Not Just Talking to the Monitor: an Examination of Beta Reading

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Title: Not Just Talking to the Monitor: an Examination of Beta Reading
Creator: Sharakh
Date(s): September 9, 2002
Medium: online
Fandom:
Topic: Fan Fiction, Beta
External Links: Not Just Talking to the Monitor: an Examination of Beta Reading, Archived version
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Contents

Not Just Talking to the Monitor: an Examination of Beta Reading is an essay by Sharakh.

It is revised from a post to the Yahoo! Groups Sentinel Workshop list.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.

Excerpts

There are two common beta reading situations that we run into. Reading for someone we've never worked with before, and reading for someone with whom we have a long-term relationship. Long-term relationships between a reader and a writer don't need someone else suggesting rules and guidelines for them. They tend to automatically work out rules and guidelines on their own.

But for someone who has never beta read anyone, or for someone who is going to be beta reading someone they don't know well (perhaps participating in a "public beta" on a list) it appears that some guidelines would be very helpful. I just recently participated in a short-term list about how to beta read stories (it was actually for original fiction writers, mostly, and they call it reviewing or critiquing, but it is the same thing.) And I learned a lot, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts about it here.

To give credit where it is due, the short-term list was a special focus-group for the Online Writer's Workshop, a paid-member organization where writers of SF/fantasy and horror can go online to get their works read and critiqued by other writers. I'm not a member, but from what I saw on the list, it is probably a worthwhile organization, if you're writing original fiction in either of those genres. You can check them out at for the SF/Fantasy group, and for the horror group. The short-term list was free, and there's an associated yahoo list that is also free that I plan to check out soon.

There are two basic problems in beta reading someone you've never worked with before. What to say, and how to say it. The OWW focus group came up with one little phrase that answers both questions.

Be polite. Be balanced. Be honest. In that order.

(That lovely little catchphrase was written by Charlie Finlay, the focus group moderator. It is so perfect, I thought he deserved credit for the wording.)

And immediately, the more experienced beta readers exclaim, "What! Honest should be FIRST!"