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Alpha Reading Vs Beta Reading: An Overview

A writing process can have several stages and during or in between each stage, or after all stages have been completed, an author may want to understand what's wrong with what they have written. Serious authors will pen down several drafts and would want honest critiques from a selected coterie of readers, who are well versed in pointing out where the story might be going wrong or not making sense, whether the characters have been properly developed or not, and sometimes, the language and consistency issues.

Such set of readers are called alpha readers or beta readers, depending on what stage they are coming in. Consider them testers who give opinions on how a manuscript flows and whether it is readable. This will give an author an idea of how a reader will find it. Just like in techology companies where software products are continuously tested as to its functioning, both at the developer site and the client site, before sending the final version, here too, we test for quality and feedback before sending a manuscript to be published.

In a writing group I am an administrator of, I have often heard people asking the difference between an alpha reader and a beta reader. Like I have said above, whether the reader is alpha or beta depends on the stage the reader arrives in. Let me explain the core meaning of these terms, even though most of what they do is similar in most aspects.


Alpha Reading is generally done when an author has finished the first draft of his/her manuscript. It is generally assumed that first drafts are rather plot and characters written in an adhoc fashion; this means that the author has just jotted down whatever has come into his mind, either by following an outline or by pantsering. Whatever the method of writing followed, first drafts are never perfect. They have many fallacies and an author generally does (actually, should) rewrites after looking through the first draft again. There are times when an author needs an objective view and an intense critique of the first draft. This is where an alpha reader comes in.

An alpha reader will look at the plot with careful, detailed eye and point out the flaws in the plot, character development, and the writing style and flow. This process is usually intense and labor-intensive as first drafts are also heavy to read. Not necessarily, but most of the times. An alpha reader, thus, may take more time than a beta reader and also if the service is paid, more money. An author will take the inputs from the alpha reader and use the suggestions to better the manuscript.


Beta Reading is generally done when an author has finished writing several drafts of the project. It is usually the final draft written by the author after days of rewriting and self-editing that is given to the beta reader. The beta reader usually functions the same way as an alpha reader but unlike him, a beta reader takes less time to go through the project and if the service is paid, takes less money than an alpha reader. The beta reader will point out any flaws that remain and this opinion can prove useful if the author wants his manuscript published.

So, all in all, do we think that alpha/beta reading is a substitute for editing? Definitely not. However, a beta read manuscript will always be easier on the eyes for an editor, making him more effective and less time will be wasted on correcting silly errors. If an author is not looking to get traditionally published, it is recommended that the author has his manuscript at least beta read if not edited. For a self-published author though, it comes highly recommended for an author to have his/her manuscript beta read as well as edited, for we know that impressions last and good and well-edited content always has a longer shelf life.

If you are looking to have your manuscript beta read, you may contact several groups on Facebook. You can also give it to your friends who you think can give an honest feedback and not just thump you on the back for your effort. An honest critique and analysis of your work is always better in the long run.

About The Author:

Varun Prabhu is a full-time writer and editor with an acumen for business and entrepreneurship. He likes to have full control over what he does. Along with writing and editing, he also reads a lot and watches TV shows with dedicated addiction. This has also made him want to experiment with screenplays. Fantasy is his favorite genre but he is just about passionate about everything. You can follow him on Twitter here.

He writes under the pen name V P Allasander.

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