Mikea Howard

Author of The Diesel War series

Website of Mikea Howard, author of the dieselpunk paranormal erotic romance series The Diesel War

The unexpected challenge of beta readers

When I was a kid, my best friend Joanna was my beta reader. It made sense, she was the demographic I was writing for. Age: 12-15, Gender: Female, and totally in love with...a certain 80's New Wave band. Then once I was in my twenties I let the men and women I considered my friends (or ones I wanted to 'get to know better'. *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*) read what I had written. I never considered them beta readers though, as I never intended to let anyone else outside of them see what I had written. But not this time. This time both Kelly and I wanted to see if what we had created was viable outside of our own 'inner circle' consisting of us, and our husbands.

We made a list of people we thought might make good beta readers. What makes a good beta reader you ask? Well it's a person that you trust not to randomly forward your creation off to thousands of others, who actually reads the entire manuscript from start to finish, and will provide you with HONEST FEEDBACK.

Honest feedback is the most crucial part of being a beta reader. Hence why you don't send it to your mom (besides the obvious reason of it containing sex scenes you wrote that you would never want your mother to read), because you don't want to get the obligatory "That was really nice honey." response to your 'heart and soul' creation, like it was the sad little ashtray you made in 6th grade art class. True and honest feedback is when your reader tells you something like "Ok, I really liked how this chapter started, but you lost me when you had the cow come into the scene and start to do the robot dance, because it seemed out of place for the plot line." or "I like the heroine, she seems like the type of person I could be friends with. But the hero's too wimpy for me. I had a hard time reading the story without wanting to smack him upside the head."

So we took our list of everyone we knew that we thought would do exactly what I discussed above, and we sent them eloquently drafted emails explaining what the two of us had done, and how we needed their help. 90% of them replied that they would gladly read it over for us. 4% replied that they were honored to be asked, however due to their own writing demands and pending submission dates, they would not be able to help us at this time. But what about the remaining 1% you ask? Well, much to our surprise, they didn't reply at all.

Thanks to Google Docs, I was able to simply add their restricted access directly to the document we had created. Woohoo! We were now on our way. All we had to do was bite our nails and wait for the feedback. It was only a couple of days before we got our first email with feedback. It was a quick rundown of their general overall impression of the book. Such as "a couple problems with the pacing and a few over-used words, really bad-assed and definitely a fresh spin on the shifter world, in the end enjoyed the overall story-line and despite the few parts I had problems with I would still recommend it to others." and was followed with a promise to add the detailed comments directly to the document (in the nifty comments section I mentioned in a previous blog post) at a later time. It was exactly what we needed. Kelly and I now knew that it had some issues, but they were fixable. We were on cloud nine, and ready for the rest of the feedback to start coming in. We couldn't wait!

Sadly, we waited, and waited, and waited, but that other feedback never came. We even started writing three additional books, and a novella as we waited. Just to keep ourselves busy, and ward off all the negative thoughts we were having.  Panicked thoughts like "Oh God, they hate it! They hate it so much, they can't tell us." were invading our once ecstatic brains.

Kelly and I did receive a couple of replies that the beta reader was reading it on their phones and/or tablets through the Google Drive application, and it didn't have the 'comments' functionality that I had discussed with them. Apparently, that functionality is only available when viewed on the computer. Ok, it was a small hurdle, but at least they were reading it, right?

After a month of no replies, we decided to go outside our original list of beta readers to solicit others. Kelly reached out to co-workers, and I reached out to friends of friends. Again, we got some to agree, and off we went for another round of waiting. Just like the first group, one of the beta readers in this group proved to be outstanding. The feedback they provided was invaluable to us. 

We sat there dumbfounded, it had been two months since we shared out the manuscript to our first group of beta readers.  Believe it or not, we'd only had two of the readers reply back with feedback. We had the promise of feedback from one other, but we were still waiting.

I never could have imagined this unexpected challenge of getting feedback from beta readers.  I have been a beta reader for other romance writers, and I do understand the challenge of working a couple of jobs, maintaining a home, and finding time to beta read. But I do it, because I committed to it. Even if my feedback isn't going to be glowing, I do it.

So here are my final words to all the people out there that say yes to their friend, family member, co-worker, or favorite author and agree to be a beta reader.  If you said yes, just make time and do it, or be honest with them and say you can't. Trust me, they won't be hurt if you say no because you don't have the time to give it your full attention. Also, try starting off your feedback with something positive. What did you like about it? Then move into your suggestions on where you think it could be improved, making sure you understand that your suggestions are your individual opinion only, not a do-or-die list. Remember that the person you are critiquing is a human being like you. A human being that created something, from their heart and soul, who placed that thing in their outstretched hands and wanted your honest, tactful, feedback.