You’ve spent months on your book. You wrote a decent first or second draft. Are you ready to publish?
Writing also involves editing, publishing, and marketing – whether you go indie or traditional.
In other words, writing is a team sport.
After your first draft, or anywhere in your writing process after you get your initial story down, you need a group of people to help you mold, shape, and craft your work.
These individuals include:
- Alpha readers
- Critique groups
- Sensitivity readers
- Beta readers
In this article, let’s look at alpha readers and critique groups. I’ll break down sensitivity readers, beta readers, and editors in future posts.
An alpha reader is the first to look at your work when it’s still a rough draft. Usually, it’s a book-loving friend or family member. It can also be someone from a writing group or online community. They’re usually not paid.
Their job is to give you feedback on the general concept, storyline, and direction of the work before you’re too immersed in it. It’s high-level feedback to make sure your story will work for readers.
Alpha readers do not replace editors.
To be transparent, I haven’t been a fan of the alpha reader concept, so I haven’t utilized them to date. They help some writers, but my first, second, and sometimes third drafts are creative messes.
Through that mess and hours spent hollering at the heavens, I develop my characters, refine my storyline, and let the story unfold naturally from my fingers. I worry that an alpha reader will change the natural progression of the story I’m creating.
I now feel more confident in my writing skills, though, so I might see if they’re helpful for the book I’m working on. Maybe they’ll help me find my story faster. I’ll keep you posted.
How to Find an Alpha Reader
There are plenty of places to find an alpha reader, including:
- Friends and family. Is there someone close to you who loves to read? They could be your first ask, though make sure you’re secure enough with your work before you do. A critique from someone close to you can have more of an impact than from a stranger.
- Social media. Do you have any friends or followers that love to read? Post on your social media to see if you can find one or two.
- Writing groups. Search hashtags such as #writercommunity or #alphareader on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or publish a post asking for help. Make sure you remember the hashtag! You can also look for writing groups in your area – try Google or a bulletin board at your local coffee shop. Meetup.com is another option.
- Goodreads. I find Goodreads best for fantasy and young adult fiction, so I only recommend it for select fiction genres. There are countless groups on the platform, so have a look. If you can’t find the right group, start your own!
A critique group is a group of writers who meet regularly and give feedback on each other’s work. It’s a writer’s group that focuses on giving feedback.
Start looking for a critique group a few months or more before you think you’re ready to share your work. That gives you time to find the right group and get comfortable with the other members.
More than six people can be unwieldy. A lot of members mean less opportunity to share your work, so look for a group with six or fewer members.
I had no money when writing my book Rock Gods & Messy Monsters and edited the manuscript this way. One or two members from the group would share a chapter or short piece of fiction the week before we’d critique. We were required to read the work during the week and provide constructive feedback at the following session.
It took a few years to get through my entire manuscript, but we went through it sentence by sentence, and the help I received was invaluable. They pointed out discrepancies, errors, and plotlines gone awry while giving me the space to fix the work as I thought best.
I don’t recommend it, but this is an option if you can’t afford an editor.
There’s a big “if” when using this type of group to edit your work because the right mix of people is crucial. I was extremely fortunate to work with a supportive group of writers who gave honest feedback while being encouraging and constructive.
Audit any potential groups for at least two weeks – or until you feel you belong. You need to click with other members and feel comfortable with their feedback. The group should focus on critiques, not criticism.
Your fellow writers should help guide your work, not take it over and control it. The other individuals are there to help you find flaws, not change your ideas. They can write that book themselves.
How to find a critique group
Start with a place like Meetup.com, or look for writer’s groups in your area. Find out if their focus is on providing feedback for each other’s work. You probably won’t find a group called “critique group,” so search for writing groups in general. You can also use the suggestions for finding an alpha reader.
I can’t recommend Critique Circle or Critique Match because I haven’t used them, but they might work for you. I read mixed reviews and suggest these as a last resort. Finding a smaller critique/writing group is a better way to go.
If you can’t find the right group, start your own. You can set the ground rules around your needs.
When building a team of people, there are several best practices to remember, including:
- Make sure you keep contact information for anyone who helps you. Send a signed copy of your book when it’s published, especially to anyone who didn’t get paid.
- Some readers or editors might not be interested in staying in touch, but ask if they’d like to stay up to date with the book’s progress. If they say yes, send periodic email updates of your work. This is the professional thing to do, and you might gain a few superfans along the way!
- Do NOT add anyone to your newsletter or email list without their permission.
- Refrain from arguing over feedback, whether from a friend, fellow writer, or professional editor. Ask questions and get clarification, but don’t take out any insecurity or anger on another person. They’re trying to help, so please honor that. It’s your choice whether or not you follow their suggestions.
- Bottom line, this is your story. Listen to all feedback, let it roll around in your brain, and remember, you decide what’s best for your work.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at sensitivity and beta readers and close out this mini-series with an article on the different types of editors.
Diane Hatz is the award-winning author of Rock Gods & Messy Monsters, a Medium writer, and founder of the Next Draft newsletter. She’s currently working on her second novel.
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