9 Ways to Be a Solid Alpha Reader
Updated: Mar 17, 2018
First, you might be wondering. “What is an alpha reader?”
That is an excellent question. An alpha reader is someone who reads the first draft of a manuscript or other piece of writing. You are one of the exclusive few who get to give the author all the behind-the-scenes input. As such, you can’t take your job lightly.
Alphas are extremely important to the author. It’s so encouraging to have people reading your work and helping you strengthen and hone your passion! Now anyone is capable of being an alpha. But how can we do our job well, in a way that will most benefit the author?
As writers, we certainly desire to have excellent alphas, and in turn, we also want to be supportive and helpful alphas for others! Here are nine basic tips on how to serve as a solid alpha reader.
1. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
This really goes without saying. Just remember that whatever you do is to be done to the glory of God. Even alpha reading can be done to the glory of God by keeping in mind the ever so famous Golden Rule! Be courteous and constructive in the same way that you would want someone else to be to you.
2. Use “I like/I don’t like” sparingly.
While using “I like..." is definitely okay now and then, it is usually vague and doesn't constitute solid feedback. It can be encouraging, but it doesn’t help the writer see what they are doing right (more on this later). Nothing is more demoralizing than, “I don’t like this part because ______” or “This doesn’t work well.”
3. Don’t “overbook” yourself.
We'll be honest with you. Both of us are guilty of this, so we've learned through experience. If you want to be a solid alpha reader, you'll need a significant amount time to read and give thoughtful feedback. If you can only do that for one book at a time, then only read one. Limit yourself. Don’t feel like you need to be alpha reading ten rough drafts at once. If you keep your number of drafts to a select few, not only does this lower your own stress level (a definite plus!), but it also shows the person for whom you are reading that you care about their work enough to invest appropriate time and effort. It shows love to the writer.
4. Be specific.
Rather than highlighting a sentence and saying “I like this,” how about, “This imagery is so vivid. It makes me feel I’m really there feeling the pain the character is feeling. (Because what book doesn’t involve pain for characters?) Or perhaps you say, “This point of view really helps develop your theme of revenge through…” Or “These short sentences really heighten the drama.”
5. Ask lots of questions.
As alpha readers, of course you’re going to encounter some need for revision. One way to suggest revision is by asking questions. This is a great way to allow the writer to come to their own conclusion on how to solve the problem that has arisen. Ask questions like, “What other things might the character be seeing here?” or “How might the mood change if this sentence was restructured this way?” Questions are often softer than a constructive statement and they are often very thought-provoking to the writer!
6. Try not to nitpick.
As an alpha, you want to look at the big stuff. Anyone can look at grammatical errors, and that’s certainly part of your job too, but look for bigger things, aspects that require a little more thought and a comment. The purpose of being an alpha is to find plot holes or character inconsistencies. Remember, after all, this is the writer’s first draft. Unless the writer asks for any and all types of revision suggestions, try not to harp on tons of teensy details. Balance big-picture and small critiques. Your writer will be blessed by that.
7. Give at least one “glow” and one “grow.”
In high school, after presentations or papers, my classmates and I were required to give a “glow” and a “grow." This was one thing the speaker did well and one aspect where they could improve. For each chapter, segment, short story, poem or whatever you might be reading, try to include at least one thing that the writer can improve and one thing the writer did really well.
8. Don’t expect the writer to take your advice.
Remember, as an alpha reader, you are just giving your thoughts on their first draft. The work is theirs to do with as they please, so don’t be offended if they turn down your advice. It’s nothing personal!
9. Always end on a positive!
Whether it’s at the end of a chapter or the last comment you post for a certain section, end on something constructive and positive. It will be the last thing the writer reads, and it is so motivating, encouraging and well-placed to put a positive comment at the end!
Now you've got a pocketful of handy tips to pull out for your next alpha reading project. Remember though that the highest purpose of alpha reading is to encourage, support, and edify the writer. When you keep this in mind, people will remember you as a reader they would want to have again and someone who helped make their writing the best it could be. In the end, the kind attitude and blessings you give others will be given back to you.