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Reality Check Is there any benefit to having an alpha reader?

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Malaika

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I'm trying to figure out if I should or should have an alpha reader looking at my WIP as I go. Alpha readers helped me so much as I was writing my way into the story, it gave me a strong feeling that I was going in the right direction. But now that I've just finished redrafting Act 1 at 22,000 words (I needed to add another character) I'm faced with a big conundrum. Should I plow forward, trusting my own instincts that the story is there....or should I try to find a reader?

My biggest fear is completing draft 1, editing it, and then finding out there is some major flaw I didn't see in the story
ex: MC is isn't likeable, plotholes, confusion or worst of all---lack of tension

But is using an alpha reader basically the same thing as wasting a beta reader? It is so hard to find readers!

Posting excerpts on writing groups is great but it doesn't work with stories that have extensive worldbuilding (beyond the opening chapters) and it doesn't help to understand if your overall narrative/pacing is working.

What do you guys think about using paid readers? Like I'd happily pay someone to read the thing and give me an honest opinion. Is that a thing that exists?
 

Robert M Derry

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No. You don't need an alpha reader. I'm a big believer in Stephen King's advice that you write first drafts with 'the door closed'. You 'open the door' for second drafts and later.

I think it's important when planning to consider the commerciality of the piece, but fundamentally, it's your work and the first draft needs to be your vision. An alpha reader is just going to stick their nose in and try turn it into their story and you'll end up with a muddled mess. 'Writing by committee' is a big no no.
 

Eva Ulian

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I have done an exchange reader job once, and I know I gave more than I got. A reader, unless it's your agent, is only someone else's opinion. There is no guarantee that what they say will put you in the right direction, in fact they could well put you on a road where, because it doesn't come from your own guts, will probably soon find you struggling against a formula with which you feel estranged.

Rather than a reader what you need is encouragement to trust your own guts. Like the saying goes, I don't need other people's advice, i can make mistakes on my own. Besides, agents, I feel don't look for a perfect novel, but they want to know if they can sell it, and they will change it to make it saleable anyway, which may be completely different to what your reader thought.

It's a different thing when you discuss your book with a group of people. In Pop-up Submissions, you get views from various perspectives, and it is up to you to choose which if any of these views you are going to implement. But what makes Litopia's submissions method unique is that there is also an agent and his words, the agent's words, are worth their weight in gold - not readers.
 

Malaika

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What is an alpha reader?
An alpha reader is someone who reads as you draft. Brandon Sanderson uses alpha readers. I'm thinking about whether rather than having kind friends read excerpts I'm struggling with, I should be having a reader look at the story as a book in full chunks while it's still in development. I guess the goal would be to see big problems before they become insurmountable (like structural problems) . I think the risk is what Robert Derry referenced, would be like someone messing with your voice. But I almost never agree with Stephen King's writing advice beyond the most general stuff.
 

Malaika

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I have done an exchange reader job once, and I know I gave more than I got. A reader, unless it's your agent, is only someone else's opinion. There is no guarantee that what they say will put you in the right direction, in fact they could well put you on a road where, because it doesn't come from your own guts, will probably soon find you struggling against a formula with which you feel estranged.

Rather than a reader what you need is encouragement to trust your own guts. Like the saying goes, I don't need other people's advice, i can make mistakes on my own. Besides, agents, I feel don't look for a perfect novel, but they want to know if they can sell it, and they will change it to make it saleable anyway, which may be completely different to what your reader thought.

It's a different thing when you discuss your book with a group of people. In Pop-up Submissions, you get views from various perspectives, and it is up to you to choose which if any of these views you are going to implement. But what makes Litopia's submissions method unique is that there is also an agent and his words, the agent's words, are worth their weight in gold - not readers.
The problem with popupsubmissions is it only gives advice on the wow factor of the first page. It doesn't even come close to touching the actual story arc. Twilight was a mess (according to anecdotes) but the story is what sold. I Brandon Sanderson also quoted a statistic that something like 80% of authors in a writing group where they consistently share chapters of their WIP (not just the first chapter or 700 words) get published eventually.
 

Eva Ulian

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The problem with popupsubmissions is it only gives advice on the wow factor of the first page. It doesn't even come close to touching the actual story arc. Twilight was a mess (according to anecdotes) but the story is what sold. I Brandon Sanderson also quoted a statistic that something like 80% of authors in a writing group where they consistently share chapters of their WIP (not just the first chapter or 700 words) get published eventually.
We all work differently and I certainly could not work with some reader or other "advising" me in creating my work. If I want to write a novel, I will do so myself. If I have to enlist in the forces of someone else to do it for me, why should I even bother writing it in the first place?
 

Malaika

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We all work differently and I certainly could not work with some reader or other "advising" me in creating my work. If I want to write a novel, I will do so myself. If I have to enlist in the forces of someone else to do it for me, why should I even bother writing it in the first place?
That's not what I'm saying at all. Lots of very famous authors use alpha readers. Readers give objective feedback that is invaluable to a writer. An alpha reader is nothing more than a beta reader who reads and gives feedback as your are writing a larger work instead of after the work is finished. Everything posted on popupsubmissions is essentially the same concept except on a very small scale. And when you only get feedback on small pieces like that it makes it hard for the writer the big issues are working like they should (plot, characterization, world-building, pacing)
 

Eva Ulian

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That's not what I'm saying at all. Lots of very famous authors use alpha readers. Readers give objective feedback that is invaluable to a writer. An alpha reader is nothing more than a beta reader who reads and gives feedback as your are writing a larger work instead of after the work is finished. Everything posted on popupsubmissions is essentially the same concept except on a very small scale. And when you only get feedback on small pieces like that it makes it hard for the writer the big issues are working like they should (plot, characterization, world-building, pacing)
Like I said, we all work differently.
 

Susan

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I’ve had alpha readers and it’s a mixed bag of pros and cons, even when you have a lot of faith in them. It can be incredibly useful to have several pairs of eyes spotting issues, but it can also be disheartening. There’s a tendency to want to please your alphas, which, as others have observed, can make you lose your voice or start altering your story for their tastes. You might start believing your story isn’t good enough and lose momentum because of negative comments, when in fact the story is simply a first draft and therefore not your best work. Personally I’d rather bash out the first draft, at the very least, before seeking feedback. After the first draft, you’ll be in a better position yourself to spot issues.
 
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Or simply do what I do go completely cold on it. Take a break, I read books and do plenty of Critiques during my hiatus, which I do regularly. I’m doing a few Critiques at the moment. And, then I come back to my own work, and trust me it works or even better concentrate on your craft and the technicalities of writing. And I find if I work too much on my story I lose the enjoyment, the drive and the willingness to write it. But, that’s just me.
 

RK Capps

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Even Stephen King has an alpha reader, his wife (the reader he tries to please). But he finishes that first draft first.

After I finished, I've had a paid beta reader, very discouraging. The beta reader I had only knew how to crush a writer's enjoyment, what a waste of money. I wouldn't recommend it. I've also paid an editor (using www.reedsy.com), that I would highly recommend, worth every dollar. An editor knows how to criticise and how to praise, how to give you a sense that you're on the right path (I used Fran Lebowitz).

But I think we need to accept a book is going to have it's problems. For me, I've trusted myself to 'the end' at least 5 times, scrapping a good 60,000 words, with each draft long, with all the faffing about (for my fantasy, I'm a slow learner, but I get there). I long ago decided my fantasy is a learning book. But you need to accept the flaws and finish the draft, trust to your vision and then let other readers help you navigate the path.

Then again, at about the midpoint, my critique partner at the time showed me I needed more "omph" for the push into the Break into 2. That feedback I found the be invaluable, but of course, I could have waited. I didn't mind the input because it's a learning book.

In the end, it's up to you, what do you need/want?
 

Robinne Weiss

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I think it comes down to how you like to work, really. I don't have alpha readers, but I've also completely thrown away and rewritten half of a novel based on the feedback of beta readers (and, now I think about it, I've thrown away an entire novel based on beta reader feedback). Maybe I could have saved myself some time by using alphas, but then again, maybe the flaws wouldn't have been apparent until it was all finished anyway. And I don't feel like anything I've written, even if it's later been chucked or drastically rewritten, was a waste of my time.
 

Barbara

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My most trusted beta readers have at times turned into my alpha readers; usually when I got stuck in my first draft. My betas are people I fully trust. Their feedback has been invaluable to get me back on track.

Every time I feel the need for an alpha reader somewhere in an unfinished first draft, I sit back and look at it's entirety so far. I find most often than not, the need for an alpha reader is actually my inner voice trying to tell me something isn't right in the story. I then let it sit for a few days in the hope the penny drops, or shout 'Argh, help!'.

But I do prefer getting my feedback after the draft is finished. It means my betas can read it in one go and fresh, but also I don't want to exhaust them with continuous installments.
 
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In all honesty, I think there is a time and place for Beta, Alpha readers etc. And that is when you finish your novel and as the writer you feel a sense you have told the story and you have gone as far as you can with it and your in a happy medium place about it and then bring in the Beta, then afterwards or if needed the Alpha and for me, always chose someone who reads your genre and reads it often.
 

Steve C

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I guess it depends on how you write. I personally wouldn't use an alpha reader as I constantly go back and forth within the story changing things as I go. People commenting on it halfway through would further confuse things and as someone said above it could end up as writing by commitee. Having said that if you have an original idea for a story then it is probably well worth sketching it out and asking around if it is any good
 

Amber

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If you pay, they will read it.

A lot of authors use that premise as the foundational principle of their business plan.

I feel it's the should part of your question which is the most important part of the question. You got encouragement from alpha readers, you're at a certain point in your manuscript, and you're wondering if alpha readers might be helpful again. Well, I suppose so. My free advice since you're requesting advice is to remain clear on what you want and expect from any alpha readers you find or employ. There's nothing wrong with wanting a little support.

I doubt they can assist you with your writing.
 

Malaika

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I don't want anyone to help me with my writing. I want someone to read it and I want to know:
What was exciting?
What was boring?
What was confusing?

That is all.
 

Malaika

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The problem with hitting up friends who are good readers or even fellow writers here at Litopia is it somewhat "spoils" them for when you finish the story. It won't be fresh anymore. You only get fresh reader once! Such a precious thing...
 

Amber

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I don't want anyone to help me with my writing. I want someone to read it and I want to know:
What was exciting?
What was boring?
What was confusing?

That is all.

I don't think it's splitting hairs to point out that asking people to read what you've written and then answer specific questions for you is help with your writing. What's the point of asking anyone what they think about your writing if not to help you with your writing?
 

Amber

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...cont from previous post because I hit post when I didn't mean to...

I don't think it's splitting hairs to point out that asking people to read what you've written and then answer specific questions for you is help with your writing. What's the point of asking anyone what they think about your writing if not to help you with your writing?

However, while this is asking people to help with your writing, the only help I can see would be to encourage you. One things for certain, readers who read a first draft are less forgiving yet don't usually have much specific feedback. They don't always know what else to say.
 
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