Who we are and why we do this

Hi! We are Andrew and Paul, and we created BetaBooks. We live in Raleigh, 2 blocks apart. We almost stopped being friends because we decided to play a full season of Risk legacy.

Our goal is to make BetaBooks the best possible tool for authors to collect feedback on their books. That’s simultaneously a very small and specific goal, and an outrageously huge goal. It turns out collecting feedback is hard work, but we’ve found a few ways to make it better and know there’s a lot more we can do.

This is a big challenge, and we’re excited to have more than 300 writers actively working on it with us. Everyone who is using the site and sending us questions and suggestions is teaching us what it takes to make a book better, and in turn we’re using those lessons to make our software more helpful.

Thank you so much to everyone who’s decided to come on this journey with us!

Many of you have asked about who we are and where this idea came from, so we’ve put together this page with a bit of background on who we are and where this whole thing came from.

A little about Andrew. He’s a computer programer, a good one. He likes to solve problems, especially when he can see immediate results from his work. So if you put in a request and see it resolved 30 minutes later, congratulations, you hit his workflow sweet spot. He’s an Aggie, Whoop! He’s also is invested in improving the infrastructure of modern cities as a board member of Strong Towns. He has written a novella, another novel twice and is mostly through another.  

A little about Paul. He works as actor and on film crews. His first grown-up job was as a comics editor (there’s a funny statement). He’s edited all kinds of writing. He’s an encourager but won’t hesitate to tell you hard truths. He likes to work at music festivals and conventions (currently Moogfest, Hopscotch and Oak City ComicCon). He has written and produced plays, sketches, and two performance installations. He’ll be writing his first novella in November.        

Now you might ask, “what would make two humans do a thing like Beta Books?” You may have even been prompted to ask because you read the title of the page (just a guess).

How Beta Books began

Andrew wrote his first novel and wanted to beta it, so he sent emails to a bunch of his friends, family, and writing partners. That is when he encountered his:

First Beta Woe.

The “I can’t open this file can you resend it in format X?” request.

(Please imagine that ^ in fancy Monty Python Holy Grail calligraphy.)

One of those people who he asked to read was Paul. Though Paul had no trouble opening the file he did NOT immediately jump in and start reading. Paul had summer reading for a course he was taking and had promised himself he would read *no fiction* until he was done with his assigned reading. This revealed to Andrew his:

Second Beta Woe.

How can I tell if people are actually reading my book?

(old-timey illumination writing again)

Andrew started getting emails full of fantastic feedback from his beta readers. Sometimes he could jump right in and make changes, but other times he read that feedback in passing or on his phone. That’s when he encountered his:

Third Beta Woe.

Hunting for who left that one comment I really need right now that I read last week

(^ in fancy calligraphy, remember?)

Andrew did what most of us do: spent time searching through his emails and re-reading, digging for that one particular piece of feedback he was trying to remember, growing frustrated with the time wasted that he could be writing. Still he persevered and refined his manuscript and began to send out changed chapters. His awesome readers then sent back new feedback and he refined further that is when he encountered his:

Fourth Beta Woe.

What freaking version have these people read?

(this time maybe immagine a big movie title font or something annoying like comic sans)  

So Andrew, a programmer and problem solver, started imagining what could be done to make things better.

One day, Andrew ran into Paul and reminded him about his book. “Are you ever going to read it?” (second beta woe!)

“Sure, sure,” said Paul. Then, because he already had a mountain of assigned reading for a course he was taking, he quickly changed the subject. “How is your beta going anyway?”

“Mostly good,” Andrew said, shrugging, then he launched into a lengthy description of all the beta woes. Finally he sighed and shook his head. “It makes me want to write an app to fix all this. I’d call it BetaBooks.”

“That’s a great idea,” said Paul, feeling clever. “Such a good idea, that I refuse to read your book until I can read it in BetaBooks!”

Andrew frowned. “I really set myself up for that, didn’t I.”

And Paul smiled, certain that he’d bought himself the summer at least.

“Tell you what,” Andrew said. “I’ll never get it done if I work on it solo. Let’s do it together, I can write the code and you can do everything else.”

And the rest, as they say, was history.

Andrew had the rough bones of Beta Books ready quickly. He then ran the beta for the second draft of his novel on the site and loved it. All 4 of his woes were addressed, if a person could access the internet they could read his book, he could see right away how far they had read, all comments were easily searchable and linked to both reader and chapter and version.

Paul, meanwhile, put off all his assigned reading until two weeks before the course started and ended up reading Andrew’s novel way before that. But, he decided, it was worth it, because it turned out that helping people get better feedback on their books is a lot of fun.

Soon they decided the app was good enough to share with other people, and thus, BetaBooks was born.

(everything above was dramatized and condensed by Paul and then edited by Andrew so take it all with a grain of salt, those guys cannot be trusted(this is Paul))

The Future

Since the beginning we’ve worked hard to grow the site. Inviting new authors revealed new Beta Woes that we’ve worked to address. Encouraging comments and thanks from authors keeps us going. We have addressred some misconceptions (no we are not a service to help an author find readers, sorry) and refined most of our original tools. For instance: Tracking readers on a 7 person beta looks very different than tracking readers on a 50 person beta.

We’re learning as we go, and are happy to report BetaBooks has been growing steadily.

Do you want to use the site? You should! It is a great way to manage your beta online in a completely private way. Just go to betabooks.co and send us an access request. And if you are already on the site and like it, please tell your author friends :)