I'm an established full-time author - willing to answer questions if you have them



If it’s set in different worlds then how is it contemporary fantasy? Or do you mean its portal fantasy? Have you looked how your comp titles are shelved?

Either way I agree with XimeraGrey, any flavour of fantasy would be expected to have a high word count because of the world building involved.


The problem is though I’ve looked it up and I’m stumped as to where it’s in the umbrella of fantasy. :confused:


An Alpha reader is one who reads your story as you write it, sharing their thoughts and things they notice along the way.


Interesting how we have different definitions. I would call someone who reads along as I write a critique partner. I used to do chapter by chapter swaps with my CPs. You’d get feedback on the current chapter before moving onto the next. To me, an alpha gets the completed first draft for overall critique.


The definitions I get for contemporary fantasy is it primarily occurs in present time. It usually takes place in our world, an example would be a discovery of witches by Deborah Harkness. Urban Fantasy is usually locked to an urban area where contemporary fantasy isn’t. A story can be contemporary AND urban if it’s in our present timeline and occurs in the city. The two can overlap but doesn’t have to.


Usually it’s a matter of time and patience. Many new authors don’t realize it takes years to find their voice and perfect their skills. Think about it…most can’t compose a symphony the first time they sit at a piano and most first books are really not very good. For me, it took 20 years and 13 “practice books” to get to something that was publishable.

So the first secret to success is to work hard to learn how to write. This means reading a lot, writing even more, and getting feedback and learning from each failed attempt and making the next one just that much better. Writing skills (I believe) is something that can be learned. You work, you analyze, you learn, and with each new title it’s just a bit better than one before.

The second thing is writing a book that people love enough to tell everyone they know, “You must read this!” That’s the “It factor” which you know when you see it, but it’s impossible to sit down and determine what will idea will have “it” and what won’t. It’s highly subjective, and very hard to catch lightning in a bottle. If it were easy, every book published would do well, but the truth is 80% of them don’t earn out (make as much in royalties as the advance), so most books fail…and that’s just the failure rate in traditional publishing, the failure rate in self-publishing is even higher because there is not-ready-for-primetime titles released that really shouldn’t have been.

Third, you have to write fairly quickly, and keep producing titles. Most can’t live on on the income from a single book. Three is where you start finding some “good traction” and in many cases it takes 5 - 9 books before the income gets steady enough to call yourself “successful” and cut the cords to a day job.

All this is a way of saying it takes a lot of hard work, skill, and creativity. And even with all of that, it’s possible that you’ll never become ‘successful’ becuase it depends on how those other than yourself receive your book.


Well, I should mention that not everyone uses an Alpha reader. And it depends a bit on your process. So let me back up a bit and tell you mine.

For me, the beta readers get a book that is pretty much done. Yes, they find things that need changing, but they are minor and require a little tweak here and a little tweak there. They also confirm or deny things I’m not sure of like did I wait too long to introduce this character, was this part of the book interesting or boring, things like that.

Again, for me, the alpha reader is my wife and she’s my alpha because (a) she’s the most intelligent person I know (b) we’ve been together for so long that I can take criticism from her without taking too much offense and © she’ll be honest and not pull punches and be willing to stand up for something she thinks is seriously wrong with the book and (d) has a great eye for consistency checks, plot holes, character motivation, and pacing.

Robin never reads any of my works in progress. She only gets the book once I feel it is done and solid. But in almost all cases she has changes that I didn’t even see. Some major, some minor, but almost all of them need me to address them in one way or another. She’s made me change how a person dies, if they die, or if a character is even needed in the first place. She’s shown me when my characters do something against their nature. She looks for problems with pacing, and information that comes at the wrong time. In short, she’s a developmental editor, and she’s great at what she does. I’d pit her against any editor at any of the big houses, and it’s because of her work that my publishers rarely have any substantive feedback. Between my alpha and beta readers, the publishers get a book that really only needs copy editing, and not much more.

Again, I’m sure different people use (or don’t have) alphas at all, but in my process this is what my alpha does.


You are welcome.


That’s certainly a fine way to utilize an alpha reader. I really don’t have “rough drafts” (I do, just no one but me sees them). But yes, high-level feedback related to plot, pacing and character motivations is at the heart of what I look to my alpha reader for.


Yes, exactly.


I think each author (if they use one at all) will have a slightly different approach on their alpha readers…but yes, at the heart of them, they see the book at a stage when fairly major changes can still be made.


That’s a bit low…could be okay for a YA (which tend to be shorter). In general I think the sweet spot for most fantasy being signed by traditional publishes is 100K - 110K.




Both PNR and UF would fall under the more broad category of contemporary fantasy. Or fantasy set in present times. For instance a fantasy set in the Shenandoah Valley (a very rural setting) wouldn’t fit Urban Fantasy (which is set in a major city like Chicago or New York).


Just wanted to point out that most first books aren’t good enough for publishing. Stephen King says to treat your first 1,000,000 words as “practice” and Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours working at something to become proficient. I think those metrics are about right.

One down side with self-publishing is it’s a two-edged sword. You can literally publish “anything” as there are no gate keepers but that means there are works that “get out there” that really shouldn’t have been. If you are publishing a first work - be absolutely sure it’s ready-for-prime-time or you’ll have a tough time with future, better works.


That is a major problem. Whether you go self or traditional you need to be able to “classify” your book in various categories so readers can find it. I’d spend some time looking through titles on Amazon and seeing what categories they are put in and let that help you determine where yours would fall.


Well, that could be the relationship for some people and their alpha readers. Personally, I don’t let anyone read my work as I write it. My alpha reader only sees my book after I’ve written and edited the book and got it to a state where I’m happy with it. Now, after the alpha read I generally have to make changes, but I find it easier to do to a book I already have done then a book I have in process.


Aye, I suspect there are many different types of “alphas” and it is highly dependent on the needs/desires of the author.


Yes, I’d say that is a good definition, as I understand it.


I’ve heard of lit agents working with self pubbed authors at times. Do you think it’s a good idea to pitch a work intended for self pub to an agent just to see if it meets industry standards? Of course on the off chance that an agent actually wants to acquire the work you can divulge that you were intending to self publish the work, but i’ve never heard of this being done and i’m not sure how well received it might be.