General Thoughts on Beta Reading

Beta reading is not the same thing as editing (although editing could be included in a beta read); it’s more like beta testing of a computer product. These are some things to consider about beta reading, whether you’re the author or the reader:

-Before you volunteer to beta read, you should probably know what genre the book/story is, how long it is, when the author would like you to be finished by, etc.

-Before you send out your book/story for beta reading, you should think about (a) how many beta readers you want, (b) how many rounds of beta reading you want, (c) whether your potential readers know the genre you’re writing in, (d) the experience level of those beta readers (i.e., are they professional editors, casual readers), (e) how you might reciprocate (usually, if someone beta reads for you, it’s nice to return the favor)… the list goes on and on.

-What kind of a beta read does the author want? How detailed do they want feedback to be? Do they want the beta reader to nitpick at grammar errors or do they want the beta reader to focus on the big picture of how the story fits together?

-Is the work ready for publication? If not: (a) how much more editing will it take to be ready? a little more? a lot more? (b) should it even see the light of day at all? (c) what kind of publication (self or traditional) might the author consider choosing, based on genre or how well the book fits into the general trend of what’s “hot”?

-What can be done to improve the work? What elements of plot, characters, setting, pacing, theme, etc. could change or be made better?

I feel like I am a better beta reader if I am given specific things that the author would like me to make note of or to look out for. It’s helpful if the author tells you not to worry about grammar, so that you can concentrate on just the story, and likewise, it’s helpful if the author tells you that all you have to look for are grammar-related problems.

Also, the difference between an alpha reader and a beta reader… some people don’t make a distinction between the two. Some people might use “alpha” readers for the first round of critique and “beta” readers for the second round. Or some people might use “alpha” readers for big-picture things and “beta” readers for the little nitpicky grammar things. “Alpha” readers might be people the author knows in person, “beta” readers might be people the author knows online. I suppose it’s up to the author. I personally don’t make a distinction.

Is there anything in particular you look for when you’re choosing beta readers? What types of things do you consider about the work while you’re beta reading?

5 thoughts on “General Thoughts on Beta Reading

  1. Great points to consider as I am just starting to think about sending out to beta-readers myself. I have had a couple close friends in a writing circle read early drafts but beyond that I’m not yet certain what my next steps will be. Thanks for the info! 🙂


  2. I’ve never heard the term “alpha reader,” so that’s an interesting new idea to consider! One definition I’ve read is that beta readers are usually NOT writers, but most of my beta readers are writers. I find it’s easier to return the favor that way.
    One of my passions is story structure, so I look at the structure of stories I beta read, trying to figure out if they fit into the general story arc, and whether or not that works in the story’s favor. If the writer tells me her story is nearly ready to submit, I’ll correct grammar/typos, but otherwise I try to ignore them.


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