Most authors know about beta editors and critique partners, but not as many people understand the alpha reader writer relationship. I’ve always written novels better with an alpha reader (except when I co-author, because that’s like having an alpha reader in a way). Stacey Nash started being my alpha reader for my story recently completed story Dirty Rainbow and for my current WIP Karma. We thought it would be nice to show you an insight into how this process works from each perspective by interviewing each other. So enjoy an insight into the symbiotic relationship of a writer and her alpha reader.
Stacey: What makes a good alpha reader?
A good alpha reader is a writing cheerleader. They wave their pompoms by encouraging the author to keep writing and pointing out what they really like about the manuscript. It’s still okay to point out spelling and grammar, but it’s important that all feedback is framed in a way to keep the author motivated. If the writer hasn’t provide any new material for a while, it’s the alpha reader’s job to poke the author with a searing hot cattle prod remind the author of how much they like the story and demand ask when there will be more.
Stacey: How does having an alpha reader affect your writing process?
I am an easily distracted person, and a big pantser. I’ll be half-way through a manuscript and a new idea will hit, which often results in me stopping my WIP and getting all the details for the new idea down while they’re still fresh in my mind. Suddenly I find myself half-way through another manuscript and a new idea hits again. It’s a bad cycle, resulting in a folders full of half written stories. Getting an alpha reader on board helps me be less distracted by shiny new ideas. Well that’s the theory of it.
Stacey: How much impact does the reader’s reaction have on your productivity?
The Alpha reader’s reaction is hugely important for me. The more excited Stacey gets, the more motivated I am to get the next chapter to her. I especially delight in the knowledge that I’ve tricked her into following a red herring and can’t wait to read her reaction to a plot twist.
Stacey: You’re a pantser. Do you think alpha reader notes impact on the way the plot plays out?
I find that both with Stacey and my previous Alpha reader, their notes help me come up with new ideas. If some misdirection works on the reader, then I will play up on it more. But I’ve also had an alpha reader make a comment on my writing style that resulted in a whole subplot to a story. I know the beginning of the story, and I know the end, but what happens in the middle is a journey that the Alpha reader and I go on together.
Sharon: What is an Alpha Reader?
It’s kind of like a beta reader except an alpha reader reads the story as it is written, usually one chapter at a time. As an alpha reader I provide feedback on the chapters Sharon sends me to help her move the story in the right direction. I also provide constant nagging gentle encouragement to keep her motivated.
Sharon: How do you approach being an Alpha Reader?
I try really hard not to critique, because at this stage in the writing process it is not what the writer or the story need. They both need an overall view of the plot and characters and if they are working. Also encouragement. I think it’s really important for an Alpha reader to encourage the writer — it’s about helping them get the story out of their head and onto the screen.
Sharon: What’s your favourite part of the process?
Guessing what is going to happen. I leave Sharon a ton of notes with my predictions of what might be about to happen in the story. Seeing the story grow and take shape and where I was right or wrong is really fun. Especially when I’m way off base, I love being surprised.
Sharon: What’s your least favourite part of the process?
That’s an easy one. Waiting for the next chapter! I’m the sort of person who likes to devour good stories in only a few sittings. Having to wait up to a week for the next chapter is HARD and I’m sure Sharon deliberately stops writing in the worst places just to leave me hanging. You do, don’t you? I think this works for her though as it means I pester her for the next installment.
I hope that helps unravel some of the mystery behind alpha readers. Do you use an alpha reader?