The ABC’s of Critical Readers

So, you’ve self-edited your book more times than you can count, to the point you’re probably dreaming about it and can’t stop thinking about it when you’re not at your computer.

(And let’s hope you’re not burnt out on it either <3)

Now you’re wondering…where do I go from here?

Most of us don’t have the funds to just hire any editor out there, and depending on what publishing route you take, it may or may not be necessary.

Good news! You don’t have to worry about an editor quite just yet. There are three types of critical readers you can find who will read your work for free and provide feedback:

  • Alpha readers
  • Beta readers
  • Critique partners

Below, I will go more in-depth about what each kind is and does, and below that talk about where you can find them!

But why do you need them? Here’s why.

Regardless if you’re seeking an agent or a press for traditional publishing or planning to self-publish, having other trusted readers go through your manuscript PRIOR to finding an editor or querying will save you money and time, and will improve your chances with querying or save you a lot during the editing process.

Let me explain more.

Why it’s helpful if you’re querying:

Having other people go through your manuscript is helpful because they will help you see the mistakes in your writing and help improve and strengthen your story. Since you created your story, you will be blind to a lot of its problems. Having a thoroughly edited manuscript means your chances of getting an agent’s (or press’s) attention are so much higher. Since the agent’s job is to represent your story to a potential publisher, the more polished and perfected your story is, the faster it will be to get there.

There are obviously more reasons behind the slowness of the traditional publishing industry, including market demands, too many similar stories in the slush pile, etc., but it’s good to make sure that the cause of your multiple rejections that will surely come (because they come to everyone) is not because your manuscript wasn’t ready.

It’s also helpful when you’re querying because you can make friends who will become your support group when going through the querying process. No matter how many rejections you get hit with, having people to encourage you and your writing who have read and love your story will help you immensely when you feel like quitting. They may also be able to help suggest different tactics or even help you research agents during the process.

Why it’s helpful when you’re self-publishing:

Like stated above, having other qualified readers go through your story is helpful because their feedback can help you improve your story immensely, especially because they can tell you what’s working for your story and what isn’t, and offer a reader’s perspective as well. This can especially be helpful for self-publishing authors because you can get a taste of what your audience is that you can market to. You are also gaining an audience who will help support you and may be part of your street team once you start making publishing plans public. Having this support at the outset, as well as having people believing in your story and getting excited for it, can be a huge encouragement if and when things start to get difficult later on in the process.

It can also be helpful because it can help you clear up a lot of issues in the story before you actually hire an editor. Due to the feedback, you may be able to skip developmental edits (more on that in another post), which will help you save money when publishing. If you’re an overwriter, you may also be able to save by having a smaller word count from chopping all the unnecessary words by the time you get an editor, regardless if they charge by the hour or by the word count.

Alpha Readers

What are they and what do they do?

Alpha readers are readers who read your Rough Draft and give you feedback and critique based on that. This can be especially helpful if you’re lost as to where to begin turning that rough draft into something much more polished. While you can always ask them to look specifically for things when reading your manuscript, their feedback will most likely be of the sort that is focused on the big picture things such as the plot, character arcs, and world-building versus helping you fix grammar.

When do you hire them?

Once your story is finished and complete and you’re ready to begin the next step of getting your story ready for publishing. Alphas are reading your rough draft, so they should be hired early in the process.

Beta Readers

What are they and what do they do?

Similar to alpha readers, beta readers will read through your manuscript and provide feedback to help you improve your story. Unlike alpha readers, though, they are reading a more polished story, and their feedback can range from just fixing awkward phrasing and grammatical mistakes to offering suggestions on character arcs, plot holes, and more. They can also provide invaluable feedback on the story as a whole from the perspective of an outside reader.

When do you hire them?

After you have polished the manuscript as much as possible on your own. Having someone just point out mistakes you already know exist in the story can help you decide whether to change something or not, but it’s more worthwhile of your time and theirs to fix everything you can on your own PRIOR to hiring beta readers.

Critique Partners

What are they and what do they do?

Critique partners are very similar to alpha and beta readers and offer the same sort of feedback. The difference between them is that you can hire them at ANY point in the editing process. Most importantly, unlike alpha and beta readers, who are just reading your manuscript for free, you are exchanging your manuscript with your critique partner in exchange for theirs, and you both read through each other’s stories and offer each other feedback. This is most commonly used among querying authors, as it can provide a “writing bestie” who will stick by your side during the querying process. Think of it as a mutually beneficial writing friendship.

When do you hire them?

At any point in the process, but more commonly after you’ve already edited that rough draft and are getting ready to begin the querying process.

Bear in mind that, unlike alpha and beta readers, finding a critique partner means not only finding someone who will be able to help you with your manuscript but also someone who you are willing to help and encourage in return.

How to Find the ABC’s of Critical Readers

Where to find critical readers

Social media is always a good place to start! While this will be discussed more in-depth in a future post, you can start talking about your book and your writing AT ANY TIME during the drafting/publishing process. In fact, the sooner you start building a platform, the more likely your chances at success will be. It’s quite common for agents and publishers to look up your social media profiles and look at how well you market yourself and your writing. You may end up doing a great deal of marketing yourself, regardless of how you publish, so having a platform that’s already being built will help you immensely. Joining writer groups, using the appropriate hashtags on Twitter and Instagram, and interacting with other writers in the same sphere/genre as you will help you find fellow readers who might be interested in helping you with your book.

What to look for in a critical reader

Now, what should you be looking for in these readers? Here is a small list of things to keep an eye out for when choosing people to read and critique your manuscript. It is by no means exhaustive, and you are welcome to add your own in the comments!

  • Someone who reads extensively, especially someone who understands and enjoys the genre and content (and style, if possible) of your book
  • Someone with writing experience/who understands storytelling from a writing POV
  • Someone who has alpha/beta read before and knows what to look for
  • Someone who reads critically and can help improve your writing and your story
  • Someone who delivers criticism in a kind and encouraging way while still being helpful
  • Someone whose opinion you respect and trust in the writing field (Having family and friends is great and all, but remember to choose people who are going to help you in your writing career, not people whose feedback is just to make you feel good)
  • Someone who is already in the querying trenches or who has successfully self-published
  • Someone who has shown excitement and enthusiasm already for your story (If you’ve already been posting about your work prior to looking for beta readers)

How to ask people to be a critical reader?

How exactly should you go about actually finding and hiring alpha/beta readers or critique partners? A great way is to post about your book and what you’re looking for (are you looking for alphas, betas, etc.). When posting about your book, state the genre, what it’s about, the word count, and the ideal deadline you’d like it completed by. Also be sure to list any triggering content if your book has it. The last thing you want is someone ditching your manuscript because it had content they weren’t aware of prior.

An easy way to keep track of your alphas and betas is to use a Google form (or such like form) to keep track of sign-ups. This also allows you to keep track of their names so you can thank them in the acknowledgments later.

Forms like this can also be a great tool to use to request feedback for people who’ve finished reading through your manuscript. There are a variety of examples already out there that say what you should ask your beta readers who’ve read your book. Google them, search on Pinterest, and choose the questions you think would be most helpful when making your form.

If you’re looking for a critique partner, in addition to discussing your own book, be sure to state what you would enjoy reading in return, any trigger warnings you’d like to avoid, and any deadlines you might have that would inhibit reading their book by their preferred deadline.

This brings this post to a close! I hope you all found this helpful and feel free to offer any suggestions and advice below in the comments! The next post will be all about the querying process, and then we’ll move into the self-publishing route, as well as having a post talking about the pros and cons of traditional vs. indie publishing.

As in thanks for reading through this long post, here’s a meme:

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