1. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

    Jul 31, 2018
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    Alpha readers

    Discussion in 'Revision and Editing' started by Alan Aspie, Apr 25, 2019.

    We have focus in usefulness of beta readers everywhere. And we have warnings not to show text too soon to anybody.

    I disagree.

    I use alpha readers all the time. And it is bloody useful. And they are useful because I have my own rules to how to do that. And these are the rules:

    1. Alpha reader is not allowed to comment text at all. Not a word. Not half a word. Zero. Nothing.

    2. I tell my alpha readers to tell me about their physical reactions to my text, their emotions, their feelings. Nothing about what generated those, but everything about them.

    3. I watch them from convenient distance. They must be in safe emotional bubble but I must see inside that bubble. They must be emotionally undisturbed.

    4. They can choose how much they read - or not.

    I pay attention to these indicators:
    - Physical reactions
    - How intense that reading is
    - Emotions
    - Feelings
    - Do they wanna read more or stop or have pauses or...

    5. Using alpha readers is not so much about making that project better but to make my writing better. My voice. The flow of words and sentences. Building tension. The emotional effect of my text...

    The main question is: flat or captive?
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

    Sep 6, 2014
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    I don't think I've ever read a book in my life that gave me a physical reaction... I mean, I set the book down if it's total crap, but I don't squirm or roll my eyes or... I'm struggling to even think about what other physical reactions a person might have to a book. If I'm reading something, the action is happening in my brain, not my body.

    So when I have an alpha reader, I prefer the feedback to come in the form of words. Seems much clearer that way.

    On the larger issue - sure, alpha readers can be really useful. I think they can be most valuable as cheerleaders, helping an author to get through the hard slog of a novel-length project. I started writing in fanfiction, and the best thing about that arena was having happy readers clamouring for the next chapter as soon as I'd posted the previous one. If you have even one alpha poking you to find out what happens next, that's pretty valuable.

    In terms of more detailed feedback? I guess it depends on the alpha. Some may be knowledgeable enough to have useful things to say, others may not.

    It may also depend on your writing process. I alpha read for someone who writes out of order, and while each scene is great and well-crafted and I'm happy to read them, I don't have enough of a big-picture view of the project to offer a lot of coherent "I wonder about this character's motivation" style comments. I mean, I offer them anyway, but I don't think they're too valuable!
    John-Wayne likes this.
  3. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman Extradinor Contributor

    Aug 21, 2017
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    I don't know why, but I got the biggest kick out of this. Lol.

    Well, you did get some sort of reaction. You hated it and put it down. LOL


    That's a good point, never thought about Alpha readers.

    Eta: I'm at work, so I may expand this as I go
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Jul 5, 2010
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    California, US
    I used to use alpha readers. Not so much any more. I’m not opposed to them so long as the author is firmly grounded in their vision of the story. I’ve seen too many new authors constantly revise or rework the story at very early stages, not always for the better and seriously impairing their ability to get a first draft done. That’s counterproductive.
    deadrats, John-Wayne and jannert like this.
  5. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

    Dec 30, 2010
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    Agree with @BayView I mostly find Alphas valuable as cheerleaders to help you get through the hard slog or the slower or uninspiring parts. Alphas are also useful in that if something doesn't make sense or is going in a direction that bores or again, doesn't make sense, you can fix it almost right away. Sure, maybe a few scenes or a chapter or two go to waste, but that's nothing compared to having written half a book before realising it's a dead end. They prevent you from making crippling mistakes that would require a lengthy rewrite.

    I enjoy having alpha readers. But I think you need to find someone who enjoys and values your writing, but someone who can give you real feedback (not just, "This is awesome!"). I'm quite selective about who I show my writing to. It's not a lack of confidence or out of some irrational fear that someone's gonna steal my work or my ideas. It's simply that, listening to someone who doesn't get your vision or doesn't respect your vision, and can't tell good writing from when something just isn't to their own taste is very damaging to you as a writer, and damaging to your work. That damage could take years to reverse.

    I find it hard to listen to someone whose writing I don't respect - because if they can't write well, what is to say they know what good writing is? Of course the two don't have to be related, but if you can write, chances are better that you have a better eye for these things. Generally I choose people I've spoken to for a bit or have seen around online and find I enjoy and respect their opinion and outlook. The more grounded one's opinion seems to be, I've found, the more likely they are to be good writers, it seems. Where their views show an awareness and acceptance of nuances, I find this same ability to consider multiple facets of something is reflected in their writing and stories, and this makes for a good read.
    John-Wayne likes this.
  6. J. J. Wilding

    J. J. Wilding Member

    Dec 16, 2018
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    Lincoln, England
    Absolutely not. I'm not writing to please people or to fit into a genre, though my novels absolutely do because I want them to, I'm writing to excite the ten year old in me that first picked up 'Beyond the Deepwoods' and has his tiny mind blown... if I can recapture that then I'm doing something right. A book, like any work of art, should be finished wholly before anyone sees it, otherwise you run the risk of criticism altering your world and your characters beyond recognition. That, for me, is a big problem!
  7. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

    Aug 8, 2015
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    I normally don’t use Alpha readers because Id rather show people me best work and maybe entertain them. I am using a couple for this novella because I’m pretty insecure about my genre voice and content.
  8. Sark1986

    Sark1986 Active Member

    Apr 22, 2019
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    I don't mind the idea of using Alpha readers - speaking of which I will probably need a few in the near future. I'll probably post in my journal when needed, it'd be great to be able to source readers from the community along with a few IRL.

    I think if/when I do though - then chapters I send will be essentially finished and I will be seeking more feedback about pacing, emotion and clarity.

  9. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

    Sep 17, 2017
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    I have a small team of alpha readers for my fiction, because I'm learning new techniques and want to know sooner rather than later if I'm applying them correctly. I've become adept at knowing when something's off but not at diagnosing the problem, so if something feels off, I zap it over to at least one of the alphas. Each alpha has a different strength, including one who's an avid reader and purchaser of fiction but is not a writer. Their feedback has made me a much better writer.

    As a non-fiction writer, I'm used to working with feedback from editors, so it's a comfortable process. In my non-fiction writing, I can usually diagnose the problems and am hoping to reach that point in my fic.

    But, my process is not everyone's. There are as many ways to go about this as there are writers, and you have to find what works for you.

    Came back to add: Another situation in which I occasionally use alpha readers is when I'm incorporating a bit of research of something that's unfamiliar territory. After I write it in, I'll sometimes show a snippet to the expert I've asked, to be sure I've written the info in realistically. I did this last night, so I popped in to add it into this post.
    Last edited: May 1, 2019
    jannert, Alan Aspie and Sark1986 like this.

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