On a recent podcast of Writing Excuses, specifically Season 8 Episode 17: Microcasting, Mary Kowal explained her process for using Alpha and Beta readers. There are many, many ways to do this but I found her method very instructive. Here are my notes:
- Alpha readers receive chapters one at a time, and stay about two chapters behind where Mary is currently writing her work-in-progress (WIP).
- Beta readers receive her WIP all in one chunk. They focus on the work as a whole. Mary asks them to essentially flag problems by identifying:
- areas that Bore them,
- areas that Confuse them,
- things they don’t Understand,
- things they don’t Believe, and
- things that are Cool (so she doesn’t change them and remove the coolness factor).
- Editors, Agents, and other Industry Professionals see Mary’s WIPs only after going through this process so they can be in as final a state as possible.
In the podcast Mary promised to share a link to an external source and she did: Alpha-Reading by Laura A. Christensen. This excellent post details the things a writer needs to know from their readers:
- Clarity. Do you understand what is going on? Can you picture the setting and the characters in your head? Can you see where everyone is in relationship to each other? Was the fight scene confusing? Is my word choice obscure?
- Impact. Was this part funny or did it fall flat? Do you like these characters at this moment? Are you frustrated with them? Do you love them? Are you afraid? Is this intense? Are you bored? Do you wish you could stop reading? Do you feel like you’re there with the characters? Was this part a tear-jerker or were you annoyed? Was the ending satisfying or did I drop the ball?
- Believability. How are my characters’ reactions? Does this feel plausible to you? Is this the way you handle a gun in your experience? Do I need to do further research about xyz? Does my fight scene feel real? Does this fit together and make sense?
- Interest. Does this fascinate you the way it fascinates me? Are you hooked? Is this too much detail or not enough?
All in all, this seems like sage advice. Thanks to both for sharing.