You’ve probably heard more than once that beta readers and/or ARC readers are critical to the self-publishing process. Adding to the confusion, you may hear talk of using alpha readers too. 

What’s the difference between all these reader types? Do you need beta readers and ARC readers? And if so, where on earth do you find them? 

You’ll find the answers to each of these questions in this week’s post on how (and why) to engage different types of readers as part of your self-publishing process.

Pre-publication reader types: an overview

Let’s start with an overview of the three different reader types we mentioned above, what differentiates them, and how to use them.

Alpha readers

As the name implies, alpha readers will be the first people to read your book. More than likely, they’ll read it when it’s still a work in progress. Authors will often call in alpha readers as a sort of “gut check” to make sure their book is on the right track.

At this stage, pick someone who knows your work (and you) well and can identify any trouble spots before you send your manuscript to a professional editor. Many authors will ask their partner or a close friend to perform this task. Choose alpha readers wisely, as the job is not for the faint of heart. Very likely, you’ve spent months or even years writing your book, and you might feel a bit sensitive about feedback, so communicate your expectations clearly.

Not all authors use alpha readers, but it’s a good way to save time and money during the editing process. The goal is to spot major issues that would trip up an editor and prompt a rewrite: giant plot holes, inconsistent actions by a beloved character, sections that simply aren’t working, etc. 

Beta readers

Beta readers dive into your book when it’s nearly done—meaning, after you’ve completed at least a self-editing step, if not a few rounds of professional editing. The timing you choose depends on your goals; if you’re looking for high-level feedback about the overall plot (a story edit), you may want to get some beta readers in before you send your manuscript to an editor. If you simply want a final polish before publication, you can bring in beta readers after most editing rounds are complete. 

The job of a beta reader is to provide feedback on your book, whether at a high level or by getting into the weeds and spotting any typos or incongruencies in the text. Beta readers are essentially unpaid volunteers—often, they’re fans who love your work so much that they are happy to read an early version in exchange for feedback.

Because the role of a beta reader can vary, it helps to communicate your goals. Are you looking for parts of the story that don’t resonate? Attention to the dialogue? Ask specific questions (if you have them) about the characters, flow, etc. You can also ask readers to flag any sentences or troublesome sections that trip them up. 

This way, unpaid volunteers can help you untangle tricky sections before you pay a professional editor to do it. Or, you might bring in beta readers when the book is basically ready to go—the obvious drawback being that if they uncover anything serious, you may incur delays or expenses by going back and revisiting the text.

ARC readers

ARC stands for Advanced Review Copy. Your objective in using ARC readers is to gather early (and preferably glowing) reviews of your book prior to publication. On launch day, prospective readers who visit major hubs like Goodreads should be able to see existing reviews that help motivate them to give your book a try. 

Unlike beta readers, ARC readers aren’t there to suggest changes or point out plot holes. (If they find major issues like this, make sure to leverage beta readers next time around!) ARC readers jump in once everything is more or less ready for publication but before your release date. If they do spot any typos or minor errors and communicate them to you during this stage, you should have time to clean them up before the book’s official launch if you wish. But the primary objective is getting reviews in place before launch day dawns.

Where to find beta readers and ARC readers

Tap your network

The best way to find beta readers is to cultivate relationships with other writers and readers in your genre. As an indie author, you’ve likely already connected with other authors at conferences, in local or digital writing groups, or on social media. 

If you haven’t done this yet, it’s not too late to start! Simply Google “writing group” along with your subgenre or location. Engage authentically with other authors in your local area or online and seek out like-minded souls who might jump at the chance to read your work.

Pro Tip: Rather than simply asking someone to read your manuscript as a beta reader or ARC reader, offer to read theirs in exchange—or agree to read their work when their manuscript is ready. You’ll find that the simple act of quid pro quo goes a long way.

Leverage your author platform

Another great resource is right at your fingertips: your author platform. The most direct line from authors to their readers is generally the email list, which you’ve heard us get on our soapbox about a time or two. We could go on about the benefits of cultivating a mailing list all day long—but instead, we’ll just say that finding advance readers to help review your work is one of the many good reasons to keep a mailing list of your readers ready to hand. You can also post on your author website or on social media in search of volunteers who would love early access to your book.

Dedicated websites

Of course, there are also websites that help authors find beta readers. To avoid falling prey to predatory practices, remember that beta readers are typically not paid for their work. They might receive a free copy of the print book or ebook in exchange for their time, but they generally read as volunteers. 

The Goodreads Beta Reader Group is one popular corner of the internet to find beta readers. On Facebook, simply plug in “beta readers” and you’ll find results aplenty. Wherever you decide to look, read the rules of engagement and click around a bit to find the group that suits you best.

How and where do you find advance readers? Share your tips in the comments below!