An author’s first draft is probably the most embarrassing draft there is. I mean it is called a rough draft for a reason.
Some probably won’t let this dumpster fire draft see the light of day. But it’s actually useful if you do!
Like Beyonce said, ‘Pretty Hurts.’ If you want to have an appealing book (for your audience) then you have to give your book some solid TLC to get it glowing.
That means sharing your first draft with an alpha reader. They’re going to help you achieve your author dreams faster than you would on your own.
Interested in getting yourself an alpha reader? Then you’re in the right place.
What Is an Alpha Reader?
An alpha reader is a trusted soul that reads through and provides feedback for the rough draft of a book. They read the first draft in all its typo-ridden glory and comment on areas of improvement and areas that you excelled at.
Alpha readers see the bigger picture of your work and try to help you put on page what’s in your head in a way that makes sense for the person reading it.
They may give comments like “your side character is not that interesting,” or “your side character is more interesting than your main character!”
Comments like these could lead you to either adjust your side character to have more purpose or change your main character entirely.
An example of a character change in the first draft would be Divergent. Veronica Roth had the character Tobias (Four) as the narrator but got stuck. She eventually changed the book’s perspective to Tris who is the well-known heroine from the Divergent Trilogy.
Different types of alpha readers
Alpha readers can be unpaid or paid, depending on what you’re looking for.
A professional or paid alpha reader will be less subjective and more critical of what you send them.
They’ll work with you on the terms you set. Whether it’s per chapter, per book, etc. They’ll be able to use their experience to, for example, spot structural issues or what works well.
An unpaid alpha reader will probably have less thorough feedback in comparison but will still function the same. They could be family, friends, co-workers or preferably industry professionals or readers with experience.
Your choice depends on you as an author. Maybe you’re looking for hard-hitting criticisms to get you on the right track. Or maybe you need a softer touch, so you don’t feel like hiding in a hole.
Difference Between Beta and Alpha Readers
We have a blog on beta readers too, but we thought we’d clear up the differences here since these 2 reader types can be confusing.
|Alpha Readers||Beta Readers|
|An alpha reader is the first person that gets to see your work.||A beta reader comes in after the first draft adjustments to help you polish your work for the eyes of agents and publishers.|
|They are concerned with getting your story exactly how it should be||They are more focused on the genre since they are your target audience; they look at your book from only a reader’s perspective.|
Since their roles are quite similar, you may be wondering if an alpha reader can be a beta reader.
The short answer is: Yes, but…
The long answer is: They can be the same person, but it’s best to avoid that scenario. They’re similar but serve different functions.
The alpha reader would find it hard to switch their writer’s brain off and read as just the reader. The beta reader may find it hard to critique writer elements since they won’t have the experience first-hand.
If they do have the experience, they may get their wires crossed and give you worldbuilding tips when you want to know what emotions they felt when they read the climax.
What Does an Alpha Reader Do?
What does an alpha reader do specifically that makes them so special to the diamond in the rough draft?
They give you comprehensive feedback on your characters, the plot, structure, pacing, world building, tone, etc.
They may give comments like, “the description in chapter 10 doesn’t fit the world’s atmosphere in the way you’ve described it previously.”
Maybe the setting you’ve chosen doesn’t work anymore.
Susan Dennard shared how her initial setting just didn’t work anymore and how she had to figure out how to make her plot unfold in a new environment. Imagine if you had to rewrite so many important story sections because you didn’t catch it in the first draft!
An alpha reader’s role is performed best when they are also a writer or at least they have the knowledge and understanding of writing elements. This makes friends and family lower on the list of potential alpha readers since they won’t be able to give that type of specific feedback.
Or worse. They’ll want to spare your feelings and shower you with praise. It feels good but it doesn’t do much for your growth as an author.
A good alpha reader will help you grow leaps and bounds. They spot areas that need to be ironed out before they get noticed by agents and publishers.
What Makes a Good Alpha Reader?
No one can be closer to your work than you. This is exactly why it will be hard for you to see glaring errors. A good alpha reader will be able to find these and save you time rewriting simple issues out of later drafts. But what makes an alpha reader good enough to serve this purpose well?
- Honesty is the best policy
- Match your pace
- The perfect feedback
- Excuse the grammar
- Market ready
- Likes the genre
- Understands the boundaries
- Lifts you up
Honesty is the best policy
Your family member might look you dead in the eyes and say the book was ‘faaantastic’ while thinking to themselves that your story almost put them to sleep after act 2.
A good alpha reader will tell it like it is. If that subplot in chapter 16 felt forced, the alpha reader will be sure to mention it.
Match your pace
You don’t want to lose your momentum because you’re waiting for feedback. You’re itching to write!
A good alpha reader will send you feedback on time.
They’ll keep a consistent schedule with you to ensure you’re writing and correcting harmoniously.
The perfect feedback
Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.
That’s right, Goldilocks. A good alpha reader provides just the right amount of feedback. Detailed enough to get their point across. But not too detailed as to have you confused at what the issue was.
The feedback is short, sweet, and straight to the point.
Excuse the grammar
A good alpha reader is a lovely human that ignores all the grammatical errors (unless of course it’s making the concepts murky).
They know what they’re here for. They know that they are not the final reader.
They’re focused on the big picture. There’s no time to worry about a typo when chapter 4 had a dialog so engaging that alpha reader #1 was enthralled!
A good alpha reader is one that is creative, just like you. They’re writers too!
They’ll be able to provide feedback that not only improves your book, but your writing in general.
They’ll comment on how you built tension, the flow of the story, etc.
You can really maximize this by picking an alpha reader that has expertise in an area you are weaker in to get better in that area.
Since the alpha reader is experienced, they know what works in the industry. They’ll review your work with the book’s market in mind.
They should treat it like a bestseller in the making!
They’ll therefore provide feedback that will keep you on track to release a book that the readers will enjoy, and critics will love!
Likes the genre
Imagine asking someone that can’t stand chick-flicks to read your draft when you’re a Romance Author. You wouldn’t get helpful feedback at all.
We’re not saying that the alpha reader needs to be head-over-heels for your genre, but they at least need to enjoy it.
Understands the boundaries
They should give you advice on how to improve, but also know that you have the final say. It’s your book and you decide what needs to change and what doesn’t.
If an alpha reader suggests changing an element of the story, you should really digest this information first. Then, go with your gut.
Maybe the change will impact an important character arc negatively. Or maybe the change creates an opportunity for a better character arc. That’s for you to ponder. And a good alpha reader will respect that.
Lifts you up
Only hearing criticisms sucks. But a good alpha reader will commend you too!
They’ll sprinkle in comments of encouragement and admiration to keep you engaged with your efforts. And these comments will be genuine too.
No fluff compliments like, “I enjoyed chapter 20.”
More like, “The twist in chapter 20 had me picking my jaw off the floor! You spent the right amount of time on each character’s reaction.”
What Makes a Bad Alpha Reader?
When choosing alpha readers, there are ones that you should avoid at all costs.
The negative Nelly
An alpha reader that doesn’t provide any praise or compliments on your hard work is a bad alpha reader.
You don’t want someone that is only harsh and refuses to tell you what works. This alpha reader is one that you release from their duties. We don’t need those negative vibes here.
The big ego
Alpha readers need to partly switch their writer’s brain off. That part that needs to be in sleep mode is the one that wants to write your book in their way.
Although it is intriguing to hear another way of writing a scene, you don’t want that to be the feedback.
You want the feedback to enhance your book, not turn it into the book they would write.
This alpha reader thinks they know best and won’t allow your creative liberties to soar. They ultimately think they’re a better writer.
Please show these alpha readers out. There’s no room for that ego in here, buddy!
The personal attacker
This alpha reader’s comments are all about you and not your book. The criticisms are unhelpful and hurtful as they feel the need to discuss your writing style and you as an author.
They’ll say things like, “I hate when writers…” or “This writing style is boring and…”
And those may be the nicer remarks!
Don’t let the door hit you on your way out, bad alpha reader.
How Do You Find an Alpha Reader?
Before we jump into where you can locate alpha readers, let’s make sure you’ve got the foundations covered:
- Expectations: What goals do you want to achieve with this alpha reader
- Brace yourself: You’re going to hear criticisms of your work, be prepared for this.
- Unprofessional or professional: Which type fits your goals?
- How do you want to work with them: Will you send them each chapter or send them the completed first draft, etc.?
Once you have these questions answered, you’re ready to start browsing the alpha reader market:
Unprofessional Alpha Reader
There are quite a few places to find yourself an unprofessional alpha reader. Here’s some ideas to get you going.
Facebook groups or friends
You can either ask your followers from your Facebook Page for Authors or the author friends you’ve made in Facebook groups.
Twitter and Instagram
These platforms have great communities of readers and writers. Post that you’re in need of alpha readers. You can either encourage them to Direct Message you or reply in the comments.
You can link to a questionnaire (which we’ll discuss shortly) on your website.
Also searching on the platforms using hashtags may get some useful results.
Goodreads has groups specifically for alpha readers, post on these groups and see what surfaces.
This platform has a really engaged writer community. There’ll be tons of eager alpha readers ready to get reading.
You can post much longer posts on Reddit. You’ll be able to ask questions on it to deter non-helpful alpha readers from replying.
You can post a blog on your author website where you announce that you are looking for alpha readers. Just be sure to have a questionnaire and some terms and conditions.
Your personal network
If you’re lucky enough to have a friend or family member that has some experience or understanding of your genre and writing in general, then you’ve struck gold!
If their comments are constructive and helpful then ask away!
Professional Alpha Reader
Here are some sources where there are professional alpha readers ready to join your book’s journey (please do your own research and check reviews before hiring anyone):
- Upwork: This is a platform you can find all types of freelancers, including alpha readers
- Pangian: This platform hosts remote job seekers; this may work for you if you want to do online only feedback.
- Catherine Milos: Catherine and a team of readers provide alpha reader services
- LinkedIn: Just like posting on Twitter or Reddit, you can post a request for alpha readers
- Fiverr: Another platform to find alpha reader freelancers
- Tywi.org: The Young Writers Initiative was formed to offer young writers resources, which include alpha readers!
- Royal Reads: They focus on helping writers with their planning and manuscripts.
- Ask an author friend: Ask them who they’ve used and pop those alpha readers a friendly email!
How Much Does an Alpha Reader Cost?
This will be determined based on how long your manuscript will be and the level of experience the alpha readers have. It can sometimes be up to $1000.
How Do You Pick an Alpha Reader
An alpha reader will look at your work before it’s polished. You therefore need to pick one that you’ll be comfortable showing this to. Here are some tips on picking alpha readers:
- Hold Interviews
- Trial Period
- Ask many, recruit a few
- Ask Questions
- Check the reviews
Once you’ve vetted the absolute no-go’s out of the pile, schedule some interviews to see what the others are like.
You can use this as an opportunity to test them and see how they would respond. This can be using a sample of your draft or a first draft of a published book to see what they pick up.
You can set up a trial period for the alpha readers you are unsure of. After the period has lapsed, you can decide whether to keep the alpha reader on board and look for someone else that is best suited to your needs.
Be sure to make this trial period clear for those it applies to.
Ask many, recruit a few
Some alpha readers may sound so keen to get started…but then disappear after the first email.
This is exactly why you should ask a larger number to help you. Because some may not pitch up by the final recruitment stage.
Whether they had unforeseen personal circumstances or took on too many alpha reader projects, you want to make sure you have the number you need to review your first draft.
At least this is what can happen when first recruiting. We’re sure you’ll build a good network along the way to recall into action.
But sometimes you’d like a different set of eyes for another book, so you’ll have to go on the hunt again for that new alpha reader.
You need to have alpha readers from different backgrounds that also have different expertise. This way you get a variety of perspectives to help you improve.
You’ll get ranging feedback from your dialog to your descriptions, to your subplots.
Whether it’s in an interview or posted on Reddit, there are some questions you should ask to get the best suited alpha readers to apply. Here’s a few to kick it off:
- Do you have experience with various writing techniques?
- What are your favorite genres to read?
- What is your preferred form of communication for when we need to further discuss feedback?
- What type of alpha reader projects have you worked on?
- What is your usual turnaround time with manuscripts?
- What do you look out for when reading a manuscript?
Check the reviews
Whichever methods you use to pick your alpha readers, make sure to do research and check the reviews.
Some people may seem convincing and professional but ultimately fall short of their promises. Make sure not to be tricked by these folks. That is time wasted that could’ve been spent getting your draft ready for beta readers!
How Many Alpha Readers Do You need?
How many alpha readers you’ll use will depend on the length of your book.
If you’re writing a short story, your ballpark would be about 2-5 alpha readers.
For a lengthy book you could get up to 10. You’ll know what is right for you.
Not enough alpha readers and you may not get enough feedback to truly make an impact. Too many and you’ll be conflicted and confused by the comments.
Another consideration would be how you split them up.
You can split up alpha readers per act or per type of feedback you require. Or even split them up to come in after revisions have been made to see if the changes made the right impact.
Get The Most Out of an Alpha Reader
The feedback you get is vital to your book. You’ll need to ask questions about their feedback too.
Sometimes you need to prod at their feedback to get to the crux of what will improve your book.
For example, the alpha readers may say that they didn’t like or understand a particular scene. You’ll need to delve deeper to find out why it doesn’t work and how you can fix it.
Here are some questions you can ask your alpha readers to get the most out of them:
- What doesn’t work for you? And why?
- What worked for you? And why?
- Did anything confuse you?
- Were there moments that fell flat?
- Do my descriptions seem realistic?
- Did the dialog sound natural?
- Did the first chapter hook you immediately?
- Did the character’s purpose and drive come through clearly?
- Was the pacing appropriate for the end of Act 1?
- Are you excited for the next chapters or a possible sequel?
- Did the ending resolve the main plot and subplots?
- What did you feel about the plot and themes of the book? Were they consistent throughout?
Template for Alpha Reader Feedback
We’ve created a simple template just for you and your alpha readers!
Should You Be an Alpha Reader?
If you’re going to ask an author friend to help you… would you do the same for your author friend?
Here’s the pros and cons of being an alpha reader:
- You’ll be a part of a community, supporting other writers
- Relationship building that will help you gain some lifetime author friends
- It feels good to help others
- Improve your writing in the process by having fruitful discussions
- Watching your author friend’s book go from first draft to the final book will be like watching a niece or nephew grow up
- You’re already busy with your own work, so this activity will be very time consuming
If you can find the time to assist your author friend, then it’s definitely worth a shot!
For some authors it may be hard to take on criticisms while for others they may take on too many that they’re book becomes unrecognizable. Find the happy medium by only doing what feels true to you.
To be a better author you need to be bold. And nothing is bolder than sharing unfinished work for alpha readers to scrutinize.
Even the legends got help from others. Their work wasn’t perfect from the first draft either!
So it’s time to be brave and send forth your manuscript!
Using Your Author Website to Attract Alpha Readers
We’ve already brought this up, but we thought we should conclude it.
An author website isn’t only for your readers to find you, but it’s also for industry professionals too. You can use your author website to ask for alpha readers. You can also use it to build your email list and expand your network!
Your website is meant to set you apart from the rest and show the world that you are here to write and flourish.
If you need this necessary steppingstone, then we’re here to help! We’ve built websites for bestsellers and up-and-coming authors alike. If you’re interested to learn more about our author website design services. Then click the link!
Or you can fill in this form to enquire and we’ll get back to you!
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