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.
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.