After years of research. After running chapter after chapter through the critiques at BACCA Literary. After switching back and forth between Microsoft Word and Scrivener. After all of that the first draft of my narrative nonfiction about John W. Funkhouser, H. Spurgeon Moss, June Allen and the discovery of the earthquake fault running under the North Anna Nuclear Power Plant in Louisa County, Virginia is finally finished.
Tentatively entitled Finding Fault, the manuscript is currently in the hands of my Alpha reader and hopefully will soon be in the hands of several Beta readers.
What is an Alpha reader and what is a Beta reader?
According to Reedsy.com, an Alpha reader is the first person who reads and provides feedback on the completed manuscript. Alphas are often spouses or close friends — in my case the Alpha reader is my husband.
In contrast, a Beta reader is the author’s first test audience. You might say they are quality control at the earliest stage of the publishing process. Beta readers are not professional editors and usually read manuscripts for free. They aren’t friends or relatives, but they are people who have an interest in the genre or subject matter. They aren’t expected to polish the manuscript, yet they play an important role in helping the author improve her work by pointing out errors, plot holes, inconsistencies, or unclear passages. Often authors give Beta readers a few questions to help them provide feedback on the manuscript.
Here are a few suggestions for a nonfiction manuscript:
Does each scene flow naturally into the next?
Did you feel there were any areas that skipped over information?
What’s your favorite part and why?
Did you have a least favorite part? What is it and why?
K.M. Weiland of the Helping Writers Become Authors website suggests setting ground rules to guide the Beta reader:
1. Be Very Clear on what you are asking your Beta readers to do.
Do you want them to simply read the book over and offer a general opinion at the end such as whether they like or dislike the manuscript?
Do you want them to offer a running commentary on what works and what doesn’t?
Do you want them to note typos?
It is also incumbent upon the author to be clear about their wishes.
Nothing is worse for a Beta reader than spending weeks thoroughly editing a piece only to realize the author was hoping for something more lightweight.
2. How to Mark Suggested Changes
Discuss the best way for the Beta reader to mark suggested changes in your manuscript. Track Changes is a good option as long as both parties have access to Microsoft Word. Another option is to put the manuscript into a Google Doc. Ask the Beta reader what works best for them.
3. Agree on a Reasonable Deadline
This one is important for both the author and the Beta reader. Depending on the length of the manuscript (mine is currently about 70,000 words) and the depth of the edit, Beta reading can represent a significant time investment. Together the author and Beta reader should realistically assess how much time the Beta reader can put into the project. Set a date for the Beta reader to return manuscript with any mark ups or suggestions for the author. Be reasonable and flexible.
Bottom Line: Remember that most Beta readers are doing this because they love reading and are interested in the subject of your manuscript. Thank them for whatever contribution they make to your publishing process.
Interested in being a Beta reader for Finding Fault manuscript? Leave a reply below and I’ll get back to you.