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The institution of the "Beta" - The Fandom Psychiatrist
October 14th, 2006
03:37 pm


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The institution of the "Beta"
In response to a friend of mine's suggestion, this next post for fandom_psych will be on the institution of the beta.

Now, admittedly, that is a very large topic, large enough that it is its own semi-official holiday of "Beta Appreciation Day."

So, today we'll just focus on just one narrow aspect and leave the rest for later discussions. Therefore, we might as well just start at the base:

What does it mean to "Beta"?

(please note that the immediate following section is not meant to be answered to as questions; it is suggestions of a range of possibilities of what it means to be a beta)

Does it mean to just be a proofreader? A person to bounce ideas off of? A person who acts as a gatekeeper for an archive? A second author? Grammar police? A place to get a second opinion? And so on and so forth.


I remember, several months back, reading an entry on the different types of betas; if someone could find that link, it would be most appreciated.

Well, that's it for today. Please spread the word about this comm in your own journals; the more people we have, the better!

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(3 comments | Leave a comment)

Date:October 14th, 2006 09:23 pm (UTC)
A beta to me is someone who will help you with grammar, typos, misspellings, et al. Basically, an editor. I'm the type of writer where I do all the hard stuff first and basically just need someone to double check it, because mistakes always get through, the pesky things. I rarely use a beta as someone to bounce ideas off of - I usually save that for people I really know and trust and respect as fellow writers, if that makes sense. That's just the nature of me though. I admit I'm probably far too private about that stuff.

Which is not to say I don't ask my betas for their opinions and ideas. It's just not my first job for them, if you know what I mean. By the time I send something to a beta, I'm pretty sure it's the way I want it. I like to make their job as easy as possible, basically. It's my story - I should be the one doing the hard stuff, not them. I enjoy betas that let me know what they like as well as let me know if anything doesn't work exactly. I absolutely abhor betas that re-write things and insert their own writing into things. At that point I want to tell them to write their own damn story and leave mine alone. But the occasion of that is very rare, thankfully. Although I've heard that other people have had issues.

Overall, I think communication is key. I like a beta who lets me know things and who I feel comfortable with. It's harder to find than you'd think! I'm lucky with the ones I've had.
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Date:October 15th, 2006 02:07 am (UTC)
A beta... is a progammer who tests computer codes and interfaces in the last stages of development.


You mean a fic beta!


I'm an editor--a pro beta, if you will. But there are many different kinds of editor, and just so, different betas serve different functions. (Frequently, one editor will handle one function but never all--every text needs multiple sets of eyes.)

Here's how the editorial process works with books:

First there's aquisition--the book gets purchased. This is handled by... surprise! the aquisition editor. This function is handled by community mods. Then the manuscript is prepared--depending on how much work it needs this is called either developmental (that is, deep) or line editing--which involves moving the text around, making sure that there are no inconsistencies or discontinuities, that the prose sparkles and that the story or argument works. This is the kind of editing work I do best, and my favorite kind of beta. :grins at aberforths_rug:

Then you go through the copy-edit phase, in which the style is cleaned up--grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors get caught and cleaned up. Most good betas do a great job of this. (I'm okay at this.)

Then the edited text gets sent off to the folks who typeset the book--this is automated in most fic situations, though it's occasionally handled by site mods--when they talk about coding, this is what they're talking about.

Then it goes through proofreading--an exhaustive final edit to make sure that there aren't any spelling, punctuation or gross style errors and that the typesetting hasn't introduced any new problems. Though this stage of development doesn't usually show up here in fic betaing, the proofreader is the most typical good beta. Misspelling? All over it. Comma instead of a period? Taken care of. (I'm okay at this, but not great--more a big-picture person than a detail person, you know, and proofreaders are the epitome of, erm, anal.)

There are a lot of betas--if the thank-yous on fics are any indication--who see their role simply as being excited readers/fangirls. "ZOMG!!!!11!! SO KEWL!"

That's not a beta. That's someone doing the author a disservice by withholding constructive feedback.
[User Picture]
Date:October 16th, 2006 12:28 am (UTC)
I think a beta is many different things -- frequently not all in one person. A beta may...

1. Toss around ideas with the author, helping her find a direction for her plot, or suggesting elements she may have overlooked.

2. Look for insufficiencies in the story -- "You need more xxx, and you need to strengthen yyy, and I think zzz is much too vague.

3. Look for plot holes, or things that don't mesh. I see this as a little different from #2, more black and white. Like, I once noted that using one bedsheet was not enough to excape from a 3rd-floor window. Or, the OC has this characteristic early in the story, but the opposite later in the story. But that's more direct than #2, not as nebulous.

4. Fix grammar -- tenses, run-on sentences, overuse of passive verbs, etc.

5. Oversee appropriate language / local idiom use -- Doyle and Bodie will use a lift, Jim and Blair will use an elevator. For this, it's wise to have a beta who's a native in the particular style of English being used.

6. Recognize and fix spelling. Not different styles (honor/honour are equal in my eyes), but things like to/too/two, or site/cite/sight, or simple typos.

7. Give the author a second opinion of the effectiveness of the story, or if something feels "lacking".

As I said, not every person is equally adept at every beta skill. I'm pretty strong in 3, 4, 5, and 6, but absolutely lousy at 1, 2, and 7. Therefore the authors I beta for, have another beta who helps with those aspects.

Gatekeeper for an archive? As in, is this story worthy of being included? I would consider that a judge, rather than a beta, or just an "Archive Mom". Somebody has to make the decisions for a small archive, if it has standards more exclusive than "come one, come all". But, unless they make suggestions about the story, I wouldn't consider it to be "beta".
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