Alpha Readers

Alpha readers are integral to the success of any manuscript. They are much loved by writers, yet amongst all the fanfare of best sellers, are rarely given the credit they are due.
Every book ever published had a draft that was awful, a second draft that was bad and any number of revisions that gradually improved the quality from painful to pleasant. The alpha reader is a stoic individual with a lifetime of reading under their belt, an eye for narrative flow and a stomach strong enough to endure the errors the writer still may have missed. Not everyone is cut out for this.
A writer gets tunnel vision and is, in the end, a cripple to their own creation. Perhaps not all writers suffer in this way, but this one certainly does. I know all my story’s secrets and every character in detail. I find it difficult to know what a reader with fresh eyes will experience when reading it.
An alpha reader is the steady hand that guides me through the remaining issues with the story. An alpha reader will not shy away from giving the writer a well deserved flurry of red ink if the story goes off track. Alpha readers are not the people who will gush at your work to bolster your self esteem even if it is terrible. Sorry Mum! You’ll have to wait until later to read it.
Alpha readers recreate their reading experience; positive and negative. This insight is invaluable for a writer to polish the manuscript where needed and strengthen the delivery of the narrative.
If you are very lucky you will have one or two pedantic proofers amongst your team of alpha readers. They will find all those little errors that others may have glossed over as they read with the pulse of the story. They will challenge you on many issues and make your story all the better for it. If a writer can’t fix the issues in the manuscript they need to suck it up and kill the elements that don’t work. Hopefully, all major flaws have been eliminated through the drafts and revisions before the alpha reader gets your manuscript.
Never, ever, ever send a first draft (or in my case a second, third or fourth draft) to an alpha reader. Do not punish your alpha reader with an unfinished product. There will always be a few mistakes, but you should have fixed every issue you can find with your manuscript before you let anyone read it. Drafts are never close to this level of readiness. Don’t waste your alpha readers time, it is hard work even when the manuscript is well worked. They only have fresh eyes once, so make it count; make it worth their effort.

I dedicate this post to my first line of defence.
The amazing!
The spectacular!
Alpha Readers!!!! (Insert applause and fanfare here.)

Kristin, Amy, Paul & Jane and Bob.

You are the bee’s knees.
Thank you for all your wonderful effort.

4 thoughts on “Alpha Readers

  1. Yay Alpha!
    Yay WordPress!
    Go Ben!
    Don’t forget to mention the all important God’s eye view of your story, which you have already – that’s the backstory you need to write before you write the story, and it gives you reference for continuity and character motivations and family trees and relationships,
    like an obsessive journalistic investigator…
    or like an ex-cop set up by his corrupt unit command because he found out something he shouldn’t have…
    Where’s your wall with maps, clippings, photos, scrawled postits, and coloured thread denoting key links?

    I’m not mad! Just a thorough writer!

    1. Thanks for the comment Morte!
      Sorry, I’m a bit confused, nothing unusual there. . .
      Are you asking me to blog about third person omnipotent viewpoint or blog all the masses of detailed backstory I have on file that will never touch the printed page?

      1. Hey no way, I am not asking that. Definitely do not blog your source material or spoilers, I’m only referring to the point that complex stories have codexes the authors compile formally or otherwise as part of conception – way before having a story written for perspective of the reader, which often go unmentioned and unattributed as “integral to the success of any manuscript” – i.e. Alpha readers alone are little more than guinea pigs impaled on the barbed stakes of early work, softening the pathway underfoot for readers of subsequent releases – without the codex, no amount of alpha reading will bring disjointed text into a cohesive whole, and the author will struggle to reliably and repeatably answer questions those alpha readers should be posing as they progress.

        I am saying for you to not forget to mention that fact that you do have a codex, and the massive amount of work that goes into that.
        Certainly not for you to release the content of it here 🙂

        After release of a series, the author may release the codex in the context of a ‘making of’ special edition, or as Peter Hamilton and other authors have done, as an essential reader’s navigational guide to the universe a given series is set in.

        1. I see. These are very good points. I will post a little bit about the swaths of data that a fantasy/sci-fi writer accumulates.
          I use Scrivener to compile all of my background data. It is a brilliant platform to keep all of the information in one seamless file. I’d recommend this software to any writer; fiction or non-fiction.

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