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The Perfect Beta/Author Relationship

Written by ladyinthecloak


You find yourself more and more absorbed in reading fan fiction, and then the unimaginable happens. You decide that you can write a story too. A plot bunny nips at your ankles, and eventually, you sit down and start writing. Then you spend a few hours daydreaming of your mailbox overflowing because every reader leaves a wonderful review.

You write the days away with never before felt enthusiasm, and when you reach the conclusion of the first chapter or story, you feel all giddy and excited, and you want to post your writings. You submit to a moderated archive, sit back, write the next chapter or a new story, and then the bomb shell hits: Your first chapter is rejected because too many errors have sneaked into your writing.

When you finally recover from the devastation that overcame you, you read the rejection letter again. Somewhere in there is the suggestion to find yourself a beta-reader, someone who can help you minimize the number of errors you might make.

With renewed energy, you post on lists and search forums to follow the advice to find a beta. Someone comes forward and offers to beta-read your story. You accept gratefully and again see visions of many reviews and your story appearing in the "Featured Story" section of an archive.

Then, one of two things will happen: either your corrected story will be accepted to a moderated archive, and both of you are happy, or your corrected story is rejected again, and you are unhappy. In that case, you'll probably wonder if your beta isn't all she claimed to be. And maybe you wonder if it could be that in your hurry to make your story available for the world to see, you ignored some or all of the corrections she suggested. Both writer and beta are disgruntled.

Some betas correct haphazardly, without pointing out the corrections they make. It makes it nearly impossible for the author to improve if she doesn't know which errors she made in the first place.

Some authors choose to follow the beta's suggestions for corrections, others do not.. The latter can lead to disaster when it comes to submitting to a moderated archive. And let's face it: some authors are happy with merely posting to sites like AFF or FFN, but most would love the stamp of approval by a moderated archive. After all, it makes their writing look so much better.

A moderated archive is ideally an archive that adheres to commonly accepted grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules, ensures canon spellings, canon content, and general plot consistency, whilst giving the author sufficient freedom to craft a story. The ideal archive will not only be polite in their rejection letter but also constructive.

A beta, ideally, is someone who is, whilst not necessarily accredited by Perfect Imagination, a wizard at spelling, grammar, and punctuation. As a writer, you write maybe a thousand words in a couple of hours, then read it over, leave it for a day or three, then read it over again, and again, and again. By the time you reach reading count eighteen, you will not see any more mistakes because you know what you've written by heart; therefore, you won't concentrate sufficiently to pick up superfluous commas or a missing letter in a word. So, you need a second set of eyes to weed out any spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, punctuation errors, plot holes.

The ideal beta will set corrections off so the author will notice them easily, for example square brackets [ ]. Empty brackets denote a deletion, filled brackets denote either a change or an addition, such as a comma [,]. This not only gives the author a chance to know exactly which changes were asked for but it also enables the author to improve their grammar, punctuation, spelling, as they go along. If the author learns as they write, it makes the beta job infinitely easier.

So, this is the basic requirement of a beta. However, this second set of eyes can do more. S/he can make suggestions to tweak sentences around to improve the flow of the writing. Ideally, this is done at the end of a sentence or paragraph, again set off with brackets [Suggestion: It flows better if you change it to "..." because...]

Furthermore, a beta can inspire a writer to move up to yet unknown heights of quality writing by pointing out what is likable about the writing. If the beta is moved because of a beautiful sentence, why not tell the author so? I squealed with delight when my beta included a personal note at the end of a chapter, saying, "That last bit sent shivers down my spine." It was most encouraging.

What are the duties of a writer? Every writer starts somewhere. Some have a good knowledge of the language, including punctuation, grammar, spelling; others have an intricate gift for weaving plots. Ideally, every writer improves over time, the more you write, the more your writing will improve, provided you are so willing. If your punctuation is poor, then please follow the suggestions of your beta in that regard. If you're not certain about a correction, ask! A good beta will always be able to back up their decisions.

A writer writes for the love of writing. A beta proofreads for the love of the language. The payment a writer receives is satisfaction, and if the story is what readers want, popularity. The beta remains mostly in the background; the payment is usually a public acknowledgment at the end of the chapter.

Without the beta, the writer won't progress as much. Without an author, the beta won't have the satisfaction of spreading the beauty of correct language. So, be respectful and nice to each other.

And please, the excuse that someone does not have a word processing program became redundant with the arrival of Open Office (http://www.openoffice.org), a free word processing program available for both PCs and iMacs.

Further recommended reading:


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