What Is an Alpha Reader? (Explained for Beginners)

Before you publish a manuscript or send one to a literary agent, it’s good to get feedback from an alpha reader.

What is an alpha reader?

An alpha reader is the first reader of your draft manuscript. Alpha readers approach reading your work as a writer. They provide detailed feedback about your premise, plot, characters, and other technical story mechanics. Alpha readers review your work before beta readers, editors, or ARC readers.

In this article, I’ll answer the most common questions I get about Alpha readers.

What Is an Alpha Reader? (Definition & Types)

(This post may have afilliate links. Please see my full disclosure)

There are a few different types of alpha readers depending on what kind of writing you do and whether or not they get paid.

Let’s look at four common types of alpha readers:

  • Alpha reader for genre fiction
  • Alpha reader for fanfiction
  • Volunteer alpha reader
  • Professional alpha reader

What Is an Alpha Reader for Genre Fiction?

This is probably the most common type of alpha reader.

An alpha reader for genre fiction is a beta reader who gives detailed feedback on the overall plot structure, pacing, stakes, theme, setting, dialogue mechanics, and more.

They provide unbiased feedback, compare your story to published works in the same genre, and give opinions on how they’d write it if it were their own piece of work.

As fellow writers, they will point out plot holes, inconsistent character behavior, and lack of tension.

Usually, it’s best if the alpha reader writes in the same genre as your work.

If you can get a professional, published author (whether successfully self-published or traditionally published), even better.

What Is an Alpha Reader for Fanfiction?

An alpha reader for fanfiction is an alpha reader who is knowledgeable about the fandom in which your story exists.

They typically even write the same kind of fanfiction.

For example, if you write Power Rangers fanfiction, they would also write fanfiction in the same universe.

The same is true if you write:

  • Fallout fanfiction
  • The Fosters fanfiction
  • Seal Team fanfiction
  • Any type of fanfiction

These types of alpha readers offer feedback on whether you’re staying true to canon and whether or not your characterizations of all involved parties, including original characters (OCs), are believable.

If you’re writing crossover fanfiction, they should know enough information about both canons to provide an accurate review of your story.

What Is a Volunteer Alpha Reader?

A volunteer alpha reader is one who does not receive payment for their services. Many writers use unpaid alpha readers.

Volunteer alpha readers can be friends, family, co-workers, peers, fans, or other readers.

Typically, a volunteer alpha reader will have read and written in a similar genre of writing. Their feedback tends to be less detailed than a paid alpha reader, but can still help a writer with big picture story issues.

Most fanfiction alpha readers will review your work on a volunteer basis.

Sometimes, they will also want you to serve as an alpha reader for their own stories.

What Is a Professional Alpha Reader?

A professional alpha reader is a paid alpha reader.

Typically, they’ll want to work with you on a per-chapter, per-hour, or per-project basis.

They might give notes on one chapter at a time and ask for feedback in return. They offer in-depth structural edits and critiquing based on their years of experience reading and writing literature professionally.

Their feedback is typically more critical than a volunteer alpha reader’s, but it’s also more helpful because it’s less subjective.

Because they’re being paid, professional alpha readers have an unbiased motivation to provide detailed feedback which helps your story move from good to great.

The more expensive an alpha reader, the better review and feedback they should provide.

What Does an Alpha Reader Do?

Alpha readers read, review, and give you detailed feedback about your manuscript from the perspective of a writer.

Alpha readers tend to work on a timeline that they negotiate with you.

They will point out any issues they have with the story, in detail. Alpha readers also often include a positive opinion about the story and what things they liked.

Their feedback will focus on macro elements of storytelling such as plot, structure, tension, pacing, worldbuilding, etc.

They will also give you feedback on microelements.

Microelements include:

  • Word choice
  • Dialouge
  • Sentence structure
  • Paragraphing
  • Tone
  • Flow

As a writer, you should focus on fixing problems in your manuscript’s macroelements before you worry about the story’s microelements. Macro elements are large-scale structures that make up the backbone of your story.

The best alpha readers help writers improve their craft while also making storytelling suggestions for how to make the story better in general.

Some will give you a rating on whether your draft is ready to submit.

The numerical rating usually includes an explanation of the rating.

Example rating scale:

  • 8-10—Ready to submit
  • 4-7—In need of revisions
  • 1-3 —In need of major revisions
  • 0-1—Not ready to submit, but salvageable with a lot of work

What Does an Alpha Reader Not Do?

Alpha readers do not rewrite your entire manuscript, story, or book.

Their job is to give you feedback on your story’s strengths and weaknesses, nothing more.

It’s up to you as the writer to decide how much stock you put into their suggestions for improvement. Just because they offer suggestions, doesn’t mean that you have to implement them or even agree with them.

Alpha readers are not author coddlers.

They will not tell you everything is perfect. They will not conclude that your story is the best thing they’ve ever read or that it’s perfect and wonderful.

That’s not their job, nor do you want them to do that.

When Should You Use an Alpha Reader?

You can use alpha readers during any stage of writing a piece, but the two most common times to use them are during the writing of your first draft or immediately after your first draft is written.

You can send them each page or chapter at a time.

If you go this route, give them a chapter outline if your story is completed and you want their feedback before you write the rest of it.

You can also give them an entire finished draft to read.

Either way, alpha readers should get enough material so they have the time and space to help you improve your work.

What Is the Difference Between Alpha Readers and Beta Readers?

While alpha and beta readers might sound exactly there same, there are some important differences.

The biggest differences:

  • Alpha readers review your work first
  • Alpha readers give you feedback from a writer’s point of view

In the timeline of revising your work, alphas come before betas.

Beta readers typically read after the work is edited but before it is published. Beta readers give feedback from a reader’s point of view.

In the timeline of revising your work, betas come after alphas.

Here’s a good video that goes over the broad stroke differences between alpha readers, beta readers, and critique partners:

YouTube video by Lynn. D. Jung—What Is an Alpha Reader?

You might also wonder about advance copy readers or ARCS. ARCs read your complete pre-published manuscript for the purpose of early reader reviews.

The key purpose of an ARC reader is to post a public review of the book before or right after release.

Can An Alpha Reader Also Be a Beta Reader?

To make it a bit more complex, alpha readers can also be beta readers.

In other words, a single person can review your work from both an alpha and beta perspective.

However, when possible, I think you should avoid combining the two types of readers. Each type brings a specific focus and benefit to the table.

And it’s hard for a writer to turn off their “writer brains” to read something only as a potential reader.

Are Alpha Readers Good?

Alpha readers are essential for writers who want to improve their craft.

In my opinion, you do not want to self-publish or submit your work to literary agents without an alpha reader.

They offer too much value to ignore.

They can help you avoid embarrassing mistakes (like plot holes or glaring typos). They will point out problems that need to be addressed before publication.

Do You Need an Alpha Reader?

With all that said, you do not 100% need an alpha reader.

If you decide not to use alpha readers, I think there are two things you should keep in mind: 

  • Your work will usually improve much faster with alpha readers.
  • You might realize your writing needs more work after publication or submission to an agent.

I encourage all writers to try using an alpha reader at least once.

If an alpha reader helps you improve your craft and reach your publishing goals, excellent. If not, at least you did everything in your power to enhance your manuscript.

How Much Does an Alpha Reader Cost?

The cost varies depending on your needs and the availability of potential alpha readers.

The price can range from free to $1,000 or more. However, the average cost for an average-length manuscript is between $50-$200.

You can find some very reasonable, yet quality, alpha readers for under $50—especially if your manuscript is under 10K words.

How To Find a Good Alpha Reader

You can find volunteer alpha readers by asking your friends who write or through word-of-mouth within your online writing communities.

You can find a professional alpha reader on Fiverr or Upwork.

I’ve connected with some really good paid alpha readers on these sites.

If you’re going to use a volunteer alpha reader outside of your personal network, I recommend developing a screening process so you don’t waste your time with alpha readers who won’t provide helpful feedback.

Your goal is to find someone who will read your work carefully and honestly.

If they’re too kind with their words, they won’t be of much help to you. If they’re mean or crude, it will be difficult to get past the brutal feedback to find their wisdom.

You can set up a video call to talk with them and see if the two of you want to work together.

You’ll probably want to ask about their:

  • Experience
  • Approach
  • Timeline

I always recommend having a set of questions ready so you can interview your alpha readers before sending them anything.

20 Questions To Ask Alpha Readers Before Sending Your Manuscript

Here is a list of questions I like to ask alpha readers:

  1. Do you have any professional experience as an editor, writer, or teacher?
  2. How long have you been an alpha reader?
  3. What types of books do you enjoy reading most?
  4. What makes a book hard for you to review right now?
  5. Do you prefer a physical copy of my work or digital files/PDFs on a disk or portable drive?
  6. How soon will you be able to read my work after I send it to you?
  7. Will I be able to contact you if I need help with something after sending the manuscript (i.e. if I have a question about your feedback)?
  8. When you read my work, what are you looking for specifically?
  9. How do you approach a new manuscript or creative project?
  10. What should I know about your process that could help me understand the type of feedback I’ll receive from you?
  11. What is the best way to contact you after I send you my work?
  12. What is your deadline for reading and returning my manuscript?
  13. How long do you typically spend reading a manuscript before sending feedback?
  14. How many days/weeks/ months will pass before I receive your feedback after sending it to you?
  15. Will I receive the feedback in one email or through multiple emails/messages?
  16. What genres or topics might be difficult for you to comment on?
  17. How do you feel about giving direct/honest feedback if it’s not what I want to hear?
  18. Do you have any story or craft pet peeves that I should know about before sending my work?
  19. Are there any types of feedback or review content you won’t provide if it’s requested of you?
  20. What are some examples of books or authors you’ve read that demonstrates the type of feedback and review content you enjoy giving most to a client?

Please use these questions to trigger your own creativity. You know yourself and your book the best, so come up with a few customized questions that let you know you want to work with an alpha reader.

50 Questions To Ask Your Alpha Reader About Your Manuscript

It’s also helpful to create a Google document or Word document with specific questions you want your alpha reader to answer for you.

The questions can relate to your overall story or to individual chapters or scenes.

Here is a list of 50 questions to ask your alpha reader:

  1. How would you summarize the entire story, book, or manuscript?
  2. What parts did you find the most boring?
  3. Did the overall plot make sense to you?
  4. Did the ending satisfy you?
  5. What were your overall thoughts regarding the concept/premise of this story?
  6. Did you feel connected to any of the characters and their struggles?
  7. What character did you enjoy reading about most, and which ones did you dislike or find difficult to read?
  8. Which character do you think has been developed the best so far in this book/story, and why?
  9. How would you describe your emotional state after reading each chapter/part/scene?
  10. Did it affect your mood at all if a scene was particularly sad, happy, or exciting?
  11. What is something you found that felt out of place in the story?
  12. What do you wish had been included in this novel, story, screenplay, or book?
  13. Did you get hooked on the beginning or did it take a while for you to get into the book?
  14. How do you feel about how much backstory was revealed so far in the book/story? Too much? Too little?
  15. Do you like where I presented the backstory? Why or why not?
  16. Is there a better way to tell the reader about the backstory? Please give examples.
  17. Do you think any scenes need more detail or description than they currently have? Which ones, specifically?
  18. How is the pacing of the story? Too fast, too slow, just right?
  19. Did the character motivations make sense to you? Why or why not?
  20. Is the dialogue realistic? How can I make it better?
  21. What are some examples of dialogue you think is especially well written in the story right now?
  22. Is there anything that feels unnatural or forced to you in any scenes, dialogue exchanges, or character interactions? What are they?
  23. How would you feel if this was the only book in a series and it’s just ending here?
  24. Do you have any questions about what happens next?
  25. Which secondary characters did you enjoy reading about the most so far, and which ones did you dislike or find difficult to read about?
  26. Did I explain things clearly enough for your understanding of how the world works in my story/world-building? If not, where were there gaps in information that confused you?
  27. Does anyone act out of character at any point in the story? If so, who, where, and why?
  28. How did I handle the theme(s) in the story?
  29. Do all of the character names make sense?
  30. Were each of the characters properly defined? Is it easy to tell them apart?
  31. Are there too many characters in the story? Not enough?
  32. What is the most memorable line of dialogue from the story?
  33. What characters do you think should be added to the story and why?
  34. Which character would you cut from the story if it were up to you?
  35. Is there a good balance of dialogue and narrative in the book so far? Or is there too much or too little of one or the other?
  36. What parts did you enjoy reading the most, and least, in this manuscript/story/book?
  37. Did anything confuse you while reading this book? If so, what was it and how can I clear that up for future readers?
  38. Of all of my main characters, which is your favorite? Least favorite? Why?
  39. If one of my secondary characters became a protagonist, would you want to read about them? Which one? Why?
  40. Is there enough conflict? Why or why not?
  41. What was your favorite scene and why?
  42. Which character do you think needs more development, and what kind of development would you like to see for them?
  43. How can I make the dialogue more realistic or natural sounding?
  44. Who do you think is my reader avatar in this story/novel/book, and what are their personal struggles, goals, desires?
  45. Did I cover the topic with enough depth and breadth?
  46. What would you change about the beginning of the manuscript?
  47. What would you change about the end of the manuscript?
  48. What is your overall opinion on this book/story right now?
  49. If you were to put a rating on your enjoyment of the book (1-10 or 1-5), how would you rate it and why?
  50. Is there anything else you want to tell me about my manuscript before I get started making changes to it based on all your wonderful advice?

Remember, this is just an example list of questions.

You can ask more or fewer questions based on the length of your manuscript, type of manuscript, and whether or not the alpha reader is being paid.

Alpha Reader Services

If you want to go the professional route, you can find many individuals or companies offering alpha reader services.

Like with any service, some are better than others.

Always check out reviews before you pay anyone for alpha reading your work.

Here are some alpha reader services to consider:

Note: Listing the service does not constitute a personal endorsement of the service. Please also do research before you use any online service. The quality of service can and does change.

Final Thoughts: What Is an Alpha Reader?

To give your manuscript the best chance for success, I highly recommend getting alpha readers, beta readers, and professional editors.

The upfront cost is much less than the cost of regret after sending out a manuscript that isn’t quite ready.

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