A reader is a valuable thing. And I just don’t mean the reader of the end product, the book on ‘the shelf’ (virtual or otherwise). I’m talking about the readers we have before publication.
There are many type of readers, so let me explain.
Alpha Reader: This is the person who gets to read your work from the very beginning, sometimes chapter by chapter as you pen them. They are the encouragement. The ones who will guide and gently suggest anything obvious that could cause problems later on. I have a fantastic alpha reader who I send each chapter I do as I finish it. Some of the things they have pointed out has been invaluable and saved me a lot of heartache later on.
Beta Reader: This is the person (or many people) who get to read your completed tome in its entirety before any editor or other professional sees the work (and there can be many of those). The beta reader is often asked what to look for in a work, as we all know our weaknesses in our own work. For example: “Can you let me know where I ramble?” or “Are the characters grabbing you?” Things like that. But of course things can go into much more detail. Some beta readers like to correct grammar/punctuation, while others will do a line by line edit. I’ve had a beta sent me extensive notes, all welcome of course. But generally beta readers look for global things that can bog down a story. Whatever beta reader/s you have, they are all valuable. But remember, they are offering their opinion. You are within your rights to agree or not. That’s how it works.
Critique Partner: I think of these people as both alpha and beta readers and can be engaged at any time of the writing process. I’ve done chapter swaps with plenty of writers as we progress through our respective works. I’ve done complete story swaps too. Although, usually alpha and beta readers are not writers, they are purely great readers. With a critique partner they are usually a fellow writer who will offer a different insight to what a reader can. Sometimes a reader can’t pin-point what is wrong with a story but knows there’s something wrong. A critique partner may be able to do this because of their perspective and closeness to the writing process. Eg: the plot is choppy, the character arc isn’t complete, or there is too much detail/not enough etc etc which isn’t letting the reader immerse into the story.
Anyway, I use all three in my writings. I also send my work to a trusted friend who is an editor as well. As such, my writing has improved so much I don’t recognise my earlier works any more. A good feeling.