Happy Friday and happy September, everyone! Fall is just twelve days away and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m looking forward to the cool, crisp weather, colorful leaves, and cozy sweaters. Now that the nights are getting longer, it means I’ll be spending more time in my fictional worlds. I’ve already made decent progress on my WIPs this month and if I continue at this pace, I should be able to meet my end-of-the-year goals and deadlines. If I hit those deadlines, I’ll be searching for beta readers for some of my WIPs next year.
Beta and alpha readers are an important part of the writing process. They provide constructive feedback on a writer’s manuscript. They help writers spot problem areas, plot holes, character inconsistencies, pacing issues, and more.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with alpha and beta readers, the difference between the two is simple. Alpha readers are typically the writer’s trusted friends and/or family. They read over the manuscript before anyone else does and provide useful feedback. They are the first round of readers. Beta readers do the same thing, except they aren’t always good friends with the writer. They are the second round of readers.
Now, just to note, not every writer uses both alpha and beta readers. Some writers just use alpha readers and some just use beta readers. Some use multiple rounds of both. It all depends on the writer and their comfort level.
I’ve listed some tips below to help writers and readers with the alpha and beta reading process.
Tips For Readers
1. Provide timely feedback. If a writer has a deadline and needs feedback by a certain date, please do your best to honor that date and time. If you can’t do it, let them know in advance or as soon as possible. Whatever you do, don’t ghost them.
2. Provide constructive feedback. Some people see the word feedback and think it’s okay to bash and criticize a writer. It isn’t. If part of the story isn’t working for you, give a reason why. Don’t just say, “this doesn’t make sense,” or “I don’t like this,” without explanation. Elaborate on your comments in a respectful manner. Provide reasons why something isn’t working or doesn’t make sense. Don’t make the writer play guessing games and don’t be rude about it.
3. Be honest. Don’t lie about your availability or your familiarity with a genre just to get your hands on a story you’re eager to read. You are doing the writer a great disservice by lying. It’s a waste of their time and yours.
Also, don’t skimp on providing honest feedback just because you’re afraid to hurt the writer’s feelings. You shouldn’t be harsh, but you should be fair and respectful of your critiques. If you fear retaliation, then that writer might not be someone you want to work with.
4. Be Respectful. There is a difference between constructive feedback and cruelty. Name-calling is not okay. Verbal and written abuse are not okay. Telling the author they suck or their writing sucks is not okay. It’s NEVER okay. No one deserves to be abused. If you can’t give critiques without being cruel and insensitive, then don’t beta read.
Also, be respectful of the author and their process. Some writers might send you the entire manuscript, while some might send you a few chapters at a time. Some manuscripts might be edited, while others might be rough drafts. Each writer has a different process. Be respectful of what the author is comfortable with. If their method doesn’t fit with yours, then don’t read for them.
5. Answer Questions. Sometimes readers will get questionnaires asking what they thought of the characters, the scenes, the settings, pacing, and so forth. The questions will be specific and might be per chapter, or might be per several chapters, or cover the entire manuscript. It all depends on the writer. If the writer uses a questionnaire, answer the questions as honestly as you can.
6. Point out the positives. Comment on the parts you enjoyed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a line of dialogue, description, setting, character, or prose. If you liked something, let the writer know. Constructive feedback consists of both positives and negatives; it shouldn’t just focus on the problem areas.
Tips For Writers
1. Find readers who read in your genre. You don’t want someone who only reads YA contemporary fiction providing feedback on your steamy adult fantasy romance novel. You should want readers who are well-versed in your genre. Readers who are unfamiliar with the genre you write in might not give you the constructive feedback you need or want. This can lead to drama, headaches, and misunderstandings for both readers and writers. Not to mention, it’s a waste of time for both.
2. Use a questionnaire. Questionnaires are a great tool to see if potential readers would be a good match for your manuscript. You can ask what genres they typically read, what books they’ve read, enjoyed and/or hated, and more. This will help you find readers who can give you the best constructive feedback you need.
Questionnaires can also be used for getting feedback on your entire manuscript and/or portions of it. You can have readers answer questions at the end of each chapter, few chapters, or just at the end of the entire manuscript. It’s up to you and whatever you’re comfortable with.
You can ask whether the reader related to the characters, if they liked them or not, and why or why not. You can ask about their favorite characters and least favorite characters. You can ask whether you captured their interest during the first couple of chapters and if they stayed engaged throughout the story. You can ask about dialogue, pacing, settings, details, descriptions, and so much more. The possibilities are endless.
3. Communicate. Communicate your needs and type of feedback you’re looking for. Is there a specific area you’re concerned about? Are you more concerned about story structure, or character development, or are you more concerned about clarity and consistency. Those are things you should address with readers from the start. Let them know what you want and expect from them, especially if you need feedback by a certain date. Readers aren’t psychic, so make sure you keep the doors of communication open and be ready to answer any questions they might have.
4. Be Respectful. Alpha and beta readers are taking time out of their busy lives to help strengthen our manuscripts. Writers need to be just as considerate of their time, boundaries, and feelings as they are of ours.
Do not abuse your readers. It’s okay to not agree with their feedback, but it’s NOT okay to attack or harass your readers in any way. Do not take to social media and lash out at them because you didn’t agree with their critique. It’s a fast way to destroy your reputation and career. The writing and reading communities might be vast, but word travels quickly.
If you can’t handle constructive feedback or critiques of any kind, then this business might not be for you. If you only expect praise and glowing reviews, this business might not be for you. As a writer, you need to grow some thick skin. It’s easier said than done, but that’s the harsh reality.
Lastly, remember, alpha and beta readers typically don’t get paid. If you want to compensate them monetarily, you can. It’s completely up to you, the writer. I know many writers will send their alpha and beta readers free books and/or swag as a thank you. Some will also put them in the acknowledgements section of their books. It’s really up to each individual author as to how they go about thanking them.
The next writing life blog will be on Friday, October 8th. The next character blog will be Luke or Daniel’s and will be posted on Friday, October 29th.
I will post new playlists and aesthetics in the next few months, so be on the lookout for those. That’s all I have for you today. As always, stay safe and stay healthy.