Feedback is important for making your story the best it can be. Finding Alpha and Beta readers to read over your manuscript can help find flaws you are blind to.
What’s the difference?
Though both give important feedback about your manuscript, alpha and beta readers come to your manuscript at different stages making their comments valuable and necessary. Alpha readers tend to be the first ones to read your raw manuscript after you’ve finished it and revised it to the point where you now need to know if everything is working and fitting together the way you want. However, beta readers typically read the manuscript after it has been worked on and polished so they can evaluate your manuscript from a potentially sellable point of view. Since all readers catch different things, always have more than one reader at different stages of your writing. Using fresh readers (ones that have not seen your story before) for each round of reading will bring a new perspective and valuable feedback.
What can an alpha and beta reader do for your manuscript?
You might be thinking you’ve had your story read by people in your critique group already, isn’t that enough? No. The advantage to have alpha and beta readers is they read the entire manuscript and give written feedback based on focused questions you provide. They improve readability, point out flaws in the story and make sure explanations are clear. If vital information is missing they’ll catch it and they can tell you if your characters and their relationships are believable. It’s important to have an open mind to their comments, however be clear about what you are willing to change and what you are not.
Who should be your readers?
You may want to avoid anyone you have a strong emotional attachment to, because their feedback may be tainted with the need to make you feel better about your writing or be so brutally honest it’ll cause you great distress. Remember, this book is your baby. Find people (should be more than one but not more than six each round) who are avid readers of the genre you write or who are writers themselves. Try to avoid people who don’t read your genre or aren’t familiar with it as they won’t be able to give you feedback specific to your genre.
How is the best way to use them?
Giving your readers clear guidance right from the beginning will avoid them feeling confused and overwhelmed. Give questions for them to focus on and answer as they read through your manuscript, however try to limit these to between five and fifteen. They questions should reflect areas you’re curious or concerned about such as: Did the beginning hook you right away? Were the characters/dialogues believable? At what point did you want to put the book down? Was there anything you found confusing and why? What pulled you out of the story and why? Take the big issues you see repeated by all your readers and work on those, but don’t feel you have to change everything. Be clear that you don’t want them to copy edit; this is not their job and slows them down. Give them a time frame, I usually give three weeks, and stick to it sending polite reminders.
The key thing to remember is that if you’re trying to please everyone you won’t succeed. Write to your audience, take the advice in stride and write the best story you can.