Pantsing a Novel: Alpha Readers

Ahhhh, alpha readers.

They really are the bread and butter of the writing show, aren’t they?

Okay, maybe not, but they are still super important! Honestly, any time you can get someone to willingly invest their time into reading your novel, call that a win!

Yesterday, I made a bunch of promises for this blog post that I fully intend on keeping, so in the spirit of moving along and getting through everything I said I would, let’s truck!

Alpha Reader Process

My alpha reader process is quite simple, actually. I send the ENTIRE (once edited) manuscript to my reader and they just read from top to bottom. I use Google Docs so they can make comments if they wish, but when they’re all finished, I usually have a questionnaire that I give them to assess their thoughts and opinions about very specific things.

These things usually revolve around character, plot, description, clarity of the world, etc. I also check to see if they feel connected to the characters and if they actually enjoyed reading it. The best feedback I’ve gotten from people falls somewhere in the category of “I forgot to critique because I was just reading”. Another good one is “Hey, I read 10 pages for you, but is there any chance I could read more?” Pretty good stuff and honestly, it doesn’t happen very often.

What I DON’T look for is grammatical or spelling errors or minor things like that. All of that will be overhauled before the final draft. The alpha reader is more like a concept tester than anything else.

Questionnaire

Here is a sample of an actual questionnaire. It seems like a lot of questions, but the information I can get from it is invaluable. It asks about character, description, plot, their thoughts and feelings, and a few other things.

Feel free to use it, but be sure to give credit where credit is due. 😉

What You Can Do While You Wait

Finally, the waiting. The waiting is the WORST part of any kind of reader process – both alpha and beta.

I am a person who keeps multiple projects rolling at all times, so for me, whenever I have readers, I simply work on a different project.

However, if you don’t have another project to work on or you like to only have one project at a time, my recommendation is to READ. Consider it research while you wait. Find more books like yours. Think about what you are struggling with the most in your book and read other books that deal with that theme.

Currently, I’m researching books that have magic systems and female main characters. Well, truth be told, I’m not doing it – I made friends with the librarian at the college where my husband works and SHE is doing the research and the recommending. She emailed me a few days ago and said she has a list of 100 books right now and is going to weed it down to 20 or 25 books, focusing on magic systems and female MCs.

The best way to develop your style and your book is to read what others have done. Great writers are great readers too. If you’re not reading at least as much as you write, it’s time to inventory and see what you can do about that. You can’t create in a vacuum so don’t try! Get out there! Make friends with your local librarian. Find a website where you can read free books for reviews. Join a writing group and read for other people, even if it’s not your genre (I’m currently reading a vampire horror novel for someone – I promise I’ll finish it, Stephen!). Who knows, you might even get your name in the credits of a book (right, Richard??).

The point is that it’s very important to get out there and read more and there’s no better time then when you’re waiting for your readers to read YOUR book.

 

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