Writing

My copy of Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey and my glasses

Rule-Quibbling and the Science of Reading

Any writer who follows blogs has seen advice that certain words “stop” your reader: adverbs, “weak” words, “filter words.” Dialogue tags other than “said.” The word “that.” The word “was.” Writers carry out search and delete missions in their documents, hunting down these toxic words. No one wants to take a chance of alienating a reader.

As some of you know, I am a self-declared rule quibbler. Not that I’m a fan of bad writing, but when I read these sermons from the blog, I wonder what evidence supports their declarations. Has anyone carried out a scientific study of reading and how readers actually process written fiction?

Book sales may be taken as an indicator of effective writing, but as most of us know, buying a book does not necessarily equal reading it or enjoying it. Maybe sales are more an indicator of effective marketing than of brilliant writing.

There are peer-reviewed academic journals on the subject: Reading Research Quarterly, for example, and the Journal of Research in Reading. From my admittedly cursory look at the sorts of articles that appear in them, the main focus of the research they publish is how people learn to read and comprehend written language, and not so much what constitutes compelling fiction.

Is there a way to quantify good writing? Do certain words bore or otherwise alienate readers? How might such a study look?

My copy of Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey and my glasses

Here’s my idea and thought process: test subjects are given two different texts of a piece of writing long enough to require a reader’s attention for more than a few minutes. A couple of thousand words, perhaps Chapter 1 of a novel. One version follows all the rules about words not to use. The other breaks them. Both texts have the same storyline, but different vocabularies.

After reading, test subjects would be asked which version of each piece would incline them to read further. But wait — would a single test subject see both samples or only one? By the time they read the second, they will have an idea of the plot, so there would be a spoiler effect. So maybe we have two stories, i.e., four different texts. Each subject gets a text from each story, one that follows the rules and one that does not. Because the stories are different, the “I’ve seen this already” effect is avoided.

But surely it would be necessary to minimize differences in reader preference? The test subjects would have to be matched with their preferred types of fiction. If a subject reacts unfavourably to the genre of the text rather than the words used, the test wouldn’t be valid. Okay, the researcher would have to interview potential subjects so the members of the subject pool would be similar to one another, in how much time they devote to reading, types of fiction preferred, etc.

Carefully devised follow-up questions would be needed to elicit and quantify the effect of specific words on individual reading experiences. Formulating questions for studies is a field of study in itself.

My conclusion: devising, carrying out, and writing up credible experiments is not a simple matter.

The closest I got to an actual study of the kind I’ve envisioned is a paper published in 1988, entitled The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure: Needs and Gratifications. It describes five different studies on different aspects of the reading experience. The two that seemed most relevant to my question examined reading speed and readers’ rankings of texts for preference, merit and difficulty. There was even a study of readers’ physiological reactions to reading different texts. Even a cursory look at this paper shows how complex and elaborate a scientific study of reading can be.

The works from which texts were obtained for testing are varied, including fiction and nonfiction, literary fiction, classics, and genre fiction. Authors include Jane Austen, Saul Bellow, Louis L’Amour, Ayn Rand, Graham Greene, Hunter S. Thompson, James Michener, Ian Fleming, Essie Summers, Arthur Hailey, Joseph Conrad, Agatha Christie, and W. Somerset Maugham. The most recent publication date is 1975.

One thing I found interesting was that some of the books are labelled “trash” by the study’s author. The test subjects showed a preference for this “trash” as pleasure reading material, but at the same time they assigned higher ranks for merit to “elite” works that were harder to read. The final page of the paper shows extracts from three of the works, along with the ratings they were assigned.

Despite labelling certain books as “trash,” the study does not analyze the writing, only the test subjects’ responses to it. While the studies documented in this paper don’t answer my question, they are examples of the kind of effort needed to obtain solid data on reading, and by extension, on writing.

The paper does contain some great academic terms. One that jumped out at me is ludic reading, which means “reading for pleasure.” Books can be called “ludic vehicles.” So, fellow writers, that’s what we’re trying to do: turn our books into ludic vehicles to transport readers into realms of the imagination.

My final thought (for now): Read this blog post, which contains a short piece of fiction that deliberately breaks all kinds of writing rules. I couldn’t stop reading, which suggests the words an author uses aren’t as important as the way she or he arranges them (and a few other factors too, of course).

Is anyone aware of any scientific studies on the effectiveness of specific words on recreational reading? Is there any objective science to back up the “rules” for writers? Or is it just a matter of, “Well, everyone knows…”?

So What? yellow sticker

The “So What?” Factor

When I read brief descriptions of books, I must admit my first reaction is often, “So what?” So what if young Miranda and her cat must save the world from the ultimate evil? So what if Devon Hope has stumbled on a secret that will mean the end of the world if he can’t find a missing artifact before someone kills him. Meh.

So what?

The problem here might be failure to engage. For me, and maybe for other readers, it takes more than the bare bones of a dire situation to pique interest, especially when that situation is just another variation on a well-worn theme. Saving the world while escaping death — what’s more dire than that? Except generic peril is as bland as no peril at all.

But it might be something else.

Observing myself while reading book descriptions, I think the reason for “blurb failure” is not always the fault of the person (author or publisher) who wrote it. The real problem is what used to be called an “embarrassment of riches.” There’s a deluge of information coming at us all the time. Posts, tweets, ads, promos, news, views, warnings, tips, tricks, sounds, images, etc., etc. Aaaaargh, I can’t take any more!

When the brain is overloaded and distracted, not even the most artfully created blurb will do the trick. The eye skips, the brain misses, and the conclusion (barely registered by the person who experiences it) is “Sure, okay, seen it before. So what? Next!”

Image by Audrey Driscoll using Canva. “Big Data” image from Pixabay.

In this environment, it takes more than a well-written blurb to bring a potential reader to “Yes, I’m going to buy this book.” Maybe it’s repetition; if someone sees a cover image and description twenty times or a hundred times, eventually the tipping point is achieved. Maybe if it arrives via a personal recommendation from a trusted friend. Or maybe it’s a totally random conjunction of temperature, air pressure, hormones, and the angle of the light coming through the window.

So what’s an author to do?

Authors sweat blood writing the brief descriptions (“blurbs”) that appear next to their book’s cover image and on the back cover or jacket flap. They have to be short and intriguing. “So what?” is absolutely NOT the reaction a book description should provoke.

And a book description is absolutely necessary, despite the fact that it will be another drop in the flood. When I see book recommendations by bloggers, without even a brief indication of what the book is about, I pass them by.

If nothing else, creating a book description is a good writing exercise. It demands effective word choices constructed into powerful sentences. It’s a distillation of a book’s essence, an enticing whiff that makes the reader want more.

A book description may be field-tested by running different versions past critique partners, blog readers, or even friends and family. Along with the question “Would any of these make you want to read the book?”

Turning the topic over again, when I take the time to read a book description carefully, giving it my full attention, I’m not always inclined to think “So what?” Hmm, how would Miranda’s cat help her save the world? What sort of person is Devon Hope, and what is the crucial artifact he has to find?

Dang! Neither of those books exists; they’re just examples I made up.

How do you read book descriptions? Do you ever get the “So what?” feeling? Do you have any tips for writing an effective blurb?

Featured image by S K from Pixabay.

Thee Most Aweful Livelyness

Dave Higgins muses on the theme of return from death as displayed in three of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.

Davetopia

One of the most common descriptions applied to the works of H.P. Lovecraft—especially by those seeking to refute the claim he was recounting ancient secrets—is that the magic is advanced science, that the gods are only powerful aliens. However, Herbert West: Reanimator shows, something survives death so the Mythos has some species of afterlife. Ironically, perhaps one closer to Eastern mysticism than the Protestantism so often labelled one of the pillars of the Lovecraftian “hero”.

Herbert West, a doctor, with a syringe, against a background of anatomical sketches ©Javier García UreñaCC BY-SA

Perhaps the most explicit reference to an afterlife in Lovecraft’s work is to Cthulhu who is “dead but dreaming”. This state has two prominent features: consciousness existing during death and resurrection in the same body.

However deluded one considers the cults to be about receiving messages from their “god”, Lovecraft states that artists and other sensitive minds are affected by Cthulhu’s approaching return: the similarity of…

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Ten Years Ago, I Reanimated Herbert West

I’M reposting my very first blog post from May 2010, originally titled “Herbert West, Reanimated.” Because I started blogging as part of my self-publishing project, it made sense to begin by introducing my book, which at the time was on the brink of being published.

Shown below is the original cover image, created by moi, with my husband and a neighbour as models. Four years later, I replaced it with the professionally designed version in the featured image.

The Friendship of Mortals has received some good reviews (and a few others as well) in the past decade, and the ebook just happens to be available for free (at the Smashwords store only) during their Authors Give Back sale until May 31st, 2020.


In one of my books of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, (The Tomb and Other Tales, Ballantine edition, 1970) there is a chronological list of HPL’s works, with check marks by the ones I had read.  Notably unmarked is “Herbert West, Reanimator,”  written in 1921-1922.  It was published in a magazine called Home Brew as a series of six horror stories.  In his biography of HPL, L. Sprague De Camp refers to them as “perhaps the most forgettable ” of all Lovecraft’s stories.  Despite this dismissal, I was delighted finally to run across them in 1998.

While it’s true that Herbert West exemplifies some of HPL’s faults as a writer, notably overuse of adjectives such as “hideous” and a coarseness of plotting, I found the story intriguing.  It struck me as an outline for something bigger.  The two main characters, Herbert West and the nameless narrator, begged (in my mind at least) to be fleshed out.

Why would anyone want to reanimate corpses?  Why would anyone remain a close friend of someone who was always looking for really fresh corpses to reanimate, even to the point of creating them by means of murder?

This is the question about any “mad scientist.”  Is he evil or merely mad?  Is his friend stupid and credulous or simply loyal?

In the fall of 2000, two years after I read Lovecraft’s story, I began to answer these questions about Herbert West. I ended up several years later with a hefty trilogy. of which I am about to publish the first book, The Friendship of Mortals, as an ebook.  By the time I post here again, it should be available on Smashwords.com, technology permitting.

blog, stars, eastern north america, northern south america, blue, purple, green

A Decade of Blogging

Audrey Driscoll’s Blog is ten years old this month! I published my first post on May 15th, 2010.

The only reason I started blogging was because I was about to publish my first novel. Advice from other self-published authors was that a blog would support that project. Well, maybe…

Once or twice a week, I diligently beavered up a post. I soon realized I had said enough about the just-published book, so had to find other topics I could hold forth on convincingly. Reading and writing in general were the obvious choices. My garden was another, with the added feature of photos.

It took an embarrasingly long time before my posts had any views at all. For years (years!) one or two likes were something to cheer about, and a comment was a semiannual event. Not until 2015 or 2016 did this blog attract a respectable following of regular readers, many of whom contribute comments. To all friends and visitors of the blog, many thanks for reading my posts and contributing comments.

What have I learned in this decade of blogging?

  • A blog by itself does not sell books. (I don’t know what sells books.)
  • You don’t have to blog every day, but posting at regular intervals helps to develop blogging as a habit. Otherwise, it’s like starting from scratch every time you get back to your blog.
  • The best way to attract readers is to follow other blogs, read posts, and leave comments, or at least “likes.”
  • You can’t follow every blogger who follows you. I now follow more than 100 blogs and struggle to read all the posts in my Reader each day. Confession: I skip a lot of them. Some super-bloggers publish many times a day. I read only a few of that deluge of posts. Before following yet another blog, I check how often the blogger posts and usually avoid the overly prolific.
  • It’s great when one of my posts attracts comments that develop into a discussion, with commenters responding to one another as well as to the original post. It’s like a slow-motion conversation. Asking questions at the end of a post is a good way to generate such a response.
  • Most of the people (entities?) that follow your blog won’t read, “like,” or comment on your posts. Why? No idea, but that’s how it is. If you have a couple of dozen regular followers who read and comment on most of your posts, you’re doing well.
  • Adding keywords to your posts probably attracts more views. On my statistics page I see almost equal numbers of views from the Reader and search engines. Keywords help people other than your followers to discover your blog.
  • Adding photos or other images to your blog makes them visually appealing, but involves extra work. Loading photos, resizing them if necessary, finding copyright-free or public domain images — these tasks can take longer than writing posts! Except for garden-related posts, I generally stick to one or two images, and now that I have a well-stocked Media Library, I don’t hesitate to re-use an image.
  • If you reblog someone else’s post, any images in that post are uploaded to your Media Library. If you’re concerned about copyright issues or just want to conserve space, it’s best to link to the post after the first paragraph of text, instead of hitting the “Reblog” button.
  • Upgrading from the free version of WordPress to a paid plan is worthwhile to get rid of advertising, now that it’s become intrusive and offensive. (Fungal nail cures, anyone? Or how to get rid of ear wax? Do you really want that stuff in your posts?) You also get more space for photos and other media.
  • When it comes to blog themes, I’m not adventurous. I changed themes more in my early blogging days. At that time, you could find theme titles in the footer area of other blogs, so if another blog’s theme looked good, you could easily find out what it was. That’s no longer the case. My theme (“Suits”) suits me, so I’ve stuck with it. I like having a sidebar that’s visible all the time (although not on phones or tablets).
  • One thing I appreciate when visiting other blogs is a Recent Posts list. It gives a quick impression of a blogger’s style and posting frequency and allows me to sample their freshest posts.
  • It’s helpful to have a bunch of post ideas in your Draft folder. When you get an idea, click on Add New Post, make up a title, and key in the core idea. You can always flesh it out later. When you can’t think of a post topic, one of these idea drafts might be inspiring.
  • One of the main rewards of blogging is the connections I’ve made with other bloggers. Which is why it’s helpful to visit and follow other blogs, read posts, “like” them (or not), and contribute comments.
  • The other major benefit of regular blogging is it forces me to organize thoughts and express them in words. Even when I don’t have a major work in progress, blogging keeps my writing skills alive.

Every now and then Almost every week, I decide I’ve said everything and have no more to contribute to the blogosphere. I even have a final post in my Drafts folder, helpfully entitled “The End.” I haven’t used it yet!

Have any of you been blogging for ten or more years? Have you ever struggled to keep your blog going? Has blogging brought you any surprises, good or bad?

Back garden overview June 2019 with kale tree in bloom

The Niggling Urge to Rewrite

I’m not referring to a work in progress here. Rewrites are standard procedure for new pieces of writing.

I’m talking about rewriting a published novel.

Have you ever read one of your own books years after it was published and thought how much better you would write it now? Have you ever agreed with a critical review pointing out fixable flaws in one of your books?

Have you ever thought about such a rewrite? Either tightening up the prose or stripping the book down to its basic concepts and embodying them in new words?

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

Soon it will be ten years since I published my first novel, The Friendship of Mortals. Twenty years since I started writing it. It was inspired by, and mostly based on, a story by H.P. Lovecraft called “Herbert West, Reanimator.”

Every now and then, I think about how I would write that book if I were starting fresh right now. I even have an opening scene sketched out in my mind.

Rewritten, the book would be shorter and edgier. Herbert would be more gritty and less charming. Charles would be less willing to go along with Herbert’s schemes and would need to be persuaded by something harsher than friendship. Alma would take a more active role and not get sidelined to the edge of the plot. A clash of motives would produce more conflict and tension.

I’d have to do a sh*tload of research into the criminal world of Boston and environs in the 1910s, and the way people talked and behaved at that time. (The trouble with being realistic is you have to find out what was real at the time and in the place in question. You can’t just make stuff up and hope it passes the plausibility test.)

Or I could ditch the early 20th century setting and make it a contemporary story, dragging in technology and present-day problems and issues. Except that doesn’t excite me at all. Plus I’d have to do a different sh*tload of research — about medical schools and biochemistry, among other things. Tedious, heavy, and full of opportunities to screw up.

If I did the work and did it well, I think I would produce a better book than the existing one. But do I want to? And what if Version 2 wasn’t any better than The Original? Most likely it wouldn’t be Version 2 at all, but an entirely different work.

There definitely would be no sequel, never mind a four-book series, because the ending would be quite different. In fact, the ending would be really interesting.

I’ve always said all I need to write a story or even a full length novel is a good beginning and a good (as in satisfying) ending. Hmm…

Fellow writers, have you ever rewritten one of your books, or at least thought about it? Do you think it’s better to perfect improve an existing book or to keep creating new ones?

By the way, The Friendship of Mortals is available for free at Smashwords during the Authors Give Back event until April 20, 2020. Description and details HERE.

Toy horses, hobbyhorses

Are You a Hobby Writer?

And if you are, do you admit it? The word “hobby,” after all, derives from a word for a fake little horse used as a children’s toy. Wikipedia has quite an interesting article about hobbies.

Honestly, it’s that word — “hobby” — that’s the problem. It conjures up the petty and the trivial. Hobbies are pointless pastimes for people who lack the talent or the passion for more worthwhile pursuits.

Hobbies include collecting things like postage stamps, beer cans, or pretty pebbles. Or activities such as knitting, embroidery, or making birdhouses. Then there’s gardening (uh-oh). Some even consider reading a hobby.

Hobbies can be picked up and abandoned on a whim. Serious writers don’t do that with their writing, do they?

Hobbies don’t make money or bring fame. Successful writers are rich and famous, aren’t they?

In fact, if you consider writing a hobby, can you even call yourself a writer?

What words other than “hobby” might modify “writer”? Most of the options have an uncomplimentary slant. Dilettante (frivolous), amateur (incompetent), non-professional (unprofessional), independent (disconnected; and “indie author” to many suggests one who aspires to financial success).

The visual arts have a number of terms for artists who follow unconventional paths. Folk art, naive art, and outsider art. I don’t think any of these help us much. For one thing, they are generally applied posthumously by critics or historians. I doubt that Grandma Moses called herself a “folk artist,” or that Henri Rousseau said he was a “naive artist.” The term “outsider writer” does have a certain defiant appeal, but would require explanation every time it was used.

What used to be called amateur theater has become “community theater.” That suits an activity involving a group of people, but calling yourself a “community writer” sounds peculiar. My public library has a collection of works by “emerging authors” and another by “local authors.” There’s some overlap between the two. Let’s face it, though — many of us will remain “emerging” forever, peeking shyly out of our home burrows. And “local” isn’t a word of distinction either.

Let’s return to the word “amateur” for a moment. Its root meaning is “lover of” (sort of like “dilettante,” actually). Wikipedia offers this definition: “a person who pursues a particular activity or field of study independently from their source of income.” Perfect, but for writers, there’s a catch. It’s okay to be an amateur runner or painter, but an amateur writer is automatically a failure because most people think there is only one way of being successful: get traditionally published, sell a million copies and/or win a major award. Anything else is failure, especially self-publishing.

In the end, I don’t think we need a special term for a writer who writes and publishes for the joy of it. Anyone who writes with serious intention may call themselves a writer. And those of us who publish our own works may even call themselves publishers.

This post by A.R. Allen presents a helpful view of the issue.

Are you a hobby writer or a professional (actual or aspiring)? Does the word “hobby” bug you? Can you think of a better term for writers with priorities other than fame or fortune?

Featured image by Manuel de la Fuente from Pixabay

Notebook, tomato, tape measure, diet

Why Writing Is Like Dieting

Writing and editing have been compared to cooking. Here’s another analogy (from my contrarian side).

Two approaches to diet: forbid yourself all foods high in calories, carbohydrates, and/or fat, OR eat a variety of foods (including ones you like), limiting those highest in fats and carbs.

Which one are you most likely to adopt as a way of life?

Two approaches to writing: follow all the rules and make sure you don’t use forbidden words, OR use whatever goddamn words you like, as long as they bring your story to life in the reader’s mind.

Which one will you regard with zest and enthusiasm?

Eating a variety of healthy, palate-pleasing foods from the entire range of available edibles is a better approach than restrictive regimes that label certain foods as forbidden. Of course, it helps to learn something about nutrition, and what “moderate” really means.

We writers have the entire panoply of words available to us. Words are the writer’s tools. Learning to write is learning how to use them well, all of them. Some words — cliches, maybe? — are analogous to processed foods. Flat, boring prose may be likened to vegetables boiled into a khaki-coloured mush. Well-chosen words skillfully assembled are like magical combinations of juice and crunch and richly blended flavours. A dialogue tag other than “said,” or the occasional adverb, are like touches of spice or a few hot peppers.

I’m not a fan of advice that labels certain words as weak words, crutch words, or filter words. The implication is that if you avoid those words or replace them with other, better, words, your writing will be good. But it’s not really about using some words and avoiding others. Writers must develop the ability to embody their imaginings in words that engage, delight, intrigue, or appall readers and keep them reading to the end.

If it was simply a matter of avoiding adjectives and not using “was,” writing would be a snap. It isn’t.

In writing, as in diet, it’s all about good choices and optimal combinations. Experimentation, mistakes and failures, adjustments, and fresh attempts are part of the process. Too much focus on rules can result in paralysis. Ignorance and total disregard of good writing practices can result in bloated or crippled prose.

When the writer embarks on a journey of creation, the rules should be in the luggage and the editor in the back seat. When the writer’s inspiration and intention have been given shape in the form of words, they may be unpacked and summoned to do their parts.

Image by Vidmir Raic from Pixabay

Advice, Advertising, and Anxiety

Blogs are full of advice for writers and self-publishers. How to start a novel. How to finish your novel. How to make your novel great. How to publish, promote, and market your novel. Etc.

No, this isn’t another rule-quibbling post. (Well, actually it is.) This one is about the advice contained in these posts. Or not contained, when the post is written by a service provider of some sort. After outlining a topic crucial to the success of writing and publishing efforts, the post proceeds to describe how that topic is addressed in a course or book. The real objective, of course, is to sell said course or book.

We writers and indie authors are a huge market for services. Editors, book doctors, writing coaches, and publicists are eager to tap into this market. That’s totally legitimate, but let’s not forget that we aren’t just a bunch of dewy-eyed airheads desperate for advice on creating and selling products (our books). We are a market, and should select paid services judiciously.

OK, most of us authors-who-blog are promoting our books (often to one another). But the relationships among authors are different from those between authors and those from whom they purchase services. We’re like a big, happy family sitting around socializing. “How’re the kids books?” “Oh, here’s a picture of the latest.” “Ooh, so cute gorgeous!” Etc. Then the doorbell rings and it’s a sales representative peddling a product. Do we invite that individual in and offer them a drink? Maybe. Do we automatically sign up for that gym membership they’re peddling? Maybe not.

I pay WordPress not to display ads on my site. I spend time and trouble to make my posts look good, so why would I want them uglified by ads for fungal nail cures or how scantily-clad women can make mega-bucks “without working”? That was the last straw. I forked over cash (well, credit) to be ad-free. And I willingly donate to the Wikimedia Foundation to keep Wikipedia and their other sites ad-free.

Ads, however upbeat, are designed to induce anxiety. Your life isn’t good enough, you’re not having enough fun, your writing won’t be its best if you don’t take my course, read my how-to book, or pay for my expert services. There’s enough anxiety in the world without adding to it by exposure to ads.

Fellow writers, how do you feel about ads? Do you create or purchase ads for your books? What do you think of the ads that come with the free blogging option?

Image from Pexels

mind movie image

Reader Brain and Critic Brain

The writer’s brain has two parts — the Imaginer and the Editor. Similar to these are two different parts of the reading brain: the Listener and the Critic.

Both writing and reading are complex activities. There’s more to writing than following rules and more to reading than seeing words on a page or screen.

It may be that the only thing a piece of fiction needs to do in order to be a success is engage the Listener in the reader’s brain. Like a kid by the campfire, all it wants is a good story. Once the Listener is engaged, details that bother the Critic — lapses in grammar, spelling mistakes, or typos — don’t matter. Not even plodding prose, cardboard characters, or warmed-over plots. As long as the Listener part of the reading brain wants to know what happens next and how the story ends, the reader will keep on reading.

This may explain some of those five star rave reviews for what discerning, critical readers believe to be mediocre books.

Editors, agents, reviewers, beta readers, and critique group members must perforce read in Critic mode. People who aren’t writers and are simply looking for entertainment, amusement, or diversion read in Listener mode.

This is why many (maybe most) writers are unable to read purely for fun. Poor things, they’re stuck in Critic mode. Typos, errors, and lazy writing habits irritate them and break the reading experience. Even when reading a stellar piece of work, they end up comparing what they’re reading to their own writing, rather than allowing themselves to be swept along by the story.

This may also be why many readers don’t write reviews. If you’ve sailed through a book in Listener mode, it’s hard to marshal your thoughts about it to the point of expressing them in prose.

Most beta readers are also writers, and feel obligated to read critically. Perhaps another category (“alpha readers”) is needed — folks who read purely for entertainment but are willing to comment on their experience of a specific book.

Anything an alpha reader notes as problematic would need the writer’s urgent attention. Niggly details noted by the beta readers can be dealt with later. There’s no point in polishing your prose if no one cares where your story is going or what happens at the end.

Maybe all this applies mainly to genre fiction — stories with inciting incidents, arcs and climaxes, and chapters with cliffhanger endings. Literary fiction, with its emphasis on artful prose, symbolism, and underlying themes, is a different matter. Even so, literary writers may want to consider recruiting one or two alpha readers from among their acquaintances.

So, fellow writers, do any of you seek out alpha readers? Are you able to read uncritically, purely for enjoyment?