For most, being a creative requires having a thick skin.
Feedback is essential to developing the creative process.
Writing, specifically, is a very subjective creative form and feedback can be invaluable when deciding how to move forward.
Developing a thick skin is crucial in the early stages when feedback is necessary.
Writers seeking feedback on their writing have already self-edited their work and are ready for feedback, or initial impressions of their writing, before they are ready to launch their book.
Enter the alpha reader.
This is what you need to know about working with an alpha reader:
- What are alpha readers?
- What to expect from alpha readers
- What makes a good alpha reader?
- How to find alpha readers
- Ready for the next step?
It’s one thing to ask a close family member what they think of your writing. They will likely encourage you because they care about you and want to see you pursue your dream.
Many writers keep their work close until they are relatively satisfied with their progress. The issue with this is that early mistakes can set a negative trajectory for the rest of the manuscript.
Asking for the feedback of an alpha or beta reader early on can help ensure your writing is headed in the correct direction and your time is spent most effectively.
Alpha and beta readers read with the intention of providing genuine, honest feedback for you, the writer.
Typically, alpha readers read first, give feedback to the writer, and then after revisions, the writer will submit the manuscript to a beta reader for another read through.
Let’s dive into this process so you can have the most help possible and make your work shine.
What are alpha readers?
Alpha readers are readers who look at your writing before it’s polished.
While it’s common for writers to ask a beta reader to look at their polished work, alpha readers look at the rough draft.
Alpha readers can point out early flaws
Whether you’re a new writer or this is your 10th book, as the writer, you are the closest to your work.
It’s easy to miss discrepancies or not clearly see the direction your story takes. You are the writer, so you can see the entire story from the writer’s perspective, but an alpha reader can point out areas that don’t make sense or don’t align with your story goal.
Having someone to point out flaws early on can dramatically change how you spend your time. Imagine having one plot twist that doesn’t work half way through your book, but not realizing the issue until the final page. An alpha reader can point this out and save you the time of rewriting the second half of your book.
Alpha readers can encourage your progress
While Alpha readers help you through the rough draft of your story, they can also encourage you in what you’re doing well.
Many creatives struggle with imposter syndrome (the fear of being found out or not being capable). An alpha reader can give feedback regarding not just areas for improvement, but also where you are succeeding.
When it comes to making it to the last page, this kind of encouragement is crucial.
Alpha readers understand it’s a rough draft
An alpha reader, by default, is the first reader. Whether you hire a professional alpha reader or ask a friend to be your alpha reader, being an alpha reader means the reader is looking at a very rough draft. All writing is rewriting, and they will understand this is not your best work. Not yet.
That’s why they are here to help. They want to bring out the best in your writing and point out areas for improvement to help you do so.
Don’t feel uncomfortable when giving your work to an alpha reader. They know what they’re getting into and they’re here because they want to help you
What to expect from alpha readers
What to expect from an alpha reader depends on the reader, but there are three general expectations alpha readers understand and need to fulfill:
1 – Honesty
They are your first reader and if you cannot keep them hooked from page one, they need to tell you so. For today’s readers, it’s crucial to capture them from page one, sentence one, and keep them turning pages until the end.
Including great setups and payoffs, whether you write fiction or nonfiction, is imperative to writing a well-received story. Alpha readers are here to point out where you are doing so, and where some tweaks could be helpful.
2 – Consistency
If you have created a self-imposed deadline for yourself, make it clear to your alpha reader that you need their feedback in a timely, consistent manner. If they have agreed to work with you, they understand their feedback will dramatically influence your writing. While you are the writer and get to make the final call, the feedback from an alpha reader is an important part of your process.
3 – Tact
Many writers refer to their book as their baby. Creatives pour their heart into their work and alpha readers need to realize this. If you work with an alpha reader who is also a creative, this will help. You’ll both have a general understanding of the creative process and hopefully work well together. However, it can be helpful to be clear that you want to receive constructive criticism.
Criticism is an important part of the creative process, but there is a difference between criticism that lacks tact, and constructive criticism with the goal of encouraging growth.
What makes a good alpha reader?
A good alpha reader has these four important characteristics:
1 – A good alpha reader is someone who treats your book like a future bestseller
When writing your book, it can be intimidating to think about the many readers you will one day reach. You have likely heard the term target audience. You may even have your ideal reader in mind as you write your pages. However, books are written for the masses. While the market determines whether a book hits a bestseller list, it’s something writers should always be prepared for. Are you willing to have what you’ve written read by hundreds, thousands, and perhaps millions of readers?
2 – A good alpha reader will keep this possibility in mind as they help you on your project
Regardless of your platform, great writing sells. You never know how far your writing will reach. Alpha readers help guide the process of your early writing so as you progress through different edits you are on track to write the best book you can.
3 – A good alpha reader also realizes that you are the writer and therefore you have full creative liberty
While this may seem like it goes without saying, a good alpha reader knows that you are the writer and therefore the book is your idea. Only you know the full scope of what you hope to accomplish with your book. An alpha reader is responsible for helping you see blind spots you may have missed, but they are not the final decision maker. They realize that the final decisions are up to you, the writer.
4 – A good alpha reader enjoys the genre you write
Just as it’s important for an editor to enjoy reading your project, it’s vital that your alpha reader have a certain level of enjoyment for your topic. If an alpha reader struggles to get through your book but they don’t like the genre you write, their struggle is not a problem in your story. It’s not your writing. It’s their personal preference.
When choosing an alpha reader, make sure they enjoy the genre they’ll be reading. This will allow them the capacity to give feedback as close to a future reader’s as possible: Readers pick up books they want to read. The alpha reader should be no different.
How to find alpha readers
Alpha readers can be found in a myriad of places, and a simple Internet search is a great place to start.
When looking for an alpha reader, first determine what type of alpha reader is best for your project. If you want generalized, unprofessional opinions on your writing you may try:
- Your Facebook friend list
- The #WritingCommunity on Twitter
- Asking that family member who’s known as a bookworm
- Your younger cousin who just got interested in reading
- A college roommate
Depending on your goals, you may want to hire a professional alpha reader to look at your work. If this is the case, searching through your Facebook friend list should be one of the last places you go.
Instead, try using sites like Upwork, Pangian, LinkedIn, or look through the faculty list at writers conferences.
Reach out to writing friends and ask which editors they’ve used. Send a brief email explaining that you’d like to hire them for their professional opinion on your writing.
Before making the decision of which type of alpha reader to reach out to, be clear with yourself on your goals. Receiving constructive criticism, well helpful, can be difficult. If you decide to hire a professional alpha reader, understand they will be giving you their professional opinion on your writing . . . before it’s polished.
Their feedback is important to take to heart, but could be a bit difficult to receive. If you’re not ready for this type of feedback and you’re still developing that thick writer’s skin, consider asking a friend to act as an alpha reader first.
If you are ready for that genuine feedback, also realize that writing is subjective. Even a professional’s opinion may not always be right for your particular story. Consider what they say and give their feedback the time you need to truly decide whether or not it’s best for your story.
However, at the end of the day you are the writer and you make the final call. While most other professionals’ advice will likely make it into your story, there are select opinions that may not be best for your particular project. Consider what they say but know when to make the final call. You are the writer after all!
As you proceed . . .
Choosing an alpha reader is an exciting step in writing your story. Do the research you need to do to ensure you work with the perfect alpha reader for you.
You could also consider a short trial to ensure you work well together and they enjoy your story and want to proceed.
Once you decide to officially work together, move forward and enjoy the process! An alpha reader wants to read your work, they understand it’s your first draft, and they want to help you through the process.
Present your work without fear, consider their feedback, and then make the final call.
Write those pages.
And know the direction you take can always be edited later.
Writing is a journey. Feedback is subjective.
Ready for the next step?
Grab your copy of our our Book Launch Checklist after you finished revisions with your Alpha and Beta readers!