(Reed’s Playlist for the Occasion: Petters On The Low by the one, the only, Dunkey)
Before you read this, make sure you read the preceding article about drafts; it will make things make more sense (and you can also pick out the inconsistencies in what I say as my opinions develop over time).
When you’re starting out as a writer, your readers are almost as important as you are. In fact, the amount to which your early writings improve will entirely depend on your readers – not in that you can’t improve without alpha readers, but there will be a ceiling to how high you can climb unless you have good ones.
So, without further ado, the four types of alpha readers every new writer should have:
The Adorer (AKA the Lindsay Liegler) is the one who will always tell you how wonderful they think your work is. Their criticism, if any, is usually framed in terms of them (“this part confused me, but I think other people might get it more”) and they always seem to be proud of your writing, even if you’re not. The Adorer may be the only person you’re allowed to show your first draft to, if you’re having difficulty mustering up the strength to start a second draft. Their optimism will continue to inspire you to work towards that perfect final project.
The Surgeon (AKA the Dylan Buck, the Kritika Iyer) is the one who isn’t going to hold back on you for any reason. They will pick apart your writing on all levels, from “this plot is confusing” or “this character seems to have no motivation” all the way down to “that’s the third time you used the word elucidate in one page; pick a goddamn synonym already”. The Surgeon is best used late in the game while you’re working on your third draft, to help you get everything perfect for a finished project.
The Reader (AKA the Mikey Tharratt, the Brandon Agundez, the Jesse Kendrick, or the David Terry) is someone who, while not necessarily a writer themselves, is an intelligent and well-read consumer of your particular genres. They know the best authors and can recognize the best strategies; they are exactly the kind of person you’d like to see reading your finished work someday. They’ll also be able to tell you, through general consensus, exactly what things do and do not work for your book from a reader’s perspective (arguably the most important perspective there is). For this reason, they should only be utilized at the end of the third draft, where the project is as close as it’s going to get to something you would make an actual person read.
The Writer (Aka the Audrey Miano) is the last of the four, the one who is also a writer and can help you from a nitty-gritty, nuances-of-the-craft perspective. The Writer should be approximately at the same level of skill as you (although a little better or a little worse never hurt anyone) so you can learn from each other without feeling condescending or condescended to. The Writer may also be the most avid reader of your work because, like you, they recognize how important a role they have in your writing experience. The best draft to utilize The Writer is the second draft – before you’re too set in your ways to change, but after you’ve gone through some extensive revisions that you don’t need pointed out to you.
All four of these alpha readers are important, and it’s also important to have them stick to their roles. If you have a Reader who becomes a bit too pandering like an Adorer, their criticisms may be replaced with praise that’s useless when you’re tightening the last screws on your work. And should your Writer start picking things apart like a Surgeon when it’s still the second draft, you might get disheartened by the amount of things wrong and abandon the project altogether.
In the end, you can learn a lot about writing by practicing the craft, but you’ll reach a point where you can go no further without a dedicated crew of alpha readers tearing your work apart in just the right way. If you’re lucky, you’ll have readers as good as mine 😀
Yours, ready for a lot of weekend D&D,