Most writers these days are familiar with the concept of a beta reader – someone who reads your work and gives you feedback on it. But what is an alpha reader, and what’s the difference?
An Alpha Reader
An alpha reader is usually a fellow writer, who might be reading the story as you write it, giving technical feedback and helping you to shape the story. They should be familiar with how to structure a story, technical issues such as passive voice, foreshadowing, character development, point of view, etc.
An alpha reader is reading a story that could be very raw indeed, maybe even first draft, and needs to be able to look past the rawness to the heart of the story, and give feedback accordingly.
An alpha reader is the free equivalent of a developmental edit or full critique. It could be a way to help reduce the cost of developmental editing, but be very careful that your alpha reader is experienced enough to be of real help.
A Beta Reader
A beta reader is a reader. They should not be giving technical feedback, but should be explaining how they relate to the story – where do they get bored? Which bits were most exciting? Which characters do they love/hate? Can they understand the story? Do they get lost anywhere?
A beta reader should be reading a story that’s as polished as you can make it. They should be the last step before you pass the work to a professional editor. They might catch typos and other errors, but that is not their job and you should not consider them to be your proofreaders or editors. Instead, they give a reader’s eye view of the story, picking up weaknesses and strong points.
Neither type of reader will fully replace a professional editor, and you should still consider paid editing and then proofreading as your final quality control. But these two stages will help to ensure that the product you pass to the editor is as good as you can make it.