Alpha, Beta, Editing, & ARC: The Difference

I recently posted an article called “What is Beta Reading?” which explained what it is and how it’s useful to authors. In that article, I also touched upon alpha reading, but in this one, I’ll outline the order of editing and explain them in stages.

Part 1: Alpha Reading

The first step in writing a book is, obviously, to write the book, but it’s not always that you can get the full first draft on paper. Sometimes, writer’s block kicks in [click here to learn how to deal with it!] or you get stuck on some portion of the story or another. This is where the alpha readers come in. They are the ones you can brainstorm with about a first draft that’s not quite done or a draft that’s full of blanks or spelling errors.

It’s a rare occurrence, as many authors can get through their first draft without sending it to a stranger for review, or they can manage it by talking to friends or family members. Plus, alpha readers are far more difficult to find online.

Other times, alpha readers are defined as the first person you share your story with. Meaning you’ve already written the first draft and done some self-editing [click here to learn how to up your self-editing game] but you’re still not confident in sharing your work with absolute strangers. This person is someone you trust.

Part 2: Beta Reading

After alpha reading (if you’ve done it) comes beta reading, the most well-known stage of preliminary editing. Beta readers, as explained in my What is Beta Reading article, are people who voluntarily read your book for free. Most often, they are members of your target audience (who your book is written for) and will offer their feedback as a reader. The exchange is this: they get a free book to read that interests them, and in return, you get advice on how to make the book better.

The main thing to remember about beta readers is that they are not editors. Beta readers are typically average, everyday readers and book enthusiasts offering their personal opinion. Some may know more about the technical aspects than others, but overall, they are not professionally trained. Paid beta readers (though uncommon) are professionally trained and offer their beta reading services for a price. With that cost, authors are generally assured that the beta reader will complete their reading and write a comprehensive report or notes, which most beta readers don’t do.

Beta readers, from my own experience, have a wide range. Some of them don’t even finish reading your book, while others write extensive comments and offer their own suggestions. I think of myself as somewhere in between that. I’m trained in doing editorial assessments, developmental editing, and copyediting, but beta reading is my way of interacting with and helping the writing community for free. As such, I will do my best to read a book by its deadline, and I will offer notes that I’ve written throughout my reading experience, plus overall notes for the book.

Part 3: Editing

This is where you get to the professionals. You can find them online through their websites, on third-party sites like Reedsy and Fiverr, and on social media like Facebook. In other words, editors are everywhere, and the modern author must be cautious.

Are you looking for a cheap editor? They might take a long time, or they might not be as experienced as other editors. Are you looking for an experienced editor? They’ll be expensive.

You might even find an editor who promises really cheap and really fast editing, but you must be careful! Those kinds of promises raise a lot of red flags. This just might be a person who runs your document through a digital spelling/grammar checker like Grammarly. They are not professionally trained, and they are more likely to introduce errors into your document than they are to fix them. Make sure an editor is credible before signing on with them.

Before reaching out to an editor, you need to know what kind of editing your book needs. Typically, it will first need content editing, then technical editing. To save money, people might try to skip one of those stages, do it themselves, or ask someone to do it for free—I advise against it if you’re serious about your book. [Click here to read about the book writing process from beginning to end].

When you have an editor and you’ve signed a contract with them for your project, it’s not often a one-and-done thing. Editing is done in stages, and by the time the book is ready, it might be draft 6 or 7. In between these stages, you can show the revisions to your beta readers to get their opinions. If they’re invested in your story, they’ll be happy to help in any way they can, and they’ll be just as excited as you are about the process.

Part 4: ARC (Advanced Review Copy) Reading

After the editing process, you’re ready to publish your book, but WAIT! Sure, you can upload your book the moment you’ve decided it’s ready, but how will people know to buy it? You may run ads or tell people about it on social media, but after a few days, weeks, or months, it will sink in with the rest of the books published online—so how do you make your own book stand out?

If you’re planning to publish the book on sites like Amazon, you must remember that it will promote books that sell because it makes them more money. Ergo, the more positive reviews that your book receives, the higher it will be listed in its categories.

But getting reviews is hard. You have to wait for people to find the book, be interested enough to read it, then like it (or hate it) enough to leave a review. How long will that take? Since it’s unethical (and illegal in some places) to pay people for reviews, that option is out. The only thing that is allowed to be paid in return for a review is the product itself. That’s where ARC readers come in.

There are websites out there (BookFunnel, BookSprout, etc.) that are designed to work for ARC readers. ARC readers, as explained above, stands for Advanced Review Copy Reader, meaning they receive the completed version of the book before it has been released to the public. Often, it is distributed several weeks in advance (to give readers time to complete the book). That way, once the book has been released, your ARC readers have finished the book and prepared their reviews to post online.

Imagine enlisting 50 people to read and review your book before it’s released. Next, imagine making your book available and within the first week, it already has 50 reviews. The book will gain attention. It will skyrocket to the top of the Amazon list, and more people will see it. They’ll buy it. If you have a release discount promotion on it as well, the sales will increase exponentially. Suddenly, your book is a bestseller, and you’ve gained fans.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to get that many people. Depending on the genre of your book, as well as, obviously, the quality of it, you might struggle to find even one person, or you might get as many as 200. [Click here to learn more about Launch Teams by SelfPublishingSchool.]

*Part 5: Reviewers

This isn’t really part of the stages because it can come as an afterthought. Your book is already out. Maybe it’s been out a long time and you want more attention for it, or maybe you’re going to release a sequel or another book soon. Whatever the reason, you’d like some more reviews for your book.

Once you’ve decided that you’re going to reach out to a book reviewer, you have to decide what media you want them to use. Are you looking for a Book Blogger or a Youtube Reviewer? For the best results, try to find a reviewer whose interests are in line with the genre and plot of your book.

Some advice I can offer in finding a Youtuber is to watch their content. Do they read books like yours? Do they talk about issues or aspects of life that your book represents? From what you know, will they generally enjoy your book? These are all things to ask yourself even before you reach out.

Remember also that Book Youtubers are content creators. Support them. Watch their videos, leave likes and comments, and maybe even subscribe to them if you enjoy their content. I’d even say to follow their channel for a few weeks before reaching out. Basically, build rapport. If you’re reaching out as a fan with a book, they’ll be more receptive than if you’re just an author who found their account.

The approach is slightly different for Book Bloggers, as they run in different circles. However, the same advice applies about doing your research. What kind of books do they like to read and review? If your book doesn’t mesh with them, there’s no point.

When reaching out to book reviewers, remember to maintain professionalism. Make the subject clear. Introduce yourself and your book. Tell them what it’s about. Even include a picture of the cover. Don’t send them a digital copy right away, but rather just ask them if they’re interested in reading the book and if they have time to read it. They may have a whole waiting list of books they’re reading before being able to get to yours.

If they are interested—good for you! If they haven’t already specified, you can ask them what kind of format they’d prefer. Typically, you would send them a PDF or an ePub, but if you’re feeling extra generous, you could offer to mail them a free paperback copy. A hard copy of the book is especially useful for Youtubers so that they can hold it in their hands when they’re talking about it. (Remember that if you’re mailing them a copy, it will take time for the book to arrive, and then take more time for them to actually read it.)

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2 responses to “Alpha, Beta, Editing, & ARC: The Difference”

  1. […] There are many ways to go about making sure your book shines. For info about the difference between alpha reading, beta reading, ARC reading, and editing, click here. […]

  2. […] and again, whether by yourself [learn more about Self-Editing], by beta readers [learn more about Alpha & Beta Readers], or by professional editors [learn more about Working with a Content Editor and/or a Technical […]

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