Writing is a long and arduous process. It can also be the most fulfilling. One of the hardest things to do is share your work with others when it is being worked on, or what is called a rough draft. However, that is one of the most essential things a writer can do when they are working on a story. Two different kinds of readers can be used in this process. One is called an alpha reader, and the other is called a beta reader. Both are essential to the process, and you turn to them when you need feedback for your story.
The difference between an alpha and beta reader is pretty simple. Alpha readers are designed to help look at the unpolished manuscript or draft that an author has. This is before a beta reader will ever set eyes on the draft. Alpha readers usually provide valuable insights for the story, point out if the story needs fleshed out, or advice for the plot.
It’s important to have someone critique your work that is unbiased, and committed to being honest, as well. Anyone who is involved a creative hobby/passion knows that it feels great to have someone compliment them on it. If you are never critiqued you will never figure out what you need to work on, and how to progress. It is very important to seek out people who will be honest when they read your work.
What do Alpha Readers DO?
Alpha readers can be onboarded onto your team at any part of the writing process. It can be given over a longer period of time, as well. Alpha readers may see different versions of a book because of this, and so their feedback will evolve as your book evolves. By having an alpha reader come into the process into the beginning you can address many concerns about your story: character, plot, setting, dialogue, pacing, etc.
How many alpha readers are necessary?
Finding people to read your work sounds easy. Sometimes it is not. First, you’ll have to find someone willing to your rough draft. You’ll need people that will stay engaged with your work and answer questions. They’ll also need to critique and give you honest feedback. You may have to weed out a few of them – some people may say yes, and not actually have the time. Maybe someone agrees but isn’t giving very honest feedback. It can be difficult.
This is essential. Sometimes it is hard to know the right answer to this question, and it’s understandable. You might think that the more alpha readers, the better. It all depends on the story you are working on. Are you working on a short story? 1 – 3 should suffice. A longer work will, of course, benefit from more than that. This is not a formula, though. If you have one or two great alpha readers, you can absolutely work with that. All that matters is that they’re honest, and willing to work with you.
When is it time to get a alpha reader?
With alpha reads, you can start at any time. The ‘perfect time’ is anytime you start the story or end the first draft. However, it is up to you. You get to choose when you invite that alpha reader in to look through your draft. Alpha readers help give you a sense of where you are in the draft and can help guide you on your next steps, so the earlier you involve them in your draft the easier you time you can have.
Bad Alpha Reader
- Reads outside your genre
- Personal critique
Good Alpha reader
- Reads inside genre
Questions to ask an Alpha Reader
- Who was your favorite character?
- Are there are any characters you think could be made more interesting?
- Do you feel like the antagonists and/or villain are fleshed out and relatable as the MC?
- Were the characters believable?
- When was the first time you put the book down?
- Were there any parts where you felt like skimming?
- At what point did you think “Okay, this is where the story begins”?
- Did you pick up on plot holes?
- Were there any parts you had to reread to figure out who was speaking?
- Do any two (or three) characters sound too much alike?
- What are your thoughts about the MC’s character arc?
- Are there any characters that seems cliché, underdeveloped, or stereotypical? How do you think they can be improved?
- If you could choose, which character would be getting more “screen time” and why?
- Were there any lines or exchanges that made you laugh?
- Was there a point at which you felt the story/chapter lagged or you became less than excited about finding out what was going to happen next? Where, exactly?
At the end of the day, if you want to publish your book there are a lot of steps to do so. One of the first steps to ensuring the quality of your piece is an alpha reader. With a great alpha reader you can guarantee that your draft is polished, and that you are not leaving in any plot holes. You can also get advice on the pacing, characters, and setting of your novel. Alpha readers do a lot for your novel and in the very beginning stages as well. They are a very valuable resource in the writing community and many writers would be lost without them. Alpha readers are the first line of defense. They provide an invaluable service and are certainly worth the fuss.
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– J. Hughes.