Everyone knows about the alpha hero right? Right. But what about an alpha reader? Rissa Brahm explains.
There’s no such thing as the perfect alpha hero—in fact, we count on his flaws. There is also no perfect alpha reader. But for our stories’ sakes, we hunt for the most trusted, qualified, objective, dependable, and communicative pair of first eyes possible.
Good luck with that, right?
Well, with patience, open-mindedness, and a bit of analysis, you can find your alpha.
First, what is an Alpha Reader?
The alpha reader offers general feedback of your overall story and its characters at the manuscript’s earliest stages. Your first draft’s “First Eyes,” must be:
- Trustworthy. Can this alpha keep your story and his or her opinion of it confidential if that’s important to you? And, does this person have an earnest interest in your success?
- A Story-lover. An alpha reader must be well read or, at least, a lover of stories. An ideal alpha enjoys and knows your genre and its nuances well.
- Objective. Can your alpha be objective and candid while understanding the goal is not to nit-pick or line edit, but rather to offer a first impression of the global story?
- Dependable. Will this person give you feedback in a timely manner, if at all? Consider logistics and availability.
- A Clear Communicator. He or she should give you a detailed, comprehensive response that digs deep into the story and its components while simultaneously zooming out for theme and message, helping you grow your romantic saga from there. And “Liked it” doesn’t cut it.
Now, how do you find all these qualities in one earthly soul?
In my experience, you don’t. Hence, my alpha reader team. In general, if you can get most of these traits across a select few willing souls, your manuscript will leap to its next phase in the produce-polish-publish process.
Coming from the corporate world, my instinct is to drill down, to analyze the heck out of my alpha options in order to determine who of my possible alpha readers possesses the most of my top five traits. So, I devised a rating system. It breaks down each potential alpha’s strengths and manageable weaknesses, and then allows me to manage my own expectations while working with them.
How to find ’em?
Great alpha readers can be anywhere—in your house, in your phone contacts, your office, your book club. As you get more involved in the vast romance writing community, you may form trusting bonds with your RWA chapter members, at conferences, in your online critique groups, Facebook communities, K-Boards! Brainstorm, make a list. It will change, grow and shrink over time, but get a few possibilities written—or typed—in front of you.
Oh so scientific ;-), from my brainstorm list, I take what I know about each potential alpha reader, and plug the candidate’s characteristics into my five-criteria scale.
- I jot down general demographic data, such as age, gender, education, personality, career, and so on.
- Next, I consider each of my five alpha reader attributes with that person in mind. Each attribute accounts for up to two points.
- The total candidate’s score must add up to 8 or higher for me to consider the candidate a good alpha reader.
- If not an 8 or higher, I might find another way for that awesome person to help. Will this candidate be a better beta reader, or maybe willing to buy my books and post honest reviews on social media? Or help me choose cover art, excerpts, or teasers? On this long writing road, I don’t turn down any help!
Now, let’s examine five examples of my own alpha reader candidates.
Female/Age 35-45/Former Marketing Assistant/Stay-at-Home Mom of 3/Friend/City Girl/Canadian
- Trust: She bandages my kid’s scrapes when needed, but she is also the neighborhood’s social butterfly… I wouldn’t want her whispering my story endings to the PTA mom down the way ;-)! /1 pt.
- Well read? When I asked, “What’s the last book you’ve read?” she laughed and pointed to her brood. “Dr. Seuss.” /0 pts.
- Objective: She tells it like it is—the City Girl. She’s patient and nice even about the unpleasant stuff—the Canadian? But I’ve seen her shun a neighbor or two when she disagrees with their child-rearing ways or what-have-you, so she leans a bit judgmental. /1 pt.
- Dependable/Available: Again, she has a full plate, even though I think she more than deserves a nice hot bath and a good hot romance read to go with it! /0 pts.
- Communicative: She’s from the marketing sector. A brilliant mind with the maturity and experience to put her thoughts into written or spoken word like a pro. /2 pts.
Total: 4/10—Didn’t make the cut, but her mother-in-law reads “those trashy romance novels,” and so I got a lead for a possible beta reader down the road 😉 and more confirmation that my neighbor was not reader material!
Male/Age 30-40/World-Traveler/IT Guy/Great Dad & Husband 😉
- Trust: I trust him like no other, and my success is his success! /2 pts.
- Well-read: Extreme fiction reader…BUT he won’t touch romance. I could beg and plead, but no. (This of course takes him out of the alpha running, but there’s more I learned, so keep reading.) /0 pts.
- Objective: I know he’d tear into my work like a pro editor! /2 pts.
- Dependable/Available: He’s slammed with projects, too, and the honey-do-list is already pretty long, so I’d have to nag…not pretty. /0 pts.
- Communicative: Technical and detailed—IT Guy)—while thoughtful and creative, he gives ultra-dissected feedback on everything, sometimes to the extreme! /2 pts.
Total Points: 6/10—He didn’t make the team—reading romance is obviously required!—but he enjoys brainstorming story arcs with me. And, wow! does he help make up some killer twists!
Female/Age 55-65/Metropolitan/Nurse/Painter/Wife, Mom & Grandma
- Trust: Wants my success always! Keeps things on the DL. /2 pts.
- Well-read: Avid contemporary romance junkie for her entire life. /2 pts.
- Objectivity: Meh. She goes soft on me by default, then I remind her to “give it to me hard!” She laughs, then offers such solid points, I don’t mind having to remind her each time. /1.5 pts.
- Dependable/Available: Mom is semi-retired and loves to read—she eats up my manuscripts! She is not tech-savvy—just getting the mss to her Kindle, whew!—but she’s teachable and willing to learn. /1.9 pts.
- Communication: a reader, and a creative, Mom lacks a bit in expressing what and why and when she felt what while reading my stuff. But I hunt down and customize online resources, like this critique partner questionnaire, and they help so much. There are still times that I need to pull a molar or two to get the feedback out, but it’s greatly improved! /1 pt.
Total: 8.4/10—Alpha Team Member #1
Male/Age 30-40/Iraqi Vet/Electrician/Single (Dating—such a great POV!)
- Trust: Wants the best for me! /2 pts.
- Well-read: Fantasy & sci-fi reader, but also a romance flick junkie! /1.8 pts.
- Objectivity: He told me how I really looked after giving birth to my kid…always brutally honest! /2 pts.
- Dependable: Makes his own work schedule, no family yet, OCD—perfect! But he lives in the boonies with poor internet—we actually mail flash drives back and forth! Still, he inserts comments in MS Word like a pro! /1.7 pts.
- Communication: Can’t stop the man from writing me a novel-length response! I’ve had to rein him in at the start because he gave too many new ideas—he couldn’t focus on the story I was trying to tell, lol! Open communication and some online articles /2 pts.
Total: 9.5/10—Alpha Team Member #2
My Published Author Friend
Female/Age 30-40/Former English Teacher/Mom & Wife/Writer (Paranormal & Contemporary)/RWA Chapter Sister
- Trust: Is excited for me, sees my earnest efforts, my desire to put the best work I can out there! /1.75 pts.
- Well-read: Extremely—in literature and genre fiction. She knows the nuances of contemporary romance, being a published author of it. /2 pts.
- Objectivity: Could’ve gone either way, but she surprised me. No holds barred! And I do the same for her work. She’s so hard at times, I need to remind myself that if I want to write and story-tell better, I need to be less attached to my work, and more attached to redoing/revising the work! /2 pts.
- Dependable/Available: Super dependable, but—releasing a book every month—she’s super busy. She is a friend, a mentor, I respect her time—I only send her a few chapters and know to expect her feedback when she has the chance to get it to me. And, wow, does she give me such invaluable advice! Such a wealth of industry and genre knowledge! /1.25 pts.
- Communication: Stellar! And not all authors are! Some can’t stop the inner-expert or the inner-editor, and she’s a past English teacher, to boot! Yeah, I really lucked out with this one! /2 pts.
Total: 9/10—Alpha Team Member #3
My current three-person alpha reader team is solid and spectacular. Through them, I get more than I ever hoped for in way of well-rounded first-draft feedback. Taking the time to identify strengths and workable-weaknesses in those close to me, and learning to manage my own expectations has furthered my work to the Nth degree. I also learned that selecting the right alpha reader(s) is only half the battle. Being flexible, appreciative, patient, and communicative is the key to alpha reader success.
So, happy alpha reader hunting! And, hey, if you do catch an alpha hero during your search, please don’t hesitate to put him up on FB for the rest of us to drool over!
Do you have a process for selecting your alpha readers or other team members that would help other romance writers?
Are you an alpha reader and want to share an experience with RU?
Some other cool links—because knowledge is power!:
Join us on Friday for author Donna Cummings!
Bio: Contemporary romance author Rissa Brahm grew up in New York and has since lived in all four corners of the United States, and beyond. The beautiful paradise of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico—the core setting of her hot & heartfelt debut series, Paradise South—is Rissa’s most recent and beloved home.
When not chained-by-choice to her MacBook, she is embarking on outdoor adventures with her husband and little girl, eating amazing Indian food with something chocolate for dessert; reading good, hot scorchers in bed; biking, long walks, and yoga; zoning out to killer music from across the decades and the globe; and getting lost only to discover a new exciting route home again.
Tempting Isabel, Book 1 of the Paradise South series, launches May 24, 2016, followed by Taking Jana, and Catching Preeya in June and July. To learn more about Rissa and her romances, visit her website or shout out to her on Facebook or Twitter!