Jess Creaden is a lifelong writer who fell into fiction along with parenthood. The book she has in beta now is, Re:Morse, a YA sci-fi/space opera. It was custom-ordered by her three children when they realized the libraries and bookstores didn’t have exactly what they were looking for. They wanted time travel, aliens, and AI with a humanistic focus—sort of a Star Trek meets Dr. Who meets Ender’s Game—and she built Contact Files, of which Re:Morse is the first book, with their wishes and diverse personalities in mind. What finally clinched the storyline in the end was when she learned about Stephen Hawking’s concept of “imaginary time.”
^ Seriously what a pitch for a book! I'm looking forward to seeing this one published.
Thanks for the interview, Jess!
1. How do you decide when a book is ready for people to read?
I work with several critique teams throughout the writing process—from early outlines, through rough drafts, and first revisions. Technically, my currents readers of Re:Morse are what I consider “alpha” readers, as I expect their feedback to influence my final draft choices considerably.
2. Who are your early readers and how did you find them?
I have a wide range of family, friends, and colleagues who’ve volunteered as alpha readers. They are writers—aspiring and professional—and readers who are familiar (or not) with my genre for this project. Most of my writer/readers are from my writing groups from www.scribophile.com.
3. What is it you look for in early reader feedback, and have you ever been surprised or learned something new about your book from you early readers?
At this early stage of feedback gathering, I’m ticking off psychometrics with each potential reader to figure out what they already like, what genres they’re drawn to, what fictional situations they avoid. By knowing this, I can guess where the readers will fall in their range of feedback chapter by chapter.
In this alpha/beta read already, I’ve been surprised by how neatly the feedback falls between writers versus readers. My readers who are also writers, to my surprise, are better at suspension of disbelief with this story than I expected, but that may be because so many of my early readers (who aren’t writers) aren’t familiar with YA or scifi. We’ll see!
4. As an author what do you value most about both your early readers and their input?
For this round of feedback, I most value readers who can “just read” the story from the first chapter to “The End” without attempting to pick apart every detail. To be fair, I have plenty of detail-oriented readers at this stage, but their input is typically not what affects the next draft the most. The main feedback I ask from readers is “Are you bored, skimming, or confused?” The detail-oriented group can’t answer these questions, because they let themselves get bogged down line by line with analysis.
Regardless, all feedback helps inform me of how well I’m fitting my target market. They’re reading my story, and I get the pleasure and benefit of listening to their reactions. Whether or not their feedback reshapes my next revision, it all helps grow my writing craft by helping me identify my strengths and weaknesses as a storyteller.
5. Is there anything you wish your early readers would do better, or skills you have had to instill in them over time?
I do wish they would say what they think without censor. I’d rather hear “I hate how this character responded” than have them attempt to identify what, specifically, threw them off the response, for example. I have critique groups to vet the story line by line, and they do an excellent job of finding every nit-picky detail, world issue, or setting prop. In a beta or alpha reader, I’m looking for higher-level feedback. I need them to all think like a reader, not to think of me, the writer, behind the work.
6. Do you get critiques or feedback other ways, for instance from a writers group as you are writing? If so do you think there is a difference between that process and what a beta reader does?
When I process early drafts with my critique groups, I may have them read three or four revisions of a scene as I experiment with different perspectives or plot turns. Until they get sick of that, of course, so I have them read another chapter or set of scenes, even as the other keeps changing. The result is that none of my critique groups are up to speed on the latest changes, and this affects their future feedback which may pinpoint a pattern of a problem that may no longer exist. I love the critique process, but, for me, this is its shortcoming.
An ideal beta reader sets aside their initial impressions (of the writer’s craft) and tries to let themselves become swept away in story. If they’re not, I try to find out where I lost them, but that’s really all I want to know.
7. What is the most frustrating thing about the beta reading process for you? (Yes this is both a point of interest and a way for us to dig for features)
Getting readers to just read. I’d love it if readers would let themselves jot down questions as they come up and cross them out as they get answered. Because, if a story is doing its job, it is going to answer questions as it goes. Big plot questions take a whole story (or sometimes series) to answer or solve.
It wouldn’t even be such a bad thing if the writer could review these questions for further feedback. That way, if a reader makes a comment at the end of a chapter that “this was confusing because I didn’t know X,” the writer can gauge that feedback by the questions that prompted it. If the reader is hung up on a setting or prop detail, or has missed an obvious answer, it would be helpful for the writer to track (and maybe even exclude with discretion) as they work with feedback.
Bonus Question: You used BetaBooks. If you care to mention, how has it helped your process? Was there anything you especially appreciated or found useful about it?
BetaBooks is everything I needed for an organized and accessible beta, because it allowed me to include readers who aren’t writers and writers without the tantalizing option of inline comments.
The feedback feature that allows me to search and select feedback is a godsend and what sold me on the site initially, because it lets me take everyone’s feedback but choose what I see. I may even transfer some of my broad-focus critique groups here eventually.
Thanks so much for the kind words, Jess!
- Paul and Andrew