When you’re trying to succeed at writing you’re often told to avoid critique from your mom, your friends, from anyone whose feedback on your work won’t be critical enough to help you improve. This is good advice — to a point. You need honest feedback if you want to improve as a writer. Critique partners and brutal editors are your friends when it comes to spotting weak points in your craft, especially when it comes to clarity.
That said, writing is hard. Rejection is hard, and trying to make it as an author is for most of us, a long, brutal road. It can beat you down and it can be hard sometimes to peel yourself off the mat.
That’s where alpha readers come in. These readers aren’t necessarily going to give you much feedback. They might spot problems, tell you when something isn’t working, but I don’t count on them for line edits or even provide suggested fixes to structural problems.
Their primary purpose is to cheerlead. I use them to know whether or not a book is headed in the right direction, to get behind it and encourage me to keep writing the book. Since I work in an Agile method, I can ship a few chapters a week. My alpha readers, the first round readers, provide feedback and encouragement.
They act as an audience, people who want to know where the story is going. That bit of pressure can keep me working, keep me barreling past the hard parts in a book. I don’t want to let them down.
They’re often my most enthusiastic readers. They ask me how it’s going, and give me a sounding board when I get stuck. Knowing they’re in my corner, that my book has someone waiting to meet it, helps me keep going.
You have to be careful with alpha readers, just as you do with betas. You need to make sure that you trust the person to support and encourage you. Like beta readers, you need to make sure they can provide input you can use and when they do, be sure to parse it against your gut. Don’t let alpha or beta reader feedback sway you if your story feels right as it is. That said, DO listen. Do think about all feedback. It’s a delicate balance between letting your ego tell you to ignore input and letting yourself get pulled in any direction a reader tries to push you. The first results in sub-standard writing and the second in eternal edits. Thank your readers, alphas, and betas.