I don’t alpha read or content edit for many writers, a handful here and there. I suck at it for myself, which is kind of strange, but I think all authors suck at working on their own stories. The reason I don’t publicize the service is because it’s usually a feast/famine situation. If I like a book, I make a ton of comments. If I hate it, I make almost none.
I have been working on two books lately for others. And I can only hope that the authors don’t cry when they open the documents. I use the track changes -> comments feature so that I can go line by line putting my comments in little bubbles near the end of the line.
I haven’t hated these two books. So there are lots and lots of comments. In Book A, chapter 1 (and 2 in my opinion) has nearly 100 comments. In Book B, chapter 2 has about 150 comments.
My comments are a mix of “this line is awkward,” “I have no idea what you are trying to say” and “this is just beyond stretching the imagination even for fiction”… oh and the always dreaded “We the reader have no frame of reference for this idea, either explain it better or explain it earlier and reference it here.”
Which is why I wish I could do it to my own books. I consider myself a bit of a tough content editor/alpha reader. I want things to make sense, be logical within the framework of the story, and mesh with at least some of my expectations.
However, I always feel bad when I can’t give lots of feedback when I’ve offered to look over a book. I walk this fine line between I don’t want to read and comment and I’ve commented so much, I hope they don’t take it personal and cry. which is indeed a real fear of mine – in college, I did do this to someone on a non-creative writing paper when I was forced to do peer reviews. After the student took my comments to the professor I was excused from peer reviewing for the rest of the semester and just given As on those assignments. He explicitly told me I hadn’t pointed out anything that hadn’t need to be pointed out and if the student implemented my suggested edits it would go from a D paper to an A paper… but apparently the egos of college students are still very fragile. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t done the test for credit in his class. At the end of semester he told me he didn’t feel he’d taught me anything. But the college wouldn’t let me do test for credit on the class because I was 23 and they were positive I needed the review on how to write formal papers.
By then though, I had written fiction for 6 years and shopped it around to agents, not to mention assisting with formal manuscript writing connected with my previous job. And paper writing has always been one of my strengths. I wish I was as concise with my fiction writing as I was with my formal paper writing. Interestingly, while concise, I had a habit of taking on topics that would exceed expected paper limitations. When I took my undergrad thesis class, I picked the topic of comparing Stalin’s Disappearing Photos to Hitler’s final solution. My professor told me he’d let me do it, only because I had strong paper writing skills (he’d had me in a different Soviet history class) and of course, it was supposed to be no longer than 15 pages. I lost points because it was 25 pages, but at the very end of the paper he commented it was an ambitious topic and he had expected me to go over the page limitations by at least a handful of pages and I would have lost more points if I hadn’t. And even though he removed 1 point for each of the 10 pages I went over, he gave me bonus points for several of my explanations of why they were similar and I walked out with a 98% on my undergrad thesis. And my one true regret, he offered to take me to Oxford when he returned the semester after I graduated to let me get my master’s or Ph.D. I did not go because I’d been an undergrad for 5 years at that point and I just wanted to be done with it all. I have days I kick myself for not going.