Critique series: Why writers need alpha readers
Alpha readers aren’t as well recognized as beta readers, editors, or ARC readers, and one reason for that is because writers might think that no one should read their work until it’s finished.
Alpha readers can do many things for you and your book, and you would be smart if you took advantage of them.
What is an alpha reader?
Beta readers read the book after you finish your revisions, right? Well, an alpha reader reads your book while you’re writing it.
An alpha reader has many roles, but here are a few of the most important:
- They can point out plot holes before you get too deep into the mistake
- They can help identify when the book gets boring/slow or point out when it’s too fast/confusing
- When you’re stuck, you already have someone who has been reading to help you flesh out your idea
- Your alpha readers will be your first fans and promoters
- When you get to the ending, they might remember some things you forgot to close up
- They can help you expand/condense your book where necessary
- They can help you stay on track; they keep you accountable so you’re more likely to keep writing
I said few, but I wrote more. Alpha readers are like advance beta readers. They see things before it becomes annoying. For example, if your character nods a lot, your alpha reader might notice it and you can fix that before your beta reader tells you about it, which means you won’t have to go back through your 40,000+ words of a story to find it all. It also helps you during your revision stage.
If you’ve reached your revision stage and missed out on the alpha reader part, I have an entire series dedicated to revisions here.
Why do you need beta readers if you use an alpha reader?
Beta readers read after your story is finished and revised. They are the fresh pair of eyes that will find things your trained eyes can’t. You know everything about that story, so you can’t find things when you know the answer already. Well, your alpha reader will be the same. You discuss your story with your alpha reader (or readers) and the story sits in their brain like it does yours. They are good for the writing process, but after things are finished on your end, they are almost as blind to mistakes as you are.
How do you work with an alpha reader?
Most people send their alpha reader a chapter every time they finish one. Some writers use their alpha readers as walls, and until they finish half their book, the only thing they do is discuss each chapter with the alpha reader.
You can also use an alpha reader as a revision stage reader. Some will argue this is still a beta reader, but I’ll call it an alpha reader because when you finish your first draft, if you need help getting through your revision stage, an alpha reader can walk through the story with you, allowing you to find more things as you go. They should know everything about the story by then, and they’ll be able to see things for the first time with the plot in mind.
The key is communication and time. Make a schedule, keep them accountable as readers and ask them to keep you accountable as a writer. If you work together like it’s a tandem project you’ll have an easier time of getting through it. You can also schedule conferences or meetings in which you’ll come together, discuss, and all that good stuff.
How do you find an alpha reader?
The best alpha readers will always be the writer for which you are also an alpha reader. I know you want me to say something easy that allows you to take and not give, but don’t be self-centered here. You might think you don’t have time for reading, but if someone is going to set aside time for you, why won’t you help them? Anyone who wants to participate in an alpha reader trade can fill out a contact form. In Authors’ Tale, we’re slowly starting a forum in which people can get help like this. If you’re willing to be an alpha reader but don’t have a book to share, fill out that form and simply say so. For now, it’s not yet a forum but we’re building a list.
Another way to find an alpha reader is to talk to fellow writer friends, family, or casual friends who might be readers and not writers. Anyone with a little time on their hands who is interested in your story is a good one to ask, but make sure you discuss a schedule so you don’t lose a reader who lacks the motivation to follow you to the end.