and description) certain sections;
- Address a lack of rising tension;
ARC (Advance Reader Copy)
The ARC you send out should be fully proofed and ready to publish and is fair game for both positive and negative reviews. People talk about ARC Teams, but the person you send your ARC to isn’t always on your side. ARC readers don’t give you feedback towards your final draft as that should already be in their trembling hands. ARC is NOT part of the editing process, but one of the most important marketing steps as these pre-release reviews are often the ones you can add to your final cover.