the delphic expanse

Beta reader? Proof reader? WTF?

Here's general open information about the writing workshops we offer here. You can announce your intention to workshop a fic or open a for everyone's eyes discussion. Fics are workshopped in the private workshop forum. You can also look for a beta reader and discuss betaing issues here.

Beta reader? Proof reader? WTF?

Postby Aquarius » Tue Sep 21, 2010 9:02 am

If you've ever beta'd a fic, or if you've ever went looking for help from a beta reader, there is something important that many people should know, and don't, even the betas themselves: the difference between a beta reader and a proof reader.

A proof reader will make sure your i's are dotted and your t's are crossed...that your words are spelled correctly, that your commas are all in the right place. They may make suggestions for improvement with things like structure and mechanics...or maybe not, depending on their skill level.

If you have asked for someone to beta read for you, and this is all they've done, they have not beta read. They have proof read.

A beta-reading goes much deeper. Borrowed from the world of computers, it's like "beta testing"--does this story make sense within the context of the universe in which its written? How well does what's written hold up to canon? The characters' voices--are they spot on? Or do they sound like strangers--if you close your eyes and substitute the names Sue and Bill, do you still have a strong sense of who they're supposed to be like? Or do they come off as someone completely different? Does the plot make sense? Do you have a strong sense of where/when everything is taking place? And so forth.

Later I will post a comprehensive checklist of things for authors and beta readers to look for--and it is even a handy reference for reviewers who sometimes struggle with expressing what they liked/didn't like about a fic.

My point here is, be specific. If all you're looking for is a proof reader, if your're the type who gets all offended if the person helping you goes beyond finding whatever spell check missed, you're looking for a proof reader, not a beta reader.

If, however, someone has asked you to be a beta reader, and all you did was check spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc., you've done them a disservice and did not go far enough.

Yeah, some folks may argue to the contrary, but I've been doing this fanfic thing a long time, and I learned it from folks who've been doing it even longer--ever since the first fanzines rolled off of second-hand ditto machines kept in somebody's garage. :wink: Given our workshoppy environment here, I felt the distinction should be clear to everyone, and that we use the terms correctly rather than interchangably, so no one gets any rude surprises or disappointments.

Feel free to discuss.
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Postby Misplaced » Tue Sep 21, 2010 11:58 am

I appreciate this post. I always want a real beta to do my work... though I might not always run with every note I'm given, I'm grateful for the honest assessment.

I don't often beta for others (well, in fanfic... spend a bit of time doing it at scribophile.com, though -- where you earn more credit the more detailed your critiques are.) But this has been good for me as I am beta-ing for someone at this time. For ease, I was tempted to not bother much beyond proof-reading, but I realize that it doesn't help the author if she is looking for an honest critique.

Thank you for reminding me!
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Postby EntAllat » Wed Sep 22, 2010 9:35 am

Thanks for that, Aquarius!

I always prefaced my willingness to beta with the fact that I'm not the one to come to for typos and spelling errors - I'm not eagle-eyed enough for that. It didn't really occur to me that I didn't need to say that. :)
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Postby Brandyjane » Wed Nov 03, 2010 4:50 pm

This is a great post, Aquarius. Thanks for the clarification. While I've served as a beta before, honestly I lack confidence in my ability to really be a good beta at this point. However, if anyone out there just needs a good proofreader to catch the mistakes that Word or their beta doesn't catch, then I'm totally up for that.
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Postby Aquarius » Wed Nov 03, 2010 7:37 pm

I'm glad this has helped.

Keep in mind--others out there are confused about the distinction, too. So if you are asked to beta, clarify--do you want a proof reader, or a beta reader? And if they don't know how to answer that, feel free to explain it to them.

As some of you know, I'm a fanzine editor. Which means I tend to be tough on my beta readings when I do them. I don't make a profit on my zine, but since people have to pay for it, I owe them top-notch content. I almost hate betaing for people, because when they ask me, I'm very up front about what I'm going to do if they insist they want more than a proof read. And they're always "yeah! yeah! do it!!" And I'm all "well okay, you asked for it..." And they're always shocked and offended when I didn't merely cheerlead. I'm not mean about it, I try to be very constructive and include fedback about what was good about it, too, but don't ask me to pull out all the stops if that's not what you want.

I went through a whole year at TriS where I wouldn't beta for anybody but Eian, but that was on the down-low, I'd plead "too busy", but really it was due to an experience where someone who told me "give me the full treatment"--as in tell him what he'd have to do as though he was trying to make the cut for the zine--and he became indignant when I told him. I think a big part of it is he and others who react that way A) get told they're great for so long because no one's done a "real" beta on them, plus they tend to pick people who'll tell them what they want to hear, so it doesn't even occur to them that there might be some real issues, and B) they don't like being handed back anything that requires much more effort than they've already put in.

The other thing about this particular person is he'd make the same mistakes over and over. He made no effort to learn from the feedback I'd already given him on other pieces. I'm sorry, but especially when it comes to things like punctuation, how to use dialogue tags, etc., --if you're told you're not using them right, don't keep using them wrong. Learn how to use them right so you know for next time!

Sorry--I didn't mean to turn it into a rant. :oops: Beta reading is just one of my pet peeves, as is an author who doesn't take it as a learning opportunity when they ask for help.
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Postby Misplaced » Wed Nov 03, 2010 8:50 pm

Just want you to know, Aquarius, you're my kind of beta. ;) (Meaning, the kind of beta I like to use.) :mrgreen:

I've been really grateful for the betas that I've had. Extremely helpful!
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Re: Beta reader? Proof reader? WTF?

Postby asearcher » Sun Jan 02, 2011 10:25 am

I certainly appreciate the betas I've received here.

Although the stories I'd posted before had been properly betad (e.g. looking at consistency, plot holes, etc.) I have to say, not all my betas were as good as the ones I've had here. The reasons for suggestions are always laid out and while I may not always accept verbatim the suggestion, I believe it's good to go back and address the concern or have a reason why you don't...and ego should never be that reason.

So...again, I want to thank the betas here at TDE. I've learned a lot from their thoroughness. :D
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Re: Beta reader? Proof reader? WTF?

Postby tish » Mon Feb 07, 2011 12:44 pm

Thank you for this information. I am also more of a proofreader/editor by experience, and can catch most of those types of errors. It is good for my next time being asked of an author to bete (or proofread) to know the difference. So far all I have done is editfrom another language/culture to one most familiar in USA. I will be sure to hone my true beta skills should that be needed/asked of me.
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