An alpha reader is usually the first reader of a writer’s rough draft. It’s a coveted role, but how do you become one?
Here’s how to become an alpha reader:
Become an alpha reader by gaining experience as a reader and writer, by networking with writers, by creating a system for interviewing authors, and by developing the skill of giving helpful feedback. To become a paid alpha reader, create a website with a portfolio and testimonials.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to become an alpha reader.
How To Become an Alpha Reader (Two Types of Alpha Readers)
There are several different paths to becoming an alpha reader.
The path depends on the type of alpha reader you want to become. The two main types are a volunteer alpha reader and a paid alpha reader.
Both paths converge with similarities in background preparation, promotion, and practice.
However, they diverge in presentation and payment.
What It Takes To Become an Alpha Reader (Background Preparation)
Most alpha readers are voracious readers and writers.
They are able to recognize the writer’s intent, which goes a long way toward being able to effectively communicate feedback.
To become an alpha reader, you need to know:
- The genre (mystery, horror, fantasy, science fiction, romance, thriller, etc.)
- The medium (fanfiction, short story, novel, book, screenplay, etc.)
- How to write (plot, characterization, theme, conflict, setting, scenes, beginnings, endings, etc.)
- How to give feedback (clear, concise, constructive, comprehensive)
If you want to alpha read as a volunteer, you will need less experience and skill than if you want to become a paid alpha reader.
How To Find Alpha Reader Jobs (Alpha Reader Promotion)
Once you develop the essential skills of an alpha reader, you still need to find alpha reading jobs.
You can reach out to author friends you know personally, offer your services in writing-related online groups (Such as Facebook groups and writing forums), or market your paid services with a website.
The best way to find a writing job is by word of mouth.
If you build up an impressive portfolio, people will seek you out.
Alpha Reader in Practice
To become an alpha reader, you will read a manuscript and provide feedback.
Typically, you will review the different elements that go into creating a compelling story:
Alpha readers don’t normally proofread or edit (but they can). Their main job is to provide feedback on story elements in a manuscript so that the writer can prepare it for their beta readers or editors.
Sometimes writers will negotiate a timeline for reading and giving feedback.
If they don’t, it’s a good idea to inform the writer how long you will take and what kind of feedback they can expect.
I suggest giving yourself at least two weeks and no more than two months (unless the manuscript is over 100,000 words).
Here is a free, downloadable template to use to organize your alpha reader feedback:
Questions To Ask An Author Before Being Their Alpha Reader
Just because an author asks you to serve as an alpha reader for them doesn’t mean you have to do it.
It’s a good practice to screen the writer first.
Trust me, you don’t want to alpha read for a writer who treats you like a subspecies, who expects too much, or who can’t take constructive feedback.
It’s not worth it.
Therefore, develop a screening process that includes a video or in-person conversation/interview.
You’ll learn more in a five-minute video conversation than 10,000 emails.
During the video call, prepare a set of questions.
Sample questions include:
- What is your preferred timeline for me to read and give you feedback?
- Do you have any prior experience with alpha readers? If so, what was that like? What went well? What challenges did you face?
- What kind of feedback are you hoping for with this project? (Ex: line edits, surface-level brainstorming, deep thematic suggestions)
- How would you prefer readers to communicate with you about the manuscript?
- Is your manuscript complete? If not, do you have an outline for the rest of the story or screenplay?
- Are there any aspects that you would rather I not focus on? If so, what are they and why?
- How did you hear about me/my services? (If this is a big part of your marketing, feel free to ask them)
This is a starter list that covers the basics of what you need to know.
You might want to add to this list with your own customized questions. For example, if they will pay you, you probably want to negotiate how and when you will receive payment.
How To Give Feedback As an Alpha Reader (7 Helpful Tips)
As an alpha reader, the most important service you offer is your feedback.
The better you get at giving clear and actionable feedback, the better you become at alpha reading. So, it makes sense to go over a few tips for giving really good feedback.
Here are seven helpful tips:
- Don’t be too nice
- Don’t be too rude
- Give your overall impressions
- Go into specific detail
- Give concrete examples
- Suggest alternatives
- Tell the writer why
Don’t Be Too Nice
The writer is not looking for a best friend or significant other (or, are they? ;). That’s a meet-cute I can support.
However, most of the time, you’re better off giving clear feedback, even if that means telling a writer where you think they went wrong with the plot or characters.
If you start to feel bad, just remember that they want you to criticize their work.
That’s exactly why they asked you to read it.
Don’t Be Too Rude
You also don’t want to swing in the opposite extreme by being overly rude.
If you want to be helpful, it’s important to be constructive. That means avoiding things like insults or unfounded claims.
Don’t say this: “Your characters are so one-dimensional! I don’t even think you should write about them anymore.”
Instead, go with something more like this: “I think your story could benefit from developing the main character’s best friend into a more complex role.”
Again, they’re asking you to read the story or book because they want your honest but compassionate thoughts.
Give Overall Impressions
Your general impressions are valuable insights for them.
Start with big picture feedback that encapsulates the entire story, plot, and narrative. For example, you might say something like, “This story felt slow to start.”
Don’t just focus on what didn’t work. Instead, highlight the parts that worked for you.
Go Into Specific Detail
After you give your meta feedback, then go into more specific detail.
Answer questions like:
- Did the first page hook you? Why or Why not?
- What did you think was slow?
- When did it start to pick up for you?
- Why do you think that is?
- Do you like the main character? Why or why not?
- Did each character’s action make sense? Were they properly motivated?
- Did the introduction of the antagonist give you enough information? If not, what was missing?
- What did you think of the ending?
By going into more detail, you help the writer understand how to fix things.
It’s a good idea to prepare a list of specific questions so that you don’t have to scramble to think of what to look for each time you review a manuscript.
Here is a good video with a great list of questions you can apply to alpha reading feedback:
Give Concrete Examples
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here.
Remember that this is a manuscript they probably worked hard on and put a lot of time into. They want feedback from people who will be direct and specific with them.
That means you should feel free to use examples from the text or their world-building to help illustrate your points.
For example, “I think the introduction of so many new characters made it hard for me to keep track of who was who.”
Or, if they’re writing a story based on a specific place: “I really liked the way you described the school’s library in chapter 3. I thought it gave a lot of personality to that scene.”
If you can, try to avoid pointing out things they might already know about their own work.
For example, there’s no reason to give the exact same feedback that you’ve previously given earlier in the manuscript.
Once you’ve given a specific piece of feedback a few times, you can just comment in the margins that this feedback applies to all future instances.
It’s great to point out where a writer might improve their story. It’s even better if you can offer possible fixes or alternatives.
This sets apart the good alpha readers from great alpha readers.
For example, if you think the pacing in chapter 7 was off, you might say something like, “I’d recommend cutting down on some of the details about Naomi’s family to give more time to developing her relationship with Sebastian.”
Tell the Writer Why You’re Suggesting a Change
This is very important.
It helps the writer feel heard and motivates them to take your advice.
You can do this in the margins, on a separate sheet of paper, or through direct communication after you’ve read their work. Otherwise, a writer might not understand why you think they should change a character’s name, remove a scene, or rewrite a line of dialogue.
For example, “I think her name should be Maggie instead of Mary because there are a lot of other characters named Mary.”
Taking this extra step helps them understand your reasoning and gives them the information they need to implement the change.
How To Become a Paid Alpha Reader?
If you want to become a paid alpha reader, you’ll likely need a few years of experience as a writer.
The more experienced, the better.
The more success you’ve achieved, and more publication credits to your name, the more you can probably charge. You can go out on your own, join an alpha reader service, or offer alpha reading on a gig marketplace.
Two popular gig marketplaces:
If you go out on your own, I suggest that you start your own self-hosted website that includes a portfolio and online resume.
You can write simple articles that answer beginner questions about alpha reading to get organic Google traffic (that you hopefully convert into paying clients).
You can also include:
- Examples of your feedback
- Author applications (a list of questions in an online form)
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
- Testimonials from happy customers
- A video introduction of yourself (along with a 30-second pitch for your services)
Getting Started As an Alpha Reader (How To Start)
The best way to get started as an alpha reader is to read a lot, write a lot, and offer feedback to your friends about their writing.
Start with these steps:
- Create your list of author interview questions.
- Create a system for giving feedback (an excel form, Word document, Google document, etc).
- Contact some author friends to offer your services (as a volunteer or paid reader).
- Set up your online website (I suggest WordPress and Bluehost).
- Use an AI writer to fill out your website with content (My favorite AI writer is Jasper).
- Set up a profile and gig on Fiverr and Upwork.
- Join online groups with authors (Facebook and forums).
The bottom line is to gain invaluable lived experience, develop systems that work for you, and network with authors.
Anything else you should know?
If you’re going to do this, you should be prepared for a lot of feedback from a variety of authors whom you may not agree with or understand.
You might have difficult conversations, especially if they disagree with your recommendations.
This is part of the process.
The more you can learn from these interactions, the better alpha reader you will become.
Do You Need To Be a Published Author To Become an Alpha Reader?
No, you don’t need to be a published author to become an alpha reader.
It doesn’t hurt, but it’s not necessary.
In fact, you can be an alpha reader with just one writing credit in a small press publication. You don’t need any published credits at all.
I have worked with dozens of men, women, and nonbinary people of all experience levels who have helped shape my books in their early stages.
How To Be a Good Alpha Reader (Best Tips)
Here are some final tips on how to be a good alpha reader:
- Negotiate a clear and concrete delivery schedule upfront.
- Always meet your agreed-upon deadlines.
- Offer your feedback in a timely manner, but don’t rush it.
- Give the author room to breathe between drafts.
- Be respectful of the author’s time and patience by making sure your contributions are helpful.
- Be professional. No matter what happens, always be polite.
- Offer your thoughts only as suggestions, not demands. If they disagree with you, respect their decision and move on to the next piece of advice.
- If you are a paid alpha reader, create a simple contract for you and the author to sign. The contract should be simple, general, and include the amount and timing of payment.
Final Thoughts: How To Become an Alpha Reader
Don’t underestimate your impact as an alpha reader.
The fact is, you can make a big impact on a writer’s work by giving thoughtful, honest feedback.
Don’t hesitate to offer your services as an alpha reader—there are dozens of writers out there looking for your help!