Tag Archives: beta-reading

Beta-reading Services

So, let’s say you’ve given your manuscript to all your alpha-readers already.  They pointed out trouble-areas and you fixed those then gave your manuscript to your beta-readers.  They pointed out more major structural changes and you put your nose to the grindstone and made more changes.   Unfortunately, now you’ve run through all your regular readers and you want a fresh set of eyes.

Or let’s say that for one reason or another, you don’t think your regular alpha/beta-readers will appreciate your new manuscript.  It’s not to their preferred taste and you’re looking for someone outside your normal sphere of feedback for this one-off project.

Or maybe you’ve just had no luck at all getting feedback and need a reader who will take your work seriously, who will actually get back to you when they say they will, or who will speak bluntly about their reading experience.

In all of these cases and more, I offer my services as a beta-reader.  This is not to be confused with the job of an editor or copy-editor.  I will be reading your work using these principles.  Preferably, I will not be the first set of eyes to look at your manuscript, but if that’s what you need, then I am willing to be an alpha-reader, as well.

Normally, yes, you don’t pay your alpha/beta-readers but swap services with them instead.  “I’ll read your manuscript if you read mine,” and so on.  However, good feedback is sometimes hard to find, especially a fresh set of eyes when you’re in a pinch.  I’ve had to do a lot of scaling back on alpha/beta-reading these past several years.  I don’t like saying no, but my time and energy are limited.  So this is the solution I’ve hit on, to fill a specific need.  Finances are also rocky at the moment, I still have health challenges, I need some additional income, et voilà. Necessity is the mother of invention. 🙂


  • I’ve read for Mary Robinette Kowal (Glamourist Histories, books 3-5), C.N. Holmberg (The Paper Magician Series), translator Lara Harmon (Alone, On the Wind), Niki Smith (Some Did Rest webcomic), translator Allison Charette (Words without Borders, December 2015 issue), and others.
  • See Mary Robinette Kowal’s post on my alpha-reading or her referral on Writing Excuses podcast.
  • See Charlie N. Holmberg’s plug on Twitter
  • Lara Harmon’s public thanks.


  • Unless you’re seeking feedback on a translation, I will convert your novel (40k+ wordcount) into a form I can read on my Kindle, read it using beta-reading principles, and provide feedback to you in an e-mail summary. Don’t worry, my notes won’t be short. 😉
  • I will cover such topics as characters, plot, worldbuilding, anything I found confusing or incomplete, parts I particularly liked, and so on. 
  • I will act as a built-in sensitivity reader for topics such as religion/spirituality, disability, chronic illness, and the aromantic/asexual spectra.  (You may be surprised by this addition, but there have been very few projects I’ve read where I wasn’t a sensitivity reader in some way.)
  • I will only read fiction projects.  I prefer some combination of fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, or mystery in MG, YA, NA, or Adult varieties.
  • No rape, rape-overtones, or post-rape PTSD with flashbacks.  No erotica.  No gratuitous violence or sex.  No horror or grimdark.  If you include any of these, I have the right to stop reading if it becomes too much for me to handle.  Your feedback will end there, wherever it happens in the manuscript.  (If I stop reading, you won’t be charged for the unread portion.  I apologize if this happens, but there’s as much risk involved for me as for you when taking on a stranger’s work.  Let’s just hope it won’t happen!)
  • I estimate turn-around to be 1 month.  This allows me time to factor in bad-health days, to read your novel (2-5 days) and to digest what I’ve read and provide feedback to you via e-mail (1 day).


  • $250 flat fee, split into two payments.  $100 will be billed upfront when we make the agreement for me to read for you.  This ensures that you really will deliver your manuscript at the agreed time and I really will read.  The remaining $150 will be billed when I deliver my feedback.  If for some reason I was not able to finish reading then you will not be charged the remainder.
  • Payments will be made using Paypal. 
  • Why $250?  Cheaper than hiring a freelance editor who, granted, would be offering you even more detailed feedback, it’s still a reasonable price to pay for my time and experience.  Included in that price is payment for my services as a sensitivity reader, and $250 per project is an acknowledged minimum rate for that.


  1. Query me at laura -at- littletranslator.com.  Describe your novel briefly, though you don’t have to be as formal as you would be when querying an agent.  I’ll get back to you with if I can take the project and my timetable on when I’d be able to get to it.
  2. If we agree on the arrangement, I’ll bill you the first payment via Paypal.


 Update: Now taking clients for projects read in January 2017 and later.

Keywords: find an alpha-reader, find a beta-reader, beta-reading services, critique partner, reader, manuscript reading services, sensitivity reader

My alpha/beta-reading CV

The past month has been extremely crazy due to a rather serious medical emergency in my immediate family, (I’ve been among the primary caregivers.)  Hopefully I should be around more from now on, but I expect things to continue to be disjointed and slowest on my blog as I will be focusing on my fiction writing and translation.  Y’know, all that behind-the-scenes meaty stuff.


The other day I was tallying up the range of alpha/beta-reading I’ve done in the past several years.  Recently I’ve been having to say “no” a lot more often than I’d like to, but I’m curious to see what all the projects look like in a pile together.  Length-wise, I’ve tackled projects all over the map.  I have a shelf on Goodreads for them, but it’s hardly representative of the work I’ve done.

Since 2011, I’ve alpha/beta-read

  • historical fantasy
  • dark fantasy/horror
  • time-traveling fantasy
  • space opera
  • translation of a Japanese game
  • translation of a French literary/academic horror novel
  • dystopian webcomic script

Kinda cool!  Definitely didn’t expect that spread when I first started alpha/beta-reading. 🙂

2013 Report

Continuing in the ultimate feel-good post tradition, I’m really enjoying making these!  (Here are 2012‘s and 2011‘s to compare.)

In Memoriam book for Jen 005

In Memoriam

This year I –

  1. With the help of an artist friend, put together a print book edition of a collaborative story J. Tamsin Green and I wrote, then sent it to her for while she’s in the South Pacific for Peace Corps.  I also put together a Scrivener project with everything we’ve ever written together and sent that as well.
  2. Alpha/beta-read 4 novels and 1 novelette, including Charlie Holmberg‘s upcoming The Paper Magician and The Glass Magician with 47North.  (Congratulations on the sale! :D)
  3. Participated in Lisa Carter’s literary translation class Defining Writing Style in May.
  4. Explored other online forms of learning by signing up for Charlie Bowater’s Skillshare art class on character design, Virginia University’s sponsored course on historical fiction via Coursera, and Svetlana Chmakova’s Skillshare class on character design.
  5. Completed my goal of reading at least 45 books this year, reaching a total of 63 books.  8 of which were non-fiction, 0 of which were in French, and 2 translations, as per my goal this year to read more of each of those.  I have more non-fiction, French, and translation titles in various stages of completion that will count towards next year.  I’ve also read several French short stories.
  6. Participated in Camp NaNoWriMo twice in April and July and NaNoWriMo in November.
  7. Finished drafts 1.0 and 2.0 of my historical fantasy novella Queen of the Eight Banners.  So, so glad I got that done!
  8. I won a Twitter nanofiction contest with this tweet.
  9. Wrote a short story “Desired,” which was short-listed for World Weaver Press‘ FAE anthology.
  10. I joined the new Emerging Literary Translators’ Network in America and then set up a directory and submissions market list for it.

Good news!

Charlie Holmberg, whom I alpha/beta read for, just got an agent for her book The Paper Magician.  I read it and I’m not surprised it landed an agent, I love it to pieces.  (It’s reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones’ style and uses origami-based magic.)  Go congratulate her! Or even if you’re too shy to congratulate her, go watch her sing a song she wrote to celebrate the occasion. 😀

Edit: And as of July 16th’s announcement, she has a publisher! Woohoo!


Whether or not you can write or edit, everyone reading this–hopefully–can read. (I know, bad joke.)  Today I want to talk about what I have learned about the skills necessary for alpha- or beta-reading, and how to apply what you already know about reading, writing, and editing to being an alpha-reader.

But first, a few definitions.

A writer is one who writes. It is his job to tell a story the very best he can. An editor‘s job, then, is to turn that story into something acceptable to a wider audience. (These definitions are simplistic, but I’ve already covered the definitions of various roles here.)

An alpha-reader, also called a “first reader,” exists to help the writer know what it is she has written. Sounds odd, right?  But actually they are incredibly useful. Since the story happens entirely in the writer’s head, it is hard for the writer to tell how much of that story has actually made it to the page and what impact the words she has chosen to paint the story with will have on a reader.

The alpha-reader’s job, then, is to recreate their reading experience for the author.  They can do this in various ways, but the more detailed the description and summary of their various reactions (not just the negative ones and not just the positive ones), the more helpful they will be.

So, then, what  is a beta-reader? Beta-readers and gamma-readers are the next step.  If alpha-readers read the first draft a writer produces, beta-readers read the second draft with fresh eyes and gamma-readers read the third.  Each of these sets of readers gets to see the various drafts before the professional editor ever touches a page,  so the writer can make his writing the best he can before he begins submitting his work to the professional world.

Yes, you read that right. Alpha-readers are unpaid volunteers, but their task is crucial to the professional writing process.  Why are they unpaid? For the simple reason that writers are poor and can’t afford to pay everyone who helps them with their writing. However, many authors reward their volunteer readers with free copies of their published works, and of course, there is the joy of being involved and seeing a story before anyone else gets to.

Want to read books but can’t afford to do so? Become an alpha-reader.

Common Challenges.

Writers often have “Internal Editors” when they write: pesky little demons that sit on your shoulder and tell you everything that’s wrong about your writing.  There comes a point in a writer’s life, too, when they develop pesky little demons called “Internal Writers” that plague them when they read others’ books, babbling nonstop about how they would have written the book differently if its rough draft had first been in their hands.

Internal Editors are the bane of a writer’s “first draft” experience.  Internal Writers are the bane of a reader’s experience.  However, I have actually been able to squash most of my Internal Writer-demons by becoming an alpha-reader.

What A Writer Needs to Know.

When a writer requests the help of first readers, they are not looking to know what their readers would have written. They want to know the effect their book is having in its current form.  For example, a writer wants to know

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. Interest.  Does this fascinate you the way it fascinates me?  Are you hooked?  Is this too much detail or not enough?

Alpha-readers, especially alpha-readers who are also writers, will sometimes try to “fix” the book like an editor might do or “rewrite” it to suit their tastes. The problem with this is that unless you know what the writer is aiming for, you could do more damage than good–or simply waste everyone’s time tearing something apart that actually doesn’t need fixing.  So the less the alpha-reader tries to “fix” and the more time they spend recreating their experience and answering a writer’s unspoken questions, the more good they will do. This is the challenge. I am not perfect at it, but I’m getting better.


The way I do my alpha-reading is entirely “stream of conscious”.  If I have a thought or I feel something as I read, I record it. Let me see if I can pull something from the public domain to use as an example.

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and so die.—

>>Wow, I wonder what happened to bring him here?  Though I get the sense this Duke fellow has a touch of the theatrics to put his heartache so dramatically.

Haha yes, I just used the first three lines in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as an example.  So you see–it does not matter how good or how poor the quality of the writing, alpha-reading is about recording your thoughts and your experience as you read.  I do it by quoting a few lines to anchor the writer so she knows what part I’m commenting on, and then giving my reactions by talking back to the text.

Then at the end of the chapter or section, I break to give a broader summary of the most striking points and thoughts I had.

Not everyone does it this way, but this is the way I’ve done it since I started giving feedback in writing instead of in person.  Still, if alpha-reading appeals to you and you want to give it a try, I’d encourage you to recreate your thoughts and feelings as detailed and as complete as possible. The more you leave out, the less the writer knows.  Also, don’t offer editing advice unless the writer asks for it.

Questions? Comments? Additions?