Step 1 - Find an avid reader!
So, now you have a first draft – what to do with it? The best advice is NOT to rush out and give it someone to read. Not someone you care about anyway. There is some great advice here at Taven Moore - the blog of Tami and Steven Moore . I found it very helpful. I know that there are those that say that the Alpha Reader is the author and that anyone else who reads the manuscript is a beta reader, but I agree with Tami, that there is a place for two distinct types of readers. This is how I personally define the two.
There are two stages to alpha readers.
Stage 1 alpha readers look at the shape of the story, its pace and tension. They gauge their empathy with the characters and their motivation. They judge the believability and integrity of the plot, and whether they care what happens next. They notice whether characters grow in response to the story, or whether they are simply inconsistent, and identify the strength of the characters voices.
Stage 1 alpha readers do NOT:
- Care about grammar or spelling or even typos
- Worry about the passive voice or use of adverbs
- Wonder if there was a better way of saying something
Why? Because there’s a fair chance that what they are reading will end up being rewritten anyway, so who cares whether it is grammatically sound?
Stage 2 alpha readers do the hard slog of proof reading, kicking grammar butts, and toning up the flabby prose. The story is a great looker, but it needs to get fit.
Readers are alpha until the manuscript is well-paced, has light and shade, tension carefully interwoven with light relief. A manuscript where characters have depth and tell their own stories with strong voices, where they grow and develop and discover something about themselves and where the protagonist draws empathy as the antagonist repels it. Unless the story demands a different loyalty that is. There should be a clear story arc, about which the sub-plots weave and dance, where characters act rationally according to their history and nature, except for the insane ones, of course.
Only then is the manuscript turned over to the beta readers. They will instinctively do the same as the alpha readers, but because of all the hard work that has gone before, they are less likely to be distracted by problems with the big picture. Beta readers make a little mark in the margin when something snags their attention away from the story and onto the words, but they do not stop to wonder what was wrong. Beta readers follow the Neil Gaiman principle – if a reader says that something is wrong, they are almost certainly right. If they say what will put it right, they are almost certainly wrong. Beta readers should not be proof reading – they are far too valuable for that.
At the end of the process, the story should be silk smooth, the words flowing seamlessly from page to consciousness. Except of course that neither we nor our beloved alpha and beta readers are infallible, and that is why a professional editor is essential. That passage which was so good before, suddenly sparkles. The story sheds dead wood that had previously seemed essential, and yet is all the stronger for it. All this is to make the story the best that we can make it. It’s up to us to find the best story in the first place.
I hope to be looking for alpha readers towards the end of January. I will no doubt post about it again then, but do wave if you think you might be interested!