Beta Reading & You
Part Two: Establishing Expectations

By Professor Jen F.

If you use FanFiction.net's listing for beta readers, and you've got a list of people who read in the fandom you're writing, go through and read each person's profile. See what his or her strengths are as a reader. Once you've found someone who appears to provide what you're looking for, then you need to contact them and confirm that they're still participating, and, if so, ask if they're available. If your fic is primarily a romantic pairing, make sure your reader is okay with that pairing; some people just don't care for certain pairings and would rather not read that. If they don't want to read your pairing, accept it, thank them, and move on to the next reader.

Once you've found someone willing and able to read your work, the two of you need to establish some ground rules and expectations. A little kafuffle with a beta reader is what prompted this additional article. And it was my bad, not hers, so I thought I would share what I learned from the experience.

Always remember to be considerate of a beta reader's time and effort. We can't assume they're just waiting around for something to beta and have nothing better or more important going on in their lives. We all have lives that supercede either side of the fan fiction element.

When requesting a beta read, here are some tips:

1) Be clear as to what you're looking for--over-all general thoughts of the plot or characterization, or do you want line edits for spelling, grammar, and punctuation, or do you want it all?

If you have questions about certain parts, don't mention them before the reader reads it--that may prejudice them. Ask after the fact, so they can give you their honest reaction.

2) Be clear about your experience as a writer; is this your first ever fic, your first fic in this fandom, or are you an experienced writer?

3) Be clear about how you'd like to receive your beta comments and corrections back--do you want the beta to mark up what you sent so you can compare it to the original and make corrections there? Or do you want the beta to make a list in a return e-mail or on a separate document?

This is one of the places my beta read of this person's fan fic got me into trouble--I am an active romance writer, therefore I judge contests and perform critiques for my fellow writers. I was taught to go paragraph by paragraph, highlighting the issue needing a fix (but not fixing it), and then to comment about it right under the paragraph and change the font color to blue so it's easier to differentiate from the text of the story itself. When us romance writers get back a contest entry or critique--we compare documents and make changes in our original or working version. Anyhow, this is also how I received a beta read back from another gal I had a look at my work.

But this first woman was so surprised to get back a terribly marked up story when all she wanted was my over-all general thoughts about the plot. Okay--my bad. :( Plus she was upset because now she had to go and unmark the story, which was awfully inconvenient for her.

4) You may want to do a trial beta read--just send a chapter and see if the beta reader understands and provides what you're looking for. If not, thank him or her and move on.

5) Please send the best version of your work you have (see the companion article on beta reading).

6) Don't get pissy. It's hard to infer how a person is writing something. Always be polite and refrain from getting into a pissing contest with the person who beta'd your work. Even if it wasn't what you wanted, or you disagree, always remember the reader took time out of their life to help you.

I'm not saying you can't have a healthy discussion about aspects of writing or why you do or don't do something. This is important if you and your beta reader hit it off and you're going to continue to work together.

If youíre the beta reader, here are some tips:

1) Make sure you understand what the reader is looking for. You may want to rephrase what the reader has said so that he or she knows you understand what thy want. If you are confused, ask until you're certain.

2) Make sure you provide only what the writer has asked for. If there's other stuff, just mention it, and ask if the writer is interested in additional comments.

3) Make sure you understand how the writer is expecting back your comments/corrections/thoughts.

4) Feel out the reader on his or her sensitivity level; then be as honest as you can, but be tactful. Sometimes that's really hard, so find something positive to comment on and leave it at that.

5) Never hesitate to praise the good stuff, not just mark the bad stuff. If itís funny, say so. If itís a clever turn of phrase, say so. If theyíve nailed the characterization, say so. If itís a great plot idea, say so.

If you have anything that I havenít covered, here, let me know and we'll add it.

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