Editing with Alpha Readers

Editing with Alpha Readers


This is the first part of a short series I’m posting on Alpha and Beta Readers over the coming weeks. This first one is about how to make use of Alpha Readers in your editing. The second is about how to make use of Beta Readers. The third is about the questions I ask my Alpha and Beta Readers and finally, the fourth is about finding “Honest” Alpha and Beta Readers.

Here are the links this series:

Part One: Editing with Alpha Readers
Part Two: Editing with Beta Readers
Part Three: The Questions I Ask My Alpha and Beta Readers
Part Four: Honest Alpha and Beta Readers (Coming Soon)

 

So to start with…

I have decided not to use a professional editor. I know that this flies in the face of everything every publisher and author declares, traditional or self-publishers alike.

There are some reasons why I am not using a professional editor. First, I’m really trying to do this on a budget.

Now, you may be tempted to skip down to the comments right this instant in order to set me straight. I appreciate the feedback and thank you for the comments you are about to make. 🙂
The second reason I am avoiding a professional editor is that I want the challenge of getting this cleaned up and put together in a professional manner… without having to use professionals. It’s a part of the challenge that I’m excited about.

Let me add this in (for those who have survived this far without skipping down to the comments to tell me how terrible an idea it is to not use a professional editor… I appreciate your feedback, by the way). I am not saying I’m not using any editors, I’m saying I’m not using a professional editor. I am relying on the help and advice from people I know and trust.

So, let me show you the process I’ve been using and it has been working well for me.

 

My Alpha Readers

I write my first draft with all its mistakes and problems. I then go through it on my own to polish up some of the obvious problems (weird sentences, obvious plot holes, clear inconsistencies, etc.) before I hand it off to some Alpha readers.

An Alpha reader is one of your first readers right out of the gate. These are people who can give you some honest (but kind) feedback and who can help you make a major step toward polishing your manuscript.

They are also people who can handle a really rough draft of your story. Keep in mind, this is NOT everyone. Some people cannot get past this kind of thing. It will drive them up the wall to see mistakes repeated, page after page and they will not be able to handle the grammar problems, spelling mistakes and inconsistencies in your writing. If someone is like this, you should ask them to read a more polished version. 🙂

Here are some people I trust as Alpha Readers:

My Wife: I put this on our Kindle App and she reads it, highlighting the parts she thinks are terrible or ugly or written in a horrifically nightmarish way. She also highlights spelling mistakes, problem sentences, parts that are offensive (sometimes you try to write things well and they just come across in a way you didn’t intend) and more. She will also point out areas she thought were good.

The book is intended to be juvenile and silly, but my wife was able to point out areas where I was taking it a little too far. To give you an idea, the topic of snot shows up a lot… it’s a fun book, after all. That’s pretty silly and juvenile, but I took it a little too silly at times and while the focus is for ages 10-13, I was probably hitting some topics more like what a 6 year old would enjoy. She helped point this out.

My Sons: Since my books at the moment are novels geared at older kids and early teens, I read the book to my sons and they give feedback. While I read out loud, I see and hear things that I did not see or hear before. I also hear their immediate responses (laughter and more). I can also get their feedback on parts they really liked and parts they didn’t like. I use our Kindle App as well which means my highlights show up on the same pages as my wife’s, but to avoid confusion we use a different color of highlight so we can distinguish my highlights from hers.

My sons were able to give me feedback from the standpoint of kids/young teens. While they would occasionally disagree on what they thought was good, it was very helpful to be able to hear feedback from the mouths of those in or near the age group I’m writing the book for.

After my wife and sons read it, I make the recommended adjustments and pass the less-rough version on to the next two Alpha readers. You might want to call them Beta Readers because of my revisions, but I prefer to think of them as Alpha 2.0.

 

My Mother-In-Law: My Mother-In-Law has worked as a teacher and librarian for many years in a public school and spends a great deal of time reading. She goes through my manuscript in a very detailed way and gives some very objective feedback on it. It’s been very helpful to hear her responses and feedback. She shared with me one of the greatest encouragements I have yet received in my writing. She told me (when reviewing my first book in the series) that by the time she made it to the sixth chapter of the book (out of around 26), she found she couldn’t put the book down and started neglecting other responsibilities she had. This helped me to see that my books were not just fun books for kids, but adults could enjoy them as well.

Since my Mother-in-Law comes from a teaching/librarian background, she was able to approach it from that standpoint and gave me some incredible feedback in terms of:

  • My first chapter was… boring. It wasn’t catchy. I had to rewrite it. I am very grateful that she pointed out this major flaw! I don’t think I wanted to rewrite it, but in the end I’m much happier with the new chapter. Now think about this one for a moment… if that chapter had NOT been rewritten, I might have lost a lot of readers before chapter two! Feedback is awesome!
  • Problems in terms of spelling and repeated words (she has eyes like an eagle for this kind of thing). It is really easy to write a sentence like, “Liam and and Ezra moved slowly down the hill toward…” Some of you may not have caught that. I made repeated mistakes like that and couldn’t see it in my own editing.

 

My Cousin: My cousin has written about six books and is in the final stages of publishing the first one (January 2018). I won’t give any details on his book as to title or anything just yet. One of the things he brings to the table is the more technical aspect of writing as he has spent a great deal of time studying this aspect of writing. He will catch things in my book that I won’t think of such as perspective, certain inconsistencies, etc. He and I also meet often and encourage each other along the path of writing/editing/publishing.

 

These are my Alpha Readers. They are my first phase of editing (because I don’t know if I can count my own editing as first phase).  You’ll notice I’m related to each of these people.  At this stage of the editing and revision, it’s nice to keep things close to home.  🙂

 

Now, it’s important to understand something about Alpha Readers as we seek out people who might fill this need. The people mentioned above are people who care about me and want me to be successful, but also aren’t going to let really bad stuff slide. In other words, they care enough to tell me the bad stuff rather than just tell me the book is fine as it is.

Each of these people listed above may have a different vision than I have for the book, but that’s exactly what I want. I want to hear their thoughts from their perspective.

 

As Alpha Readers, these people have been very helpful. You need to find people who can read your book for you and give you some honest feedback. It is not helpful to only ask people who will tell you your book is wonderful. That might make you feel good at the moment, but leads to disappointment and pain later on (when the stuff that should have been caught is missed).

Keep in mind that Feedback on your writing is extremely important.  Feel free to check out Six Ways to Receive Feedback Well and Five Ways to Tell You Do Not Want Feedback.

Check out the other blogs in this series:

Part One: Editing with Alpha Readers
Part Two: Editing with Beta Readers
Part Three: The Questions I Ask My Alpha and Beta Readers
Part Four: Honest Alpha and Beta Readers (Coming Soon)

Comment below on your experience with Alpha Readers and keep an eye out for the rest of the series on Alpha and Beta Readers coming out over the next couple weeks!

Shawn

8 thoughts on “Editing with Alpha Readers

  1. I liked this post a lot…It makes a lot of sense. I think it’s super related to the post you wrote about how to receive feedback. If someone is not ready to hear all types of feedback from their alpha readers then it’s a waste of everyone’s time. I love how great you are at receiving feedback–you definitely practice what you preach!!!

  2. Yours are very similar to my group of Alpha readers and they do an amazing job – some are better at content while others are better at proofreading. I simply can’t afford to hand over hundreds to a “real” editor but I do make use of my readers as well as tucking manuscripts aside for a month or so before giving the final proofread (which helps immensely). An interesting sideline on the topic is that I’d been listening to a podcast by a well known self-publisher who continually insists that books need a professional edit, that no one can edit their own books, and practically brags about how much she pays her editors. Curious about her writing I picked up her first book and found error after error. I could understand a couple, but not a couple on one page! If that’s what you get with professional editing, I’ll stick to my own system.

    1. It does sound like we do things in a very similar way! I can’t afford the cost of an editor either. Often they are about 2 cents a word. That adds up! I find the eyes of many different people help out a lot. One of the really helpful editors (I didn’t mention this) is actually MS Word. I write in either yWriter or Scrivener and then copy it over to MS Word and run their spell/grammar check. It’s amazing what that will catch.
      The other thing I didn’t mention is that a lot of people really seem to enjoy the chance to read through a rough manuscript and give feedback. Not only does it help you refine your book, but it builds relationships too!

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