You Know About Beta Readers, But Do You Have an Alpha Reader?

Posted May 1, 2014 by Amanda Shofner in Editing / 4 Comments


When I talked about the benefits of not writing alone, I mentioned having built-in alpha readers.

Alpha readers are awesome

I discovered the term after reading Kevin Hearne’s post on revision. He says:

I have an alpha reader who reads each chapter as I produce it, giving me immediate feedback as I go, so composing the first draft is somewhat of a recursive process; I’m already tweaking and adjusting things in response to his feedback before I complete the first draft. Some of his comments I set aside for a later, second-draft treatment, but I take care of most of them as I go, making immediate changes in the chapters before I continue.

Now, Hearne’s process isn’t one that’ll work for everyone, but here’s what’s cool: immediate feedback.

While I was writing Elusive Memories, I sent new chunks of the story to my accountability partner/alpha reader. Though most of her feedback usually involves cheering me on, at one point, she stopped me and told me that my main character had forgotten something that left a plot thread dangling.

She saved me additional work in the editing process because I was able to fix that problem before moving on.

An alpha reader is like a path of least revision (see what I did there?)

Alpha readers can also be your sounding board if you hit a particularly tough block. And they’ll be able to offer quality feedback because they’re already acquainted with your story. Skip the awkward explanation of what your story is about and why you’re having issues.

The other benefit of having an alpha reader is forcing yourself to share your writing.

There’s a lot of insecurity and doubt involved in sharing your writing. It’s insanely easy to give in to that insecurity and never share. Because if no one ever reads your work, you never have to take the chance that your insecurities might be right.

But you’ll also never know if they’re wrong.

Stop listening to your insecurities—they’ll never be honest

Having an alpha reader gets you comfortable with sharing early on in the process. The longer you wait, the harder sharing will get. And the harder it gets, the less likely you’ll ever share your writing. Which is a shame, really.

Sometimes you just need someone to tell you that your doubts are big, fat liars and to keep writing. (Your doubts are big fat liars. Keep writing.)

Have you used alpha readers?

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4 responses to “You Know About Beta Readers, But Do You Have an Alpha Reader?

  1. I’ve never had an alpha reader, but I think I’m at the point where I need one. I feel like my writing is faltering, but then I wonder if it’s just my self-confidence faltering. I think an alpha reader might help that…

    • It’s a great boost. I know I’ve had a few times where I’ve written my alpha reader, “I don’t know if I like this,” and she’ll write back, “I love it!” To which I’m like, “Okay, then,” and continue writing. It’s exactly the kick I need to keep writing because it’s totally a self-confidence thing for me.

      Every now and again, when I hit a lull, I’ll ask her what she thinks is coming next or where the characters’ heads are. Which is good from a feedback standpoint, because sometimes I’ll write specifically to see if I can wring a certain reaction from her. Heh.

  2. I use my mom and brother as alpha readers and they’re a great combo! They come from entirely different reading perspectives and each catch different things. In my current WIP my brother has had questions or suggestions that have really sent the book in awesome directions that I don’t know if I would have thought of on my own. And they also push me to keep writing, because when I leave them hanging for too long I start getting text messages and phone calls looking for that next chapter 🙂

    • Yes! I email my alpha reader after every writing day, so it keeps on track. And sometimes, I start the writing day with, “What can I write that will get a reaction?” and that’s always a good mindset to have. 😉

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