February 19th, 2013

Hey JJ, I've got a friend who's written some fanfiction in the past. Now she wants to take on something of more length and more storylines, and she's looking for a beta. I've never done that before and I'm not much of a writer myself; however, I think it's something I might be interested in. Any tips about beta-ing for someone?
Asketh - gaygleegirls

Hey, Taylor!

I’ve found that the key to effective betaing is strong communication. Talk to your friend a lot about her story—where she sees it going, what tone she wants for it, what uncertainties she has about it, etc. If she has an outline, ask her if you can see it. Ask her whatever questions you have about her project, then ask her what she’s looking for in a beta.

Some authors want a beta who is mostly a “copy editor”—i.e., someone who will check their spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Other authors want a beta to bounce ideas off of (i.e., “What do you think about this? Will it work if I have my character do this? How would you react as a reader to this sort of development?”). Other authors want someone to help them do research or to help them stay organized. Still others want someone simply to cheerlead them along and to help them stay motivated to keep going. Still others want someone who will tell them what to cut and what to keep. Others want someone who will simply liveblog reactions to a chapter as a “first reader,” just to give the author an idea of how his or her readers will respond.

I’ve found that most of my own author-beta relationships tend to involve some combination of all of the dynamics I’ve listed above. I’ve also found that I’m a more effective beta when I know what sort of feedback the author is looking for. The same goes for my betas for me.

For instance, one of the things (amongst many) that Han is really awesome about when she betas for me is making sure that I “follow my own rules”—i.e., that when I put a parenthetical line into TKTD, it acts like all the other parenthetical lines before it have acted. Sometimes I get carried away with those lines, but Han always knows how to help me use them to their best effect.

Tell your friend what you’re comfortable doing and what your limitations might be. If you know you suck at grammar, she can always have somebody else check that part of her work for her. If you don’t feel comfortable helping her plan out the logistics of sex scenes, tell her that up front.

Beyond that, just be honest. Most writers appreciate having someone who can tell them both what they’re doing well and what they could improve upon.

Try to give justifications for what you say. Don’t just tell your friend that something she’s written is good—tell her what exactly is good about it (i.e., “I love the way you’ve written this dialogue because it’s so disjointed. It really shows how upset this character is”).

Don’t be afraid to admit it when you don’t know something. If you’re not sure if a sentence is right, tell your friend that you’re not sure. Again, she can always get a second opinion when needed.

Also, be up front about your time commitments. If you know that you can only beta on weekends, make sure your friend knows that up front. If it will take you a day or two to get to the latest thing she’s sent you, make sure she knows that so that she’s not promising her readers an update that won’t come for a few days yet.

That’s my main advice, I guess.

Good luck with your project! I hope you have fun betaing; I know I usually do.

Thanks for writing in!

  1. gleerant said: Also, Taylor, JJ is a fabulous beta herself when it comes to my SFTF universe. She’s a pro at, “Did you consider this third option? Look at the consequences of each possibility.”
  2. themostrandomfandom posted this