Thursday, February 20, 2020

Beta Readers—a Different Perspective on Critique Partners

So, what is a beta reader?

"Beta" is the second letter of the Greek alphabet, which implies it's the second reader of an unedited manuscript. It also suggests there must be a first reader, an alpha reader. What's an alpha reader?

The first reader of a manuscript that's likely draft number one, an alpha reader evaluates the story from the viewpoint of a reader. Often a friend or close family member, he or she looks for the big stuff: readability, continuity, major story gaps, etc. After those issues are addressed by the writer, the story should go to the beta reader(s).

Beta readers—who also consider a story from a reader's point of view—may be avid bookworms who work alone or members of a writing group. Ideally, two to five readers will provide a rounded review of the story, its strengths and its shortcomings. They comment on sentence structure (ineffective, awkward, unclear, rambling, etc.), as well as addressing character development (including effectiveness of individuality and keeping each character true to herself), voice, forward momentum, etc. Their suggestions and concerns will be more detailed and specific than those of an alpha reader. This is a very important step in the creation of a great story and should not be neglected.

Finding the right beta reader(s) can be a challenge. Here are some resources:

Once a beta reader (or readers) peruse the manuscript and note areas of concern, the writer should seriously consider the suggested changes and then seek a professional editor to put the final polish on the manuscript. This is the time to start spending money. (Remember that alpha readers are usually friends or family, but beta readers are more likely to be strangers. Neither are typically paid; however, it may be a reciprocal arrangement that benefits all parties involved.)

Today's book marketplace can swallow up new entries to its massive international shelves, and the competition is beyond fierce. Starting out with a powerful, well-written book is essential if you have any aspirations of making a good name for yourself in the literary world. Remember to include beta readers when you're considering critique partners; they're an invaluable part of the equation.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her through her websites: and


  1. I like beta readers who are readers but not writers. After my critique group sees the full manuscript and I've done my first round of revisions, my beta reader gets a look at story and characters. Then I tackle more revisions.

    1. I agree, Pat. Our target audience is the reader. It makes sense to use a beta reader who loves to read and who recognizes both the positives and the negatives in our stories -- and who will give us honest feedback.

  2. Beta readers are such a blessing in disguise. What they can offer in insight beyond what we as authors can produce on our own is priceless. I find these consults to be the bread and butter of my work. I ALWAYS learn from a reader who has experienced my work and who is willing to look at it with a critical eye.

  3. They are indeed a blessing because they come from the perspective of story rather than from the mechanics of punctuation and sentence structure. As such, they are as vital to the quality of the finished product as are editors and proofreaders.

  4. Another valuable post, Linda. I don't have beta readers and wish I did. Every reader I've had has been another writer, and it's been more of a swap than an outright read.

  5. I have a beta reader who's also a writer, and it has worked well for both of us. However, my experience has been in most cases this does not work effectively.

  6. Taking a slightly different view here. I think writers can be good beta readers, finding issues with story as much as a person who is not a writer. My experience with critique groups, partners, and beta readers (who are writers) has been most beneficial. We who write also read a lot, so I think we can spot those issues with plot, character, etc. :-)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook