Forum: Being a Beta Reader

Discussing: Being a beta

Being a beta

After the thrill of knowing I've written something good, the best part of fanfic writing is the thrill of reading something good by someone else before anyone else gets to - of being a beta reader.

I don't have much time to do beta reading, and can't take on as many stories as I would like, but it is one of the best, most rewarding parts of being involved with a set of fellow writers.

I think that the most important aspect of being a beta reader is working with an author whom you trust to be honest with you, and who trusts you to be honest in return. This is because the beta reader is both the author's biggest supporter (you think they write greeat stuff, and everybody should read it!) and their biggest critic.

What are your thoughts on this?

Ang

 

 

Re: Being a beta

I agree on the trust issue. I think one has to know what an author want's out of their beta to really do a good job. I'll proof and tackle word usage and tenses without a second thought. But if someone is more flowery than I think is effective, I won't say much about it unless I know someone well enough to know they welcome it. I also find it much easier to beta stories I like at least somewhat.

 

 

Re: Being a beta

Reading a story you simply do not like is doing a disservice to the author, I think. The both of you are caught in a situation where your only honest advice is "Ditch it." That's not good. That it may be correct advice is beside the point - you're in no position to judge.

I attack prose hammer and tongs if I don't like it, and will give the author examples of rewrites I think work. Typo and punctuation correction, subject/object agreement checking, and basic grammar are things I do automatically, whether the author asks for them or not. Pity the poor soul who gets a red-line from me! But I don't hesitate to say if I think someone's style is detracting from the purpose of the tale.

I've had to stop accepting work for beta reading due to increases in RL work and in HASA related coding (plus my own writing - huzzah!). To do a good job means giving real attention to the work. And, I agree, you need to know who you're reading for. I won't change how I read and comment, but I do pick who I'll do this for.

Ang

 

 

Re: Being a beta

I used to beta more than I do now. In Star Trek DS9 circles, I've been called "famous." I've won awards with my stories and gotten hundreds (not necessarily on ff.net) of reviews. So people would read my stuff, and like it. Then they'd ask me to read theirs. Some of it was really terrible. Or maybe it showed potential, but it required so much "red-lining" that it took way too much time. I finally had to stop.

However, I will usually offer some sort of beta process to a WIP (now that I'm reading them again, darn it.) that I really like. Like Dwim's stuff. I pointed out a typo in a review. She asked where it was. So I went through all her stories that I'm reading and pointed out the typos and grammar fixes. If she'd had an awkward sentence or anything, I'd have pointed that out, too. Her reply to my review told me she cared about the story and wanted as close to perfection as she could get.

When I read another story and thought it had great potential but myriad grammar problems, I offered to beta. I was turned down. I probably shouldn't have, but I beta'd a scene to show the author what I could offer. I was still turned down. The author still stayed in contact with me, letting me know when another chapter was posted. I sent comments after reading the chapters, but not betas. I had gotten the message that the author didn't want it. The story's grammar did, I'm glad to say, improve as the story went on.

I can read for enjoyment and beta at the same time, though one obviously takes longer than the other. Because of that, I can offer some form of beta service to select stories I'm reading. I say select, because of the added time. I'd only offer to the really great stories and to author's that I know will accept it.

--Ainaechoiriel

 

 

Re: Being a beta

I think the biggest problem is the unclear expectations in the term "beta."

Betaing can be:

1) simply copy-editing and proofreading for grammar,

or

2) it can encompass stylistic issues,

or

3) it can include continuity all the way up to major plotholes.

And there are going to be subjective aspects to especially the latter two.

I think it would be very helpful if both author and beta were extremely clear from the beginning about what they were negotiating for. (I had this problem in school, with people asking me to edit their papers when the combined total of not misspellings but wrong words, lack of grammar to the point of total incoherence, and the fact that the premise indicated complete incomprehension of the source materials simply overwhelmed my mental processing ability. No time to teach the rudiments of English and critical thought to a sophmore humanities student only interested in handing in 5 pages tomorrow -- and I wasn't about to write someone else's paper for them.)

But if this were clarified, then I think that the hurt feelings that sometimes result when authors don't take betas' advice might be reduced if not eliminated -- spelling is objective, but an author may legitimately disagree with other changes, (though may also be mistaken. ) Brainstorming sessions with my beta have resulted in entire additional scenes as well as line changes, but ultimately it's my call. And when I'm asked for plot/structural advice, I try to explain why *I'd* do something stylistically, and to offer several different options with reasons for.

 

 

Re: Being a beta

> Betaing can be:
> 1) simply copy-editing and proofreading for grammar,
> or
> 2) it can encompass stylistic issues,
> or
> 3) it can include continuity all the way up to major plotholes.


Yes, and some of us can only do one or two of those.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm an excellent copy editor, but a sucky beta-reader. My thought processes on a story are at the lizard brain level - either "ooh, Forodwaith like", or "rrrr, story bad". And while I can sometimes articulate what it was about the story that either horrified or delighted me, I can almost never offer suggestions for changing it.

 

 

Re: Being a beta

I think it would be very helpful if both author and beta were extremely clear from the beginning about what they were negotiating for.

Absolutely. There are, as you say, different "levels" of beta-ing, some essentially objective, but many much more subjective. If you don't like the general style of someone's writing, you're not going to be a good beta for them, unless all they are asking for is the mechanical stuff and you're willing to stick to that.

I'm just dipping my toes into the beta water - I've beta-ed one or two things, but have had to decide that I can't do any more right now due to other time commitments. Proofing I'm willing to do for one or two people *waves at Ang* because that's slightly less time-intensive for me. But I'm beginning to hesitantly seek beta help for a couple of my own works - I don't need mechanical feedback, I'm good at that (though of course I have occasional typos as everyone does), what I would need is input on continuity and plot.

A late friend and I used to tear apart my stories, line by line almost, talking about the use of certain words and phrases, what worked, what didn't, in terms of characterization and style. That was so much fun for me, because I love language and using it precisely to convey something. (Of course that's why I have plot problems; I can get more interested in how I'm saying something than what it is I'm trying to say.)

Feedback from her almost always resulted in improvements, even though she was awfully kind and rarely said something stank! I didn't always agree with her, or take her advice, but we were pretty in tune with regard to what we thought constituted a good story and good writing - I think that's what's really critical in a beta reader - author relationship.

 

 

Re: Being a beta

I agree, the more the beta and author can confer and brainstorm, the better the result is likely to be. I'd like to mention also what I've gotten from being a beta reader- a much better awareness of what goes into a good story. Spotting another author's pacing problems has helped some with my own. Looking at the way someone else handles language makes me more wary of what I do with mine.

I think the difficult point for betaing comes about when you agree to beta, having never read that person's work. You don't know what you're getting into, how little or much you will enjoy reading their story. Yet, as a new author, I'm grateful that people agreed to take on my story sight unseen.

 

 

Re: Being a beta

In another fandom I was contacted by someone whom I knew a little through fan circles to ask me to beta their story. It wasn't a brilliant story but it wasn't bad either - it needed a fair bit of grammatical/spelling editing and I did question the degree of some of the characters' reactions. I honestly did also highlight all the stuff I enjoyed and thought worked well... anyway, she quit writing!! I've been *very* wary of beta-ing for anyone ever since. As someone said you do need to know the writer and whether they share similar standards to you. I run a small writers group (no, you don't have to be height-challenged... ;-)) in another fandom and after each activity we have to do feedback for each other. You soon learn that there are certain people for whom it is a waste of time. They will accept no criticism or even suggestions for improvement. They seem to be the ones who are too close to their stories/too in love with their characters. Interestingly I find they are also the weakest at giving feedback - tending to stick to the entirely unhelpful 'I liked that/that was good'. *sigh*


Avon

 

 

Re: Being a beta

...anyway, she quit writing!! I've been *very* wary of beta-ing for anyone ever since.

You're not blaming yourself about that, I hope - there are always people around who just aren't good at taking criticism, and sometimes even they don't realize it till they've had some...

Celandine

 

 

Re: Being a beta

You're not blaming yourself about that, I hope

Well, yes. ;-) Hey, I can do guilt for less reason than that ;-) I do know that in the end she made her own decision but it was just horrible at the time. There was me apologising, a mututal friend apologising on my behalf, and me running around frantically asking other people I'd edited/beta-ed for if they felt there was a problem with how I did it. *shudder* She still doesn't write and oddly enough ;-) I don't hear from her any more.

Avon
(but thank you for the reassurance)

 

 

Re: Being a beta

Hey, I can do guilt for less reason than that ;-) I do know that in the end she made her own decision but it was just horrible at the time.

Oh, I do understand. But I'm completely with Celandine on this one - though I know the "don't feel guilty" advice is pretty hard to follow. We feel what we feel.

Of course, criticism can be too harsh, but it sounds to me, from the level of your anxiety about this, that you would not fall into the category of "reviewers who are too harsh." So consider this. She may have quit writing for now, but she may well start again. And if she does start again, you have probably done her a huge favor, by giving her that first taste of someone not thinking what she wrote was perfect. She could never, ever, ever become a better writer if she couldn't hear criticism, and it may be that what you've done is caused her to take a step back, and then quite possibly, come *back* to writing with a more mature and open attitude.

She may never come back to writing. But if she doesn't, it's probably because it's not what she needs, and she now has the time to find what it is that she *does* need, rather than hacking away at writing when it's not really filling her up. And if she does come back to it, I can almost promise you she'll be a better writer because of what you told her - she'll be better because you had the courage to give her that first real and honest criticism, without which writers do not grow.

Hope that made sense. I should have been in bed three hours ago.

Argh.

Nighty-night!
-Rachel

 

 

Re: Being a beta

>I think the difficult point for betaing comes about when you agree to >beta, having never read that person's work. You don't know what >you're getting into, how little or much you will enjoy reading their >story. Yet, as a new author, I'm grateful that people agreed to take >on my story sight unseen.

(sorry for the silly arrows; I can't figure out how you guys get the italics when referencing the former message!!)

I am definitely a new author, and would love to have a beta. But I think that I would enjoy being one as well, even though I am not an editor by trade. As others have pointed out, some people may be looking for more grammar/syntax advice; others for convincing emotional reponses, geographical feasibility, etc. Honesty of expectations between author and critiquer should make for a very fruitful endeavor. And time must be a factor- how any of us make the time for these wonderful creative enterprises amidst what all else we're doing is beyond me... then again, that's how Tolkien wrote his stories, in bits and pieces when not at his "real job."

 

 

Re: Being a beta

(sorry for the silly arrows; I can't figure out how you guys get the italics when referencing the former message!!)


Given I learnt how to do this yesterday ;-) ... You copy and paste the bit you want to quote and use html to get the italics. If you're not a techie type then simply type < i > at the beginning and < /i > when you want to turn off the italics but without the spaces

Avon

 

 

Re: Being a beta

Thank you, Rachel. Yep, that does make sense and it is a reassuring thought.

Avon

 

 

Re: Being a beta

And time must be a factor- how any of us make the time for these wonderful creative enterprises amidst what all else we're doing is beyond me...

I would never get any of this done, I suspect, if my project managers were any quicker off the mark than they are.... I do so much in the five minute periods between asking the question and getting the answer.

 

 

Re: Being a beta

that's how Tolkien wrote his stories, in bits and pieces when not at his "real job."

Indeed - that's how I wrote a vignette a couple of days ago! (Hadn't written anything in a month, and was frothing at the mouth.)

But finding a good beta is art, not science, just as being a good beta is one. I am not a good beta myself - I am a good copy editor, though. So that's what I can offer, on the rare occasions when I have time.

Celandine

 

 

Re: Being a beta

I'd quite like to try my hand at beta'ing. I almost feel guilty for asking people to look at my stuff, and never doing anyone else's in return. But I have no idea whether I'd be any good at it - and I don't think its something I'd know until I tried it and sent it back to someone to see if they think I'm any good.

So, has anyone got anything with hobbits, Elrond or Aragorn that they need beta'ing and would be happy for me to experiment on? (short would probably be a good idea).


Nic

 

 

Re: Being a beta

Nic, you could also sign up as a beta reader and see if you get any nibbles that way - and/or make the offer on the HA list, too.

Cel, who doesn't have anything suitable to offer for practice at this time

 

 

Re: Being a beta

I'm not sure about the signing up thing when I'm experimenting really. I might post to the list though - I'll see if anyone reads this first.


Nic

 

 

Re: Being a beta

I am definitely a new author, and would love to have a beta.

I'll beta you anytime, Thevina. You've done enough of my stuff, and you are a good writer. believe me, I do not make the offer lightly.

Lindorien

 

 

Re: Being a beta

Of course, criticism can be too harsh, but it sounds to me, from the level of your anxiety about this, that you would not fall into the category of "reviewers who are too harsh." So consider this. She may have quit writing for now, but she may well start again. And if she does start again, you have probably done her a huge favor, by giving her that first taste of someone not thinking what she wrote was perfect. She could never, ever, ever become a better writer if she couldn't hear criticism, and it may be that what you've done is caused her to take a step back, and then quite possibly, come *back* to writing with a more mature and open attitude.

I agree whole heartedly. I am still new to this community, and before I started working on my story this summer, I had not written anything for many years. I got too caught up in my story that I thought that once I posted on ff.net (the first site I found) I would get all of these great reviews. Well, I have gotten a few good comments on it (none of which are 'this is so cool!' type, which is nice), but I did get one that wasn't so hot.

The person complimented me on my style, but merely didn't like the plot. I was in complete shock about this, and tried to get the person to change their mind through a long chain of emails, but they nicely said that they were not interested in reading my story. Well, this threw me into a tailspin, and I serioulsy started to doubt my work. (At times I still do.) But I think the main reason why I was so upset was because it deflated my big head, and I had to realize that though many people may like my story, there are some who do not, and I had to lose my ego. It took me about a month, but in the end I just slapped myself and decided that I will keep writing my story, no matter what anyone thinks, and that I will find someone to beta.

So I have found a beta (THANK YOU KHAZAR!) who has really been a great help in helping me fix up my rusty writing and has helped me through a small crisis, and I am now grateful to the person who left me that review. (If you're reading this, you know who you are, and I thank you too!) It's helped me grow up a bit! So in the end, that's probably what this lady might be going through the same thing I did.
Constructive critism is good!


Arquen

 

 

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