Alpha Readers & Where To Find Them
After all the Pinterest boards, Spotify playlists, and months (cough years) of writing (and procrastinating), you finally finished the first draft of your novel. Hooray!
If you’re anything like me, once the celebration fades, anticipation quickly sets in. Revisions. Yes. That’s the logical next step! You print your manuscript, buy all the flair pens and neon Post-it flags, only to realize you have no idea how to traverse these strange new lands.
This is where alpha readers come to the rescue! Cue the trumpets and fanfare. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, alpha readers are the wonderful humans you are willing to trust your newborn book baby with. They’re a set of fresh eyes who can help you navigate the rough terrain of your manuscript and identify what areas need work.
Assembling the Team
If you’re thinking, that’s exactly what I need! The first step is to find a handful of alpha readers. I would recommend between three to five readers, no more than that. Remember, the purpose of alpha readers is to help you see what works and what needs work. If there’s too many cooks in the kitchen or writers in the Google Doc, if you will, things are bound to get muddled.
Now that you’ve settled on your ideal number of alpha readers, consider what type of readers you’re after. If your genre is YA fantasy, for instance, do you want your readers to be in your target age range? Does it matter if your alpha readers are writers themselves?
Alright, it’s finally time to assemble the dream team. To find alpha readers, who are already invested in your writing and support you, our searching ground will be social media. Dun dun dun! Really, though, your followers are there for a reason. They’re people (hopefully… go away, Instagram bots!) who already connect with you on some level. Let’s see if they’re ready to heed the call of the alpha reader.
Send Out the Signal
Just like the Bat Signal shining over a crime-ridden Gotham, you must let your readers know that you need them! On your social media app of choice, write a post clearly stating that you’re searching for alpha readers along with the following information:
- A short synopsis of your novel.
- Comp titles and/or popular tropes in your novel.
- Sensitive content/trigger warnings.
- How to contact you if they’re interested in becoming an alpha reader (DM, link in profile, fill out a Google form, etc.).
Don’t forget to share your post in other places and encourage friends and followers to share as well.
Once you have a handful of people you feel confident sharing your work with, make sure they’re able to read and provide feedback in a timely manner and specify exactly how long that is to you (two weeks, a month, etc.)
If you have more people who reach out that they are interested than you need, be courteous. Thank them and let them know that you have enough readers for this round.
Gathering Focused Feedback
The last leg of this journey, aside from refreshing your email ten thousand times, is to help your readers focus their feedback. To do this, we’re going to go back to the planning stage!
When you first plotted your novel, what structure did you follow? The Hero’s Journey? Save the Cat beat sheets? Story Genius?
Look back at the structure of your story. What are the main components of each section or act? Now, come up with questions for your readers to see if you met your goals for each section.
- What expectations or promises has Act 1 set for you so far?
- Is there anything you feel needs to happen or questions you feel must be answered going forward for you to feel that this novel is keeping its ‘promises’?
- Do you understand the characters and the decisions they make? Are their motives confusing or difficult to believe?
- Is the story progressing at a satisfying pace? Are there any scenes that dragged on or felt unnecessary to the overall plot?
- Think back to any expectations you had for this novel. Do you feel satisfied that those expectations were met? Are there any expectations that weren’t met?
- How did you like the characters by the end of the novel? Were you pleased with how their arcs concluded?
If you already have some concerns about your novel, you can ask questions based on those concerns as well.
If you’re nervous about worldbuilding or magic systems…
- Do you find the setting interesting? Are there parts you wish had more worldbuilding? Or parts you wish had less description?
- How do you feel about the magic system woven into the novel? Are there fair rules and limitations?
If you’re unsure of how to categorize or market your book to potential agents…
- Do you think this felt like a _________ novel? (YA, NA, Epic Fantasy, True Crime, etc.)
- What titles, if any, would you compare this book to? Please explain the connection/your reasoning.
For my novel, I followed the three act structure outlined in Save the Cat, so I placed a set of questions after each act. I also let my alpha readers know that if they wanted to leave comments on any lines they loved or anything that was confusing, they could do so.
And with that, dear reader, you are ready! Share those Google or Word docs and continue on your writing path. I’ll see you in revisions!
Written by Nicole Bobby