Beta Reading Articles
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Beta Reading at HASA: 3. How to find a beta reader at HASA
Some general points. First, established members often provide brief comments to new writers through the forums. They are certainly encouraged to read and comment if they see an SSP for a story about a subject that interests them but where the author is not known to them, since new members find comment and notice from an established member very encouraging. However, new members should be aware that established members do not often end up providing detailed beta reading services for new members, simply because they are often already heavily committed to existing beta partners. This does not mean they consider your piece dull or beneath them, that they are not keen to see other pieces from you in the future, or that they do not like you as a person. What typically seems to happen is that each “cohort” of new members forms into beta circles with other people who joined around the same time. (On the other hand, partnerships between veteran and new members certainly do form and no one wants to discourage that!)
Secondly, members are likely to have more success finding the right beta reader for them if they consider what kind of beta support they want before they make a request, and then try the routes that have been shown to typically yield that kind of beta support most readily.
Thirdly, members are more likely to find beta readers for their own pieces if they offer to beta other people’s pieces first, or if they are generally active members of HASA and other fandom communities. This is because other people are more likely to read your stories if you comment on theirs (if only out of curiosity or to get a sense of how much weight they wish to give to your comments), or if they recognise your name from a discussion and wonder what your writing is like. Of course, beta reading is not always strictly reciprocal, so you can’t guarantee someone will return the beta reading favours. But beta reading for someone else will almost certainly improve your own abilities as a writer: you will be better able to identify, analyse and propose fixes for issues with pacing, plot, characterisation and style when editing your own stories.
Finally, as was stated earlier, not everyone who offers to beta read will be right for a particular author and members are not obliged to accept beta help from everyone who offers. An author may say at any point: “Thanks for the help — the time and effort you have put in are much appreciated — but I’d prefer not to receive any more help from you in future.” The beta reader should always respect the author’s wishes.
So, here are the top ten tactics for finding a beta reader.
1. Strike up a dialogue: answer someone’s specific request for information in the HASA research forums or other fandom communities, or participate in the general discussions at HASA and elsewhere. Since a beta relationship involves a lot of trust, finding someone whose personality and interests mesh with yours is a good start. This approach works best where you are looking for a long-term beta relationship rather than immediate comment.
2. Comment (in a forum or by e-mail) on someone’s story that you liked, but where you feel there is a fairly non-contentious issue you can mention (such as a minor canon error). If you get an encouraging response, offer to provide more comments. Becoming a beta reader for this person may result in them being interested in becoming a beta reader for your stories (although there’s no guarantee of this). Again, this approach works best where you are looking for a long-term beta relationship rather than immediate comment. You should also be prepared for the author to not wish to receive more comments from you and respect their wishes if they ask (in a courteous manner, hopefully) for you not to comment again.
On very rare occasions, an author will request that you not comment on their work for various reasons. The request should obviously be phrased politely, and the commentator should be understanding and honour the request. It hasn't been used yet, but in the unusual circumstance of a member continuing to post unwanted commentary to an author's forum, the author can 'block' someone from making further posts to that forum. The HASA Admins certainly hope not to see the level of discourtesy that would require that step to be taken (HASA members are a polite bunch on the whole), but it is an option.
3. Put your story in beta at HASA and link it to your discussion forum. Beta status is specifically designed to indicate that you are soliciting feedback from other members.
You are more likely to encourage feedback if you pose specific questions in your forum about your story that you would like answered. (Do you feel the characterisation of Pippin’s relationship with his father is convincing? Was my description of Great Smials sufficiently evocative? Did you find the incident with the dog amusing?) Of course, you can invite general comments as well, but it will help beta readers who do not know you if they know what sort of comments would prove useful to you.
Because there are many active authors at HASA and a significant number of stories in beta, people often also post an SSP [Shameless (or Shamefaced) Story Promotion] at the HA Yahoo group or on other lists to alert people that they have posted a new story, or an update, at HASA and are seeking feedback.
This approach clearly works best when you are seeking very specific feedback on a particular story. However, it can also lead to long-term beta relationships.
Note: It seems to have become less clear to members recently that, by selecting beta status for your story, you are stating to other members that you are actively soliciting constructive criticism from all members (not just members you already know). If you do not wish to receive feedback at this point, or only wish a select circle of people to comment, please use general status. You can then either put the story into a Workshop (see below for more information), or get the people you wish to comment to sign up to be alerted when you update the story (by clicking on to the “Sign up” button in the Alerts & Recs area of the Story Summary). You can then contact them using the story promotion feature in the My Stuff area when you have a new version for them to look at.
The HASA Admins would remind members that if someone unexpectedly leaves comments at your forum, you should treat this as a pleasant surprise, even if you disagree with the feedback. Please thank them for their efforts, even if you do not wish to receive further input from them. This will encourage them to comment again on stories by other authors, even if you indicate that you personally did not find their suggestions on your story useful
4. If you are looking for specific expertise (perhaps you need canon help on a particular culture you don’t normally write), approach someone on the list of beta readers who offers that expertise. The list of beta readers is long, so try using the “Find on this page” feature in your browser to search for specific characters or cultures. You can then e-mail a potential beta reader, using the HASA Members’ e-mail facility, with a polite note in which you explain what kind of beta-reading assistance you are looking for. Provide a brief summary of your story and an indication of its length. Please remember to mention any content that other members may find objectionable (such as slash, explicit sex scenes, violence, angst).
Please note that a listing on the beta readers’ list does not commit a member to reading anything. Potential beta readers are quite likely to decline to take on specific stories either because they are too busy or because your story does not appeal.
Note: to assist authors, all members offering beta-reading services through the list of beta readers are asked to keep their information current and to be as specific as possible. This will help authors identify potential beta readers more easily. Tanaqui’s current listing, for example, reads:
Like to Read: I am a good canon beta for most aspects of the Hobbit, LotR and UT, but my speciality (obsession) is Gondor, in particular Faramir and Denethor. I also feel I am strong at plot, pacing and characterisation. I enjoy beta-ing stories outside my normal area of expertise, where I can ask "idiot questions" that may help you identify where your use of canon is too obscure for the general reader.
Won't Read: Pure PWP and very graphic sex scenes in stories that do have a plot, since I will probably find it hard not to laugh at it (my idea of erotic is almost certainly not the same as yours). Slash unless you have a really good reason for it that enhances understanding of the characters and have situated it properly in the social framework of your story. Definitely no Frodo/Sam slash or LotR-era sibcest. Not a pure grammar beta.
Please decline requests for beta reading politely. If a story is of interest but you are currently too busy to take it on but can see that you would have time shortly, please let the author know and ask them to approach you again within a specified timeframe if they are still looking for comment.
5. Appeal for a beta reader through the I need a beta reader thread. Explain what kind of beta-reading assistance you are looking for and provide a brief summary of your story and an indication of its length. Please remember to mention any content that other members may find objectionable (such as slash, explicit sex scenes, violence, angst). Again this probably works best where you want comment on a specific aspect of a particular story.
Members are asked to post an update in the thread when they do get a beta through this route, since it makes it clear to people that this approach does work.
6. Activate yourself as a beta reader, keep your entry up to date and respond to enquiries for beta reading that interest you. Keep an eye on appeals for beta readers in the I need a beta reader thread and take other members up on that when you see something that interests you. These are both tactics that may provide you with a long-term reciprocal beta reader, although this is not guaranteed. You can find a tutorial on how to activate yourself as a beta reader by clicking on the tutorial link on beta readers page.
7. If your story has passed through review, ask for feedback in the Request for Review Decisions forum, (whether it was approved or rejected). Again, this is most likely to get you specific feedback on that story but may lead to a long-term beta relationship.
8. All members (not just those who dealt with a particular story in review) are invited to respond to requests for feedback in the Request for Review Decisions forum. Again, this is a tactic that may provide you with a long-term reciprocal beta reader, although this is not guaranteed.
9. Start a challenge: other writers entering the challenge will probably read your entry at least and give you broad feedback. Some of them may ask you – as challenge originator – to comment on their entry before they post it. Again, this tactic may provide you with a long-term reciprocal beta reader, although this is not guaranteed.
10. Participate in the Beta – try before you buy discussion. This is a place for authors looking for a beta reader and members willing to offer beta reading services to "try each other on for size". You can use it to form an author-beta pair for either a single story or for a longer term relationship spreading over many stories. You can also use it if you are interested in forming a beta circle of perhaps three to five members who will work intensively together over the long term. Members interested in offering beta reading services will be able to quickly find story extracts from authors who want betas. New members, who may be unclear what being a beta involves or who are unsure whether they can be a good beta, can try out the role and receive feedback.
Early in 2005, HASA launched a new section, called Workshop, specifically to support beta-reading. Workshop allows you to:
- Set up a private workshop where you can work with your existing beta partners in private on your stories.
- Join or set up an open workshop where you can meet other members interested in the same topics and invite them to provide beta comments on your stories. Any member can join any open workshop, so it's a good way to find members with common interests who may be willing to beta-read your stories. We already have a number of workshops focused on particular characters, genres and topics. If you don't see see what you're looking for, start a new workshop!
- Join a site workshop. These are set up by the HASA admins to support site activities, such as the Birthday Card Challenge or research work in Resources, but we also have some general Site workshops based around particular races. Again, this is a way to meet other members with common interests.
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