What’s the Difference: Alpha vs Beta Drafts

Throughout our editing tips series, we’ve shared tips and tricks for self-editing your manuscript at various stages. However, it’s important to note that before editing really begins—and once it commences—there are two terms to describe your draft. These are called the alpha draft and beta draft. These are called the alpha draft and beta draft. However, it’s important to note that before editing really begins—and once it commences—there are two terms to describe your draft. These are called the alpha draft and beta draft. These are called the alpha draft and beta draft.

Understanding whether your manuscript is in the alpha or beta stage is important because there are different opportunities available within your writing community during each stage. In this post, we’ll explain the parameters for each stage as well as how your writing community can help you along your drafting journey.

A completed rough draft of a manuscript is known as an alpha draft. When your manuscript is in the alpha stage, it is in perhaps its most unpolished form. This is the point at which you can begin making revisions. We advise every writer to read their completed draft, start to finish, several times, taking notes and making minor copy edits along the way; remember, each manuscript will have different needs, too, so how many times you need to review each draft may vary. This ensures you’ll be working with a cleaner draft the next time you go through it. As you read, if you have any specific questions that you feel you need to be able to ask another person or discuss with someone else, jot those down; it may be worth contacting an alpha reader in order to address those points.

As you begin talking to potential alpha readers, ask them if they’d like you to provide them with a list of your questions or general concerns about your manuscript before or after they read it—some alpha readers may prefer to read a draft “blind” to form their own opinions, while others may prefer to know what portions of it you’re looking for feedback on and address those parts as they read.

We recommend that your alpha reader be another writer, though they don’t necessarily need to be a writer in the same genre as your manuscript—they just need to be familiar with reading it. By working with another writer (as opposed to just a reader), they’ll be able to help you identify major plot holes or other disjointed parts of your manuscript in a broad way. While they may help in pointing out typographical errors (ex., your main character’s sister’s name is spelled “Britney” in chapter one but “Brittany” for the rest of the book), their job is not to provide line-by-line notes, edits, or feedback. Rather, an alpha reader is providing notes on the strongest parts of your manuscript as well as areas that could use some improvement, helping you identify portions of your storytelling that may need some extra work to reconcile what you’ve envisioned in your mind with what’s actually on the pages.

Once your alpha reader provides you with feedback and you have the opportunity to implement the portions that feel right to you, it’s likely time for another start-to-finish readthrough, once again taking notes and making minor copy edits along the way. This is the stage in which you may want to contract the services of a professional developmental editor—someone who will be able to address the plot’s progression as well as character development (or, in the case of memoir, how clearly your experiences convey your intended message).

Once developmental edits are complete, your draft has entered the beta stage.

A beta draft is a manuscript with a solid plot, cohesive chapter transitions, and clear message; while copy and/or line edits may still need some work, a beta draft should be as close to complete as possible. During this stage, we recommend working with beta readers. A beta reader should be able to approach your manuscript as a casual reader—someone who is able to read your story as though they’ve picked the book off the shelf at the library with the intention of leaving an honest review (i.e., thorough and honest feedback to you, the author).

Of course, no matter which stage your manuscript is in, it’s important to remember that any feedback you receive is simply that reader’s opinion; it’s up to you what you choose to implement and what to ignore as you progress through the stages of editing. Nonetheless, alpha and beta readers alike are some of your first readers and their insight can be indicative of what future agents and acquisitions editors may think when presented with your manuscript. We recommend working with several readers at each stage for every manuscript, though each will ultimately have different needs; this will allow you to see if there’s a theme or trend to the feedback that is indicative of an issue that should be addressed or if it is more of an outlier comment.

At Josha, we believe every part of the drafting process is a team endeavor, and we encourage you to consider it similarly. Working with alpha and/or beta readers can ultimately help you produce a stronger manuscript in any genre, and your later querying and publishing process will only benefit from it—your writing will improve and, though perhaps difficult at times, you’ll be able to grow as a writer when you work with readers at every stage of the journey… and you may meet some lifelong fans of your books-in-progress along the way!

Josha Publishing, LLC is a woman-founded, woman-owned, and woman-run company that is passionate about booksstories, and the power of words to change lives. Learn more about us here and remember to sign up for our newsletter to find out about new content, new books, and submissions update.

What’s the Difference:
Alpha vs Beta Drafts

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