A dog with brown fur reads a book. He is going to provide feedback as one of an author's early readers

Most writers are aware they need to enlist the help of early readers to get critical feedback for their books, but it can be confusing to know what kind of reader you need and when you need them.

To be clear, having people read your manuscript before you publish it is an excellent idea. Not only will you receive valuable feedback, you’ll build your capacity to be vulnerable when you share your work.

Let’s dive into the different types of early readers you may need, when to utilize them, and the best strategies for ensuring the feedback you receive will be helpful.

֍ Alpha Readers

Alpha readers are the first people to lay eyeballs on your manuscript. 

Who to enlist: Someone you trust completely

How many readers: 1-3

When to enlist them: Sometime after you’ve written a second draft.

Where to find them: Look to your significant other, your sibling, your best friend, your best writing buddy–someone you trust to give you honest feedback while also being gentle with you. Be sure this person will respond to the feedback request you make (no unsolicited advice).

What to ask for: Get clear about what you need at this stage and then ask for it. Maybe you just need encouragement. Or maybe you can’t figure out how to resolve your plot.

Next Steps: Process the feedback and dive back into revisions.

֍ Beta Readers

Beta readers are early readers who give you feedback after you’ve gone through developmental editing.

Who to enlist: Readers in your target audience (the type of reader who would enjoy your book)

How many readers: 5-???
This number is up to you. The more beta readers you have, the more feedback you have to sift through. You want a large enough sample that you feel confident in the feedback, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed by the amount of feedback.

When to enlist them: After you’ve finished developmental edits and big-picture revisions.

Where to find them: Ask folks you know (these people don’t have to be close to you; they just need to like the type of book you’ve written); reach out to local book clubs; check in with a local writing group; hire a professional. Hiring a professional beta reader is a great idea when you’re struggling to find beta readers on your own or you have a hard-to-reach audience, i.e. children.*

What to ask for: Come up with a handful of questions to guide your beta readers. You can ask about characters (do they like them?) and plot (any boring parts?) and any areas you’re unsure of. Make clear that you’re not looking for help with spelling or grammar.

Next Steps: Process the feedback and dive back into revisions.

Pro Tip: Use a Google form or a survey platform to collect reader feedback.

֍ Sensitivity or Diversity Readers

Sensitivity or diversity readers will help you accurately portray experiences that are not part of your own experience without harming others. They can help you identify bias and stereotyping in your manuscript.

Who to enlist: Someone who will be honest and has experience that you don’t.

How many readers: 1-3

When to enlist them: If you’re worried that content you’ve written could be misunderstood, you’re writing outside of your culture or experience, or if you’re trying to be as inclusive as possible. This occurs after developmental editing and could be after you’ve received beta-reader feedback, especially if an editor or beta reader pointed out a potential issue.

Where to find them: Hire a professional.* Don’t ask a colleague, friend, or family member to do this sort of emotional labor for free.

What to ask for: Be clear about the issue(s) that you’d like feedback on.

Next Steps: Process the feedback and dive back into revisions.

֍ ARC (or ARE) Readers

ARCs or AREs are Advance Reader Copies or Advance Reader Editions.

Who to enlist: Readers who will agree to read your novel and submit a review during your launch. If you have been working on outreach, you may contact influencers or reviewers at this time as well.

How many readers: ???
How many copies of your manuscript are you willing to share for free? 

When to enlist them: A couple of months before your book launch, send out an email asking for early readers. The month before your book launch, send your manuscript to those folks who agreed to read your book and write a review by a specific date.

Where to find them: If you have a list of emails, start there. If you don’t, then reach out to the people you know. Again, look at local book clubs and/or writing groups as well.

What to ask for: Be clear that you expect them to read your novel and leave an honest review by a specific date in return for a free copy of your book.

Next Steps: Enjoy a successful book launch!

Pro Tip: Send readers a PDF file or use a service, like Bookfunnel, to help you manage the distribution.

Final Tip

Share a sincere thank you with your early readers, whether that’s a thank you note (email) or a copy of your book. Let them know how much you appreciate them.

Also, this is not an exhaustive list. If you have any tips to help your fellow writers navigate early readers, please share.

*If you need a recommendation for a professional beta reader or sensitivity reader, let me know.

Copyright Ayers Edits 2021