Beta Reading Articles
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Beta Reading Samples: 1. Introduction
Brief comments in a HASA forum or by e-mail
Authors generally love receiving comments on their stories at HASA. As well as praising the parts of the story the reader liked, readers sometimes also leave suggestions for changes. (For example, Regina quite correctly pointed out to me in a forum thread that the Rohirrim in one of my stories would probably not refer to Éowyn as “The White Lady” but as “Lady Éowyn”, and I went and changed it in the story.) Author and reader may debate the feedback further, but the comments are typically restricted to just one or two points and the debate is brief. The beta relationship does not extend beyond that story.
Working through the HASA forums to resolve particular issues
Some authors use the HASA forums to get more detailed feedback over the longer term with a semi-regular group of readers. One great example of working with reviewers is Shadow975. See the discussion of Chapter19 of her story “An End to Innocence”. Her thread in the same discussion on Chapter 16 is a good example of something not working right for an author and the author using forum comments to define and fix the problem. It is a lesson on how to get the most out of people who are willing to comment.
Working through HASA Workshops
Early in 2005, HASA launched a new section, called Workshop, specifically to support beta-reading. Workshop allows you to:
- Make general, beta or even off-list stories available to a limited group of members, away from the gaze of the general membership
- Make comments directly onto copies (or "clones") of chapters, using a WYSIWYG editor
- Discuss stories through dedicated and private forums
A grammar, spelling and canon beta
Gwynnyd kindly wrote a short vignette with many, many errors to allow us to demonstrate how a strict grammar, spelling and canon beta would tackle this piece. This can be found in Chapter 2. (My thanks to Gwynnyd — this is most definitely not representative of her usual fine abilities with words!) This type of beta would typically be provided through e-mail or Workshop.
A plot, characterisation, continuity and style beta — short comments
Chapter 3 shows how a beta reader might provide fairly high-level comments by e-mail or through a forum on the same piece (with the grammatical errors corrected). Here, the beta reader points out general issues about plot, characterisation, continuity and style, without delving into many specific passages.
The beta circle — full beta
Chapters 4 to 8 demonstrate how a beta circle can work together in a workshop, by showing how a short story by Marta (“How Many Years?”) evolved in response to beta comments made by two members of her beta circle, Gwynnyd and Tanaqui. There is a fourth member of the beta circle, Lady Aranel, who for real-life reasons was not able to participate in this particular beta process. However, the four members are normally all working on stories simultaneously and all providing beta comment on most drafts.
Chapter 4 explains how the beta circle came into existence in the first place, while chapters 5 to 8 show how the piece developed through four drafts. Beta comments here covered every issue from identifying a canon error that required some fairly serious re-jigging of the piece through style suggestions to nitpicking on grammar. The betas generally suggested fixes for issues, sometimes redrafting sentences or even whole paragraphs as the easiest way to explain what they felt was wrong. (These chapters are quite heavy reading, but we hope studying them will provide useful insights.)
This is how we do beta in our beta circle; other people may (and undoubtedly do) work in different ways. In addition, by the time Marta wrote this piece, we had worked together intensively for several months on a number of stories and were very comfortable with each other. This allowed us to be fairly direct in our suggestions, confident that the others (especially the author) would not be offended and that the author would feel free to reject them if she didn’t like them. When working with someone we had not previously beta’ed for — and in the early days of our group when we were still establishing if we could work together — we would all probably take more time and care to express ourselves and explain our suggestions.
(Author’s note from Tanaqui: many thanks to Marta and Gwynnyd for allowing me to use this glimpse into the workings of our beta circle, and to Lady Aranel, Marta and Gwynnyd for allowing me to share the strange process through which we forged our friendship.)
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