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Alpha, Beta, ARC, Oh My!

If you’re new at writing and you finish your first draft, you may be wondering… What do I do now? How do I get people to tell me if it’s any good without breaking the bank?

Well, my best suggestion is to find a writing group to join. A good writing group will give you feedback from many people at once and with different experiences. Sadly though, there isn’t always a writing group in your area. If that’s the case you may need to look for

readers elsewhere.

But what kind of reader do you need? And what do they do?

So first let me tell you, the best way to get good people is to make connections. Find a group on-line, on Facebook, or find some people in real life you can work with. Keep in mind you can find some of these services for free, and sometimes you have to pay, so search around. Be aware that sometimes you might not get the feedback you want with free services, so don’t be disappointed.

Be willing to read other people’s things as well. Finding someone who you work well with may come in handy. I have three people I’ve met in a Facebook group who message me when they have new stories to ask if I’d be interested in reading them. We’ve worked together in the past and we like the comments and feedback. I know, because I read their things, that they’ll read mine when I ask as well.

So now you’ve found a group on Facebook (I’ll post a link to one below that you can check out, but know there are plenty out there to pick from and some work for some people and not others, so you may need to search). But you joined this group and you’re reading posts. People are asking for Beta Readers, but some are asking for Alpha readers, or Arc readers, or sensitivity readers… How do you know what you need? We’ll go over them one by one and give you some description of them.

First is the Alpha reader. This is often referred to as your “first reader”. Once your first draft is completed and you’ve gone through and done a read through. This person’s job is to read it over and assure there aren’t any major plot holes and the story makes sense and is completed. They don’t do any editing (none of these readers do really, we’ll discuss editing services in a later blog), or any real story structure, they just make sure it’s not missing anything major. Authors normally have one or two alpha readers. It goes back and forth depending on who you are, but many people have their friends and family being alpha readers as fellow authors don’t normally want to try and read a first draft of something. That’s not to say you can’t find an alpha reader on-line.

Many authors don’t use an Alpha Reader at all if they have been doing this long enough and can pick out their own major flaws in story.

The next level is a beta reader. This is your most common type of reader. There is a large debate out about when to get a beta reader. Common thought though, is you go through a few stages of editing first. Your beta reader should get a near finalized copy of the book.

A beta reader’s job is to… well… that depends. Many of them read your story and tell you what they think. Were they able to finish it? Did the characters pull them in and feel realistic? Did they like the ending?

You can ask for overall feedback. Give the reader a list of questions to answer when they finish that you want to know (you can find sample beta questions on-line). I even read one where the author had “Check-ins” every twenty pages. It was just 3 or 4 questions asking what I thought about the scenes I read, what I thought was going to happen, and anything else she wanted feedback on. It’s really up to the reader and author to discuss what feedback you want.

Some authors will need a sensitivity reader. Now, these aren’t for everyone and aren’t always needed. Certain subjects and topics maybe sensitive to write about. For example, writing about abuse and slavery of an African American, writing about a woman transitioning into a man, or writing a story about a solider with PTSD. Even if your story is fiction, it might be hard to write about these subjects if you don’t have experience. So yes, you can do research on-line, and I hope you do, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get all of the information correct. That’s where a sensitivity reader comes into play.

A Sensitivity reader is someone who has gone through the sensitive subject you are writing about reading your story to assure you didn’t get any information wrong or offend someone by portraying them incorrectly.

The last type of reader is an ARC reader (Advance Review Copy). This is the simplest type of reader to understand. Arc readers get final copies of the book, normally digital but not always, to read and write a review before the book is published. The goal of ARC readers is to have people ready to post reviews of the book on publishing day.

So that’s it. I know it seems like a lot, but once you get into it, you’ll put it together in no time.

Few last thoughts though:

  • Don’t get discouraged. Sometimes you send a story out to ten beta readers and only get feedback from 3. Or get really good feedback from some and not so good from others. That’s ok. Just send it out again if you want more feedback.

  • To find the best beta reader for your story give as much details as possible. When asking make sure to include these key items.

  • How many words the story is

  • Genre of the story

  • What type of feedback you want and in what time frame (Please try not to say I need someone to read my 100,000 word story in a week… you won’t get many people)

  • A blurb

  • If you are willing to trade and read someone else’s if they read yours. Remember what I said about building connections

  • Don’t get discouraged. Being an Indie Writer is hard work sometimes, and this is just one part of it.

If you are in the Flint Area, come check out the Flint Area Writers this Friday at 7pm. See if we’re a good fit for your new writing group.

And if you aren’t able to, check out this Group on Facebook. You may get some help here.

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