1. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Care and Feeding of Alpha Readers

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Commandante Lemming, Feb 22, 2016.

    So, I've found myself up a rather peculiar smelling creek, noting the prominent absence of a paddle. As with most questions of this nature - I'm playing "ask the forum".

    I'm nearing the end of my first draft of my first novel - and have been trying to figure out how to wrap it up since December. I keep writing forward, but due to some alterations I made earlier in the draft (namely cutting my story in half and turning the midpoint into the ending), I'm having a lot of trouble figuring out exactly what I need to deliver at the end of this thing - and my plot is getting squirrelly and disorganized.

    Part of the problem, from my perspective, is that none of my alpha readers are anywhere close to caught up with me. My writing group is great for feedback, but they only get a crack at two or three chapters every six weeks, and the length of submissions they want keeps getting shorter. They won't be where I am now for at least three months, probably longer. I have two partial manuscripts out to "betas" reading the whole thing - but obviously I can't control their schedules, how fast they read, or whether they're interested enough to keep reading.

    Now - none of that is necessarily bad - and I don't blame them. But my question is this - how do you all brainstorm and bounce ideas off people if no-one is current on your manuscript? Or alternatively, how do you find the type of alpha reader who actually reads roughly at the same time you write? Or maybe the question is how do you plot forward from an impasse without feedback?

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I was researching alpha readers, I read that one woman puts full chapters up online as soon as they are written, but only gives access to a select group of people (publishers want to know exactly who's read your piece, she said). So people will read along with her, and by the time she posts the next few chapters, the readers are already caught up.

    I haven't employed any alpha readers yet (trying to finish second draft then I'll do it) so I don't know exactly what suggestions to give you... Except maybe not to use them as alphas again. :p I've already selected a few alphas who promised they'd read quickly. Because in my opinion, if you make a commitment to someone to read their piece, they should do it in a reasonable amount of time. If you already know of some issues you need to fix, I'd go ahead and fix those first. But I personally wouldn't move on without having their feedback first. Maybe you could work on another part of the story until they reach the part you need help with?

    On another note, I'd be happy to alpha for you. I don't work and am often incredibly bored during the day. I could read for a couple hours a day and most likely get it finished by the end of the week.
     
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  3. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    I wish I had an answer, but like you I have the same problem.
    I put out a rough draft at the beginning last summer (105,000 words). Then It was three months for the alpha reader to get it back to me. I made corrections, paid a grad student to proofread, and sent it to beta readers who gasped in horror at the fact that there was some sex and didn't give much feedback. I'm letting it slowly work it's way through a critique group now. That's another painful process, in that it is painfully slow, 1 chapter every other week means it'll be 42 weeks before they finish, and painful because I have to deal with a j@ckass every other month.

    I would recommend finishing the book the way you envision it, maybe with a cliffhanger to propel you into the second book. (You said you were ending this one in the middle of your original story line.) That way you can keep writing and it's a "new" book. That's what I did when I realized that I was essentially writing 'War & Peace of the Iron Age.' It just feels different to be working on a novel than to say, "I'm working on my second novel, the first one is in the critique process." Putting the first work aside just allowed me to to take a deep breath while it does it's thing in the critique process.

    For me, I just kept writing and book 2 is complete and I've been sending chapters to alpha reader as I edit them. I noticed that my alpha seemed less overwhelmed to be given 2 chapters than a 3 ring binder full of pages. I got the first two chapters back in 3 weeks, which gives me something to do because I can be editing two books now, but book three is nagging at me. When the final book is complete I think I'll spend 6 or 8 months researching my next project while the books from the first project catch up to me. Which would be another option for you--you could research something while you wait, too.
     
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  4. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Judging from my own experience.. I don't need to give a full draft or even too many chapters to an Alpha. The first three or so are crucial I agree, as by then I know from the response if the story flies, if the characters are drawn lifelike, and by then I go with my instinct and what I got back from the first few.

    Maybe I will think differently down the line but so far it seems to work. Note, I have not ever given out a full story to an Alpha so I wouldn't know if what I said earlier rings true in the end..
     
  5. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Excuse me while I laugh my head off at "War and Peace: The Iron Age".

    Lets make it a trilogy spanning history - you write the beginning with the ancients, Tolstoy can handle the tedious middle bits, and I can slam it all home with "War and Peace: The Information Age" (which is pretty much what I've got going) :p

    And yeah - next project I'm going to see about seeing if anyone from my in-person group want to keep up in real-time in exchange for the same courtesy from me. This one just went squirrelly on me at the end of Act 2, and my group is just STARTING Act 2 - and I've got just South of 100,000 words total. I'm trying to engineer an ending where, instead of defeating the villainous boss all of my characters work for, I leave her in place, but give the protagonist a minor victory at the end - proving that the protag is going to be able to hang on without getting fired, that supporting cast are in position to hold her up emotionally, and that the villain has been sufficiently agitated to prepare for all out war. Thus, I would give a sense of finality while implying that the real titanic battle is yet to come in Book 2. But that in itself is difficult to make satisfying, and my George R.R. Martin-style multiple plot lines still need to converge - and converge earlier than planned. Gotta love first novels - the prime lesson I'm taking away is that I way overestimated how much plot fits in one book. :)
     
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  6. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    That's what I did. The MC gets a minor victory and gets to make a defiant stand, but the "big-bad" is still out there and I won't be killing him off until book 3. But his son lives . . . Gotta leave room to come back and write a spin off series, right?

    I hear ya! As a reader I love long complex books with intricate story-lines. (Think War & Peace, LOL! Actually, I really did like that book.) So when I sat down to write, that's what I wrote. I've got the Big Bad to deal with, internal social-political issues to deal with, and personal struggles of the characters of themselves to resolve. I was at 100,000 words and realizing I was only 1/3 of the way through when I decided, "Heck, I guess it's a trilogy."

    Best of luck to you!
     
  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah I can do that to see if the
    Yup - sounds about right. In my case I didn't read hardly any fiction for about 5 years after college (took a break from both writing and reading fiction while figuring out how to adult - have now given up on adulting and back to both :p ) - so I didn't plot a book...I plotted a season of a TV show, which was the reference point I had. That doesn't work. For multiple reasons.

    My original plan had four parts, with my current Big Bad being dispatched at the end of Part 1 - perfect "standalone with series potential". Except Part 1 is now taking me two books.

    Oh well. Upward!
     
  8. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    I think you can glean everything you need from an 'elevator pitch' style discussion with a person whose story sense you trust.

    In fact, I think this way is actually SUPERIOR to an actual read, in many instances. It's more free flowing, faster results, and far more maleable than the TIME it would take to flesh out a draft for a true read. (which actually has two parts anyway: the 'fleshing out' time needed by you, and the 'read time' needed by the reader, which you already mentioned)

    I come from the world of screenwriting where so much is hashed out verbally prior to the actual writing. Of course style is a huge part of novel writing so much of the insight into that aspect of the work can only be gained by an actual read of the ready product. But in the OP it sounds like you are referring to over-arching story direction, plot decisions. For these, the elevator thing works great for me. And it saves me time since it allows me to see the fault of a particular story path PRIOR to actually spending loads of time typing it up. Kind of like culling in the fore, I guess.

    I have a special friend who is my reader, but often times I eat lunch with her and run things by her verbally when I'm trying to work it out before hand.

    :)
     
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  9. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah I might do that. I've got one or two people whose brains I'm interested in picking in the writing group who have a bether sense of plot and construction. That and I think the other thing I'm going to try and do in the next few months is see if I can't find some writing friends who are AHEAD of me in terms of having at least finished first novels and gone through revisions (I'm planning on attending a conference in April so that's task one there). I think one of my bigger problems is that my group right now is all mostly in the same place, slugging our way through first novels. So we're all equals without a mentor.
     

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