I recently had the experience of someone being the first to read my novel, the first to ever read my work. In other words, I had an alpha reader. An alpha reader is the person who looks at your novel for the first time. The first set of eyes to glare at it after you. 😉 Some people have critique partners do this, or friends or family. I would suggest someone who knows you well enough to give positive but honest critique and lots of encouragement.
My mom was my alpha reader. Now of course I learned something from her (how could I not?), but this post is about what I learned from someone reading my novel for the first time.
We writers are so infamous for thinking our work is the worst to ever be created.
Alphas come in as innocent readers who have no knowledge of the ugly parts of the novel you’ve tried to hide. When you read your novel, you look for the worst parts of it; they are looking for the best parts of it. You’ll come to realize that your novel is not the mess of chapters and scenes you think it is, which will give you a huge confidence boost.
This is important.
Writers usually know when there’s something off about a scene. If your alpha notices it, don’t deny it. They’re like a conscience you can physically hear, repeating what your writer mind has told you: this scene doesn’t work. If your alpha isn’t a writer, they might not be able to diagnose the problem, but they have great instincts for when they just aren’t buying something.
This goes hand and hand with point #2.
I think everyone who has ever had someone else look at their novel is surprised by the crazy ideas their readers bring to the table. And why not try one? Several I took to heart ended up making my book ten times better than before.
That’s right. Stop.
Any alpha will get tired of you wincing and saying this is the worst scene in the world and that you should cut it when they’re trying to help you. And if they give you a compliment, don’t brush it off. You’re getting acknowledged for your work. Yes, you need to work on a lot, but be kind to yourself. Admit that the certain section was better than others.
Admit it: writing can be hilariously funny at times, just in general.
Do you know how many crazy things we creative writers come up with? Laugh at it. I mean, who says “the wall glared back at her?” 😉
This is obvious, right? But is it?
I can think of a dozen times when, being asked a question about a certain scene, I paused and realized wow, I have no idea what the character was thinking/feeling here. It’s good to recognize those points so you can catch them next time.
Your book isn’t going to be perfect after you take the alpha’s feedback and work on it.
It’s just another step, preparing your book for betas who will have a more critical eye for plot and characters. And maybe, after your alpha reads your novel, you’ll look back and realize that some points aren’t strong enough, and your alpha missed them as well.
An example would be several weeks ago. I was reading through my novel, getting it polished for betas, and I came upon several scenes that had always bugged me. Suddenly, I couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore. So I called up my alpha (because you always call your mother on the phone on a Sunday morning when she’s just upstairs, right?)
“Hey, I need to rewrite three chapters,” I told her. “But I need help brainstorming.”
Being the wonderful mother she is, she came downstairs and brainstormed with me until I was able to fix those chapters. I know my novel isn’t perfect now that those nasty scenes are gone, but it’s better than before. Just like life, it’s a process of constant improvement.
I’ll probably do another post like this after I finish with betas 😉 But I have one last bit of advice:
Don’t be afraid to share your work.
Bring it out of the darkness of your brutal self-critic. Let someone else look at it and urge you along in your writing journey. You’ll know when you’re ready. You just have to take that step and do it. Just do it.
So… have you worked with alpha readers before? Were they family or friends? What did YOU learn about sharing your novel with someone else for the first time?