|Synonyms:||editor, beta reader, proofreading, proofreader|
|See also:||fic, fanart, vidding, Machete Beta, Brit-pick, Fanzine Editor|
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The word "beta" comes from the world of software design, in which an unfinished version of the software (the beta version) is released to a limited audience outside of the programming team. The metaphor was applied to fanfiction, fanart and vids; a story, piece of art or vid is tested by outsiders to see if it's working.
Beta is both a noun ("a beta") and a verb ("to beta"). This leads to the awkward but necessary constructs, "betaed", "betaing", and the antonym (for a story unchecked by anyone else), "unbetaed". Beta services can range from simple proofreading and compatibility testing to editorial feedback to nearly collaborating with the original creator on the fanwork. To avoid conflict, creators should explain what they want from the experience.
- See also List of Beta Resources.
In many fandoms and fan communities, special infrastructure exists to help authors and artists find betas. Archives sometimes maintain lists of beta readers . Some mailing lists also have lists of betas.
Some fandoms also maintain lists of resources or betas with special areas of expertise. For instance, in a fandom based on a medical drama, a fan who works in the medical field might volunteer to beta the story for medical plausibility, or in a fandom based on a Western, fans with expertise on horses or guns might make themselves available as a "horse beta" or "gun beta" to review just those aspects of the story for accuracy. (On Senad or maybe Senfic there was such a directory?), On Livejournal, many communities exist for this purpose, some multifandom and others fandom-specific  There are also non-English beta communities.
In fanfiction, a beta, or "beta reader," is someone who looks over a story before the author posts it publicly, checking it for some combination of spelling, grammar, cohesiveness, flow, plot holes, characterization, etc. The lightest form of beta-reading (betaing) is basically a quick check for spelling and grammar errors. From there, the beta process may run through a full spectrum of editorial assistance, all the way up to helping restructure a story or suggesting major rewrites.  (There's a pre-beta level that consists mainly of cheerleading, as well. This is sometimes referred to as "alpha," but the term has not been widely adopted.) A more critical approach to editing is referred to by some as Machete Beta.
In vidding, the beta process can range from giving a general impression of a vid (to let the vidder know if she succeeded in communicating her message successfully), to going through the vid almost frame-by-frame looking for technical issues, to helping restructure the vid or suggesting major changes in approach or clip choice.
The Good, the Bad, and the Unbetaed
Media Fandom in particular has a deeply rooted tradition of the idea that all fanfiction must be betaed. Many fic fests, challenges, archives and posting communities make it a requirement of participation. One notable exception is commentfic, which is understood to be written and posted in a more informal manner. But the move of many fans from older, centrally-controlled spaces to user-controlled individual Livejournals or websites has led many fans to more readily break away from this thinking.
Some fans like the experience of writing and posting quickly without waiting for another set of eyes, and they often post unbetaed stories in their own spaces. Many fans often express a willingness and desire to find a beta, or a good beta if they're unhappy with their past experiences, but even in active fandoms, the beta-finding comms are sometimes very dead spaces and finding someone who can beta well, and has the time can be a frustrating process.
Many fans who post a story that has not been betaed will note that in the header, either with a simple statement or with a disclaimer such as, "Not Betaed: All errors are mine and mine alone."  Many other fans commonly post unbetaed stories and draw no attention to that fact, and many readers likely never notice.
There are fandoms where self-editing is common and posting unbetaed will rarely raise an eyebrow. This is true in many journal-based RPF fandoms and is especially true for short fiction in those fandoms and in general. For example, a writer who usually posts unbetaed might use one for a big bang story.
- FanFiction.Net as an unbetaed place
So Does Unbetaed=Ugly?
Many fans certainly think so. Their allegiance to the idea that a beta is always necessary is often very strong, and they believe that an unbetaed story is inherently more likely to have typos, grammar errors and technical writing mistakes as well as canon errors. Some fans hold fast to the rule that no beta equals an automatic backbutton and consider fans who refuse to use betas to be arrogant or lazy.
In many minds, unbetaed automatically means the story is an unedited first draft. That can certainly be true, and sometimes fans post stories in that manner in order to meet deadlines and then edit later, but many writers self edit and only post what they perceive to be a polished finished product.
While there are many fans who never or rarely use betas, formal meta about why they do what they do is rare. It is often a difficult issue to talk about publicly for fans who are bucking this deeply held cultural tradition. Complaining about bad experiences in the past can often seem like finger-pointing at particular individuals, and drawing attention to your habit of posting unbetaed can draw unwelcome critical scrutiny.
And Does Betaed=Better?
A common refrain on places like fanficrants when complaints are made about problems in stories is, shouldn't the beta have caught that? Which then usually devolves into yet another discussion of the difficulty in finding a beta with attendant horror stories of bad beta experiences from both sides of the process.
In a more serious vein, when stories draw attention for problematic content around race or misogyny or homophobia, often the story's beta comes under scrutiny as well. Even though there is no way to tell how much of a beta's advice a writer made use of, they often bear the criticism for the mistakes in a final posted version.
- Some cites of people talking about not being able to tell their friends the truth when they beta might go here.
- Some expansion of types of betas and how well they really work--or is it just having a friend run a spelling and grammar check on your story.
Beta vs Edit
There has been much discussion in fandom about the differences between betas and editors.
This writer appears to be asking for something closer to a beta. From the Robin of Sherwood letterzine Cousins in 1992: "I would love to swap stories with other writers just to get feedback on 'does this story work, or is it full of stupid mistakes.' So if there are any of you who would like to get into critiquing or mutual 'workshopping,' let me know. After all, once the story is written, it sits around for months until it finally comes out in a zine. So why not use that time to make the story as perfect as you can get it?"
Before the internet, when most fiction and fanart was in zines, it was the editor who worked with the writer, often quite intensively, to ensure that a fanwork was a good as it could be before it was committed to paper. As fiction moved to the screen and away from zines, there was much complaint about how fanworks declined in quality:
- need some quotes
Some people say there is no difference between beta and edit, that it is simply a difference in terminology.
- "A Beta in my book is an editor, with full editorial responsibilities."
- more quotes?
For more on fanzine editors, see Zine Production.
Thanking the Beta
It is customary to thank the beta in the fanwork header. Here are some examples:
- "Thanks to Stargazer for being a very encouraging beta reader, and to Starfox for allowing me on her wonderful page. You are both very helpful and made this very enjoyable!" 
- "This story would never have been posted if it weren't for Karin the fearless and mighty Beta Queen. Thanks bunches and great big hugs for your patience, encouragement, and kind but honest advice. I really do appreciate all the time and effort you put into this. And uhm, sorry about forgetting all those commas." 
- "My very grateful thanks go to Sue Pokorny who kindly offered to beta this effort. Her suggestions were constructive and helpful and although I may have confused her with my Englishness, she never once complained." 
X-Pick: Specialized Editorial Help
It's easy for fanwork creators to make basic mistakes about cultures other than their own. This was a particular problem in Harry Potter fandom, because Americans and others don't know much about British (much less Wizarding) culture. This led, in 2003 or so, to the concept of Brit-pick (rhymes with "nitpick") to deal with issues such as which is the first floor and what "bum" means.
This step of the process is often separate from straight-up betaing, and has its own set of communities and resources. 
The word "beta" is pronounced differently by Americans and Brits, but some British fans have started to use the American pronunciation when referring to fanfic betas.
- Not Just Talking to the Monitor: an Examination of Beta Reading by Sharakh
- When Writer and Beta Collide (and Why They Should) by Miriam Heddy
- Primer on Basic Writing Skills - Beta by Icarus; WebCite
- Beta, Beta, Beta section of The Story So Far by facetofcathy
- On the beta process and how to get the most out of it by synecdochic; WebCite
- The Beta Minefield, October 2013; WebCite
- Art beta community on LJ (accessed 17 November 2008)
- Beta Readers directory on ff.net (accessed 17 November 2008)
- Beta Readers list of the Cascade Library Sentinel archive (accessed 17 November 2008)
- Find Me a Beta (accessed 17 November 2008)
- HP Beta-Readers Community (accessed 17 November 2008)
- Stargate Atlantis Beta Readers (accessed 17 November 2008)
- Betaleser (accessed 17 November 2008)
- OokamiKasumi. "MY Beta-Reader's Questionnaire". Posted 3 November 2008. (accessed 17 November 2008)
- "The Autopsy" (accessed 16 November 2010)
- For example, "I don't use a beta for reasons that are true for me. I'm not going to ever tell other people what to do on this issue, and I wish I could get the same courtesy back." from Beta, Beta, Beta section of The Story So Far post by facetofcathy, 27 April 2009. (Accessed 13 May 2011).
- Primer on Basic Writing Skills - Beta by Icarus, (date unknown, (Accessed 13 May 2011).
- "Treasure Hunt" (accessed 16 November 2010)
- "Between Life and Death" (accessed 16 November 2010)
- "Stay in the Truck" (accessed 16 November 2010)
- Britpickery LJ Community (accessed 17 November 2008)