Saturday, February 14, 2009

Column: Pastiche Pen's Advice On The Newbie Power & The Fandom Tower

The Alpha, the Beta, and the Omega

Pastiche's Power Knows No Bounds.
"Betas" are editors, simply put. Their job is to make your story better. I can't really claim expertise in this category, because while I beta and I've been beta'd, I sorta refuse official beta'ing for my two major chapter stories. I try to update twice a week, and I'm IMPATIENT—so I don't have a beta.

But you should.

*ducks tomato*

Or at the very least, you should consider it, because FF readers have loads of stories from which to choose, and they're not going to put the effort into reading your story if you can't properly distinguish between lay/lie or who/whom and if your story is chock full of misspellings. They just won't. They got other shit to do.

Roles of a Beta:

Betas play different roles in different relationships. Different strokes for different folks, and all of that.

1. Grammar-speller-fixer extraordinaire: This is the most basic role. The beta always fixes the spelling and grammar. Key tip: Even beta'd stories often have errors due to last minute editing. The mistakes are in the final edits, so be sure to edit your "edits." Also, be aware of common mistakes. A primer: Grammar Errors

2. Editor: The relative plausibility and humorous-dramatic-persuasive elements of a story point are bounced off of a beta. "Are you sure that Bella is coordinated enough to perform that er…position? She already fell out of the tree—twice." Timing and spacing is also an issue—a beta should be able to say, "We need more tension here" or "This is too garbled, it stops the forward thrust of the story." Finally, line spacing and paragraphs are pruned and reshaped.

The words of dollegirl, author of D.I.D:

"Vixen1836 assists me with my spectacular vernacular, punctuation, and tenses. As an edit monster, she is the one who rips my chapters up one side and down the other. She really makes me think about what I'm doing and care about making it right. I actually have 2 or 3 pre-readers with outstanding wit that see what I have before my betas do. I don't really find my writing funny, so if they laugh then I know I'm good. Even if your beta shares the same sense of humor or laughs at your jokes, fixing the delivery of a good laugh is a little more difficult than angst because almost anyone can break your heart."

3. Idea Ball: A beta brainstorms with the author. "*gulp* I've written six lemons—and I'm beginning to think the horse is at risk—save me?" Moreover, a beta can help the writer work though writer's block. Oftentimes when writing chapter-by-chapter, the plot point may be clear, but the delightful road to it may be barren. A beta can help peel that onion.

The words of ninapolitan, author of The Bella Swan Diaries:

"Acireamos is my irreplaceable masta-beta for The Bella Swan Diaries. She focuses on fixing my fuckerific punctuation and my long, nonsensical sentences (which is comical since I'm an English teacher), but I suppose I'm an "idea beta" for numerous people. My goal is to be written into as many stories as humanly possible. I have to be proud of the fact that most of the requests I receive are usually on the sexual side, e.g. lemon help or humor assistance, that sort of thing. It will be a cold day when someone asks me for help with angst."

4. Executioner: Betas tell writers when they are going down the wrong path, e.g. phrases like "slept like a rock" or "I felt despair and rage." These are boring clich├ęs. If a beta gets the author to swing the proverbial axe and write crisp, unique prose instead, they are a first-rate beta.* Bad lemons deserve mention. Like if you've never had sex, and you pen the line, "He entered my core, and I orgasmed," hopefully, your beta will be able to correct your misimpression.* I will say this—beta'ing should always be constructive—in both criticism and praise.

The words of gallantcorkscrews, author of Trumped into Bed:

"Betas need to be brutally honest. I have betaships with Thallium81, wtvoc and Acireamos, and I feel as though we trust each other enough to just say whatever (including "screw you"). It's awesome. Like, if a "fan" offers to beta you, she usually won't have the gall to be brutally honest—that makes it so the beta only says really tame shit, like about punctuation or "maybe Edward should cuddle more here," which is a HUGE help, but I ain't gettin' to the cuddlin' if there are predicates and danglin' modifiers still flying all over the place. AND the bigger you are, the more you get ego-fucked by fan-girls, and even if you ain't "big," a beta that is just a yes-man will kill the story. The writer needs to be challenged. 99.9% of reviewers will only congratulate you, so you will not know if there is a huge FLAW escaping your attention. It's like when we were in class, and the teacher was going off on some subject, and EVERYONE was confused but too intimidated to say something, so we all just sat, CONFUSED. Those are usually the reviewers, but the beta has to be the kid who raises their hand and goes, "What the fuck, Teach?"

5. Cheerleader: Betas may choose to promote their writers. On the forums. On their profiles. In their author's notes. They submit their stories to C2s. They nominate them for awards. They vote for them in contests. They annoy people about the latest update on g-chat. This is all totally voluntary and love-based and should never be expected.

Note: Many betaships start at step one and gradually progress as the author and beta grow to trust and know one another. Never expect instant perfection from the start.

The Role of the Author

Writers relate to their stories in different ways. Our stories are our BABIES, and some mommies are perfectly comfortable to hire a sitter and listen to every word of advice from their mother-in-laws, while others of us cling to our offspring with savage momma bear intensity. (Imagine bestial snarls.) The solution to this is clear communication and establishment of expectations.

1. Give direction. Many authors direct their betas by listing a series of questions at the top of the draft for the beta or through Word "comments" or a constant swirl of g-chat interrogations. These can be as simple as "I'm worried about the fight scene—help?" or "I'm worried it's so graphic that it's gross. Would you please rip it to shreds and make it pretty?"

2. Discuss time. Some betas get back to authors in the same day, others take a week. Authors and betas should have an understanding, e.g. "if I don't hear from you within three days and you don't respond to my PMs, I am free to post without you."

3. You are the alpha. Stick with what is true to you, though be sure to consider your beta's point of view, because without a doubt, other readers will feel the same.

4. CREDIT YOUR BETA(s), whether for their punctuation prowess or for saving you from emo writer's funk. They put hard work into your story. They are a part of it. You should give them credit for their ideas and their comma expertise. They deserve it, so pump up those author notes with the love and choirs of angels.

On Terminating the Betaship

You break up. Uh-huh, it happens. It may be a case of rigor mortis in editing. "You're fuckgood. You're fuckgreat. You're fuckperfect!" a broken record repeating over and over, and even though you purposely left a spelling error in the first line—your beta misses it, because she's too giddy over the story. Or let's say she flakes out and disappears for three weeks without a word. And then there's the werewolf issue: "There can only be one Alpha." If your beta starts trying to change your story into her story, e.g. putting cheese in place of epic sadness, you gotta put your foot down. You do. Be honest. It might hurt. There might be e-tears. If things don't improve, SEE OTHER PEOPLE. I'm sorry, but you have to do what's best for the baby—your omega—your STORY.

On Not Being Beta'd

You don't have to have a beta. You don't. BUT if you aren't going to find a beta, realize that you are going to give yourself more work. Proofreading your own work is hard, because your brain will auto-correct when it reads over missing words and grammar errors. Printing out a hard-copy and going over it line by line with a red pen and a ruler is one of the best solutions. You will also have to reread your chapter once it's posted to edit for errors. If you aren't willing to put the extra effort into this, you should put the effort into finding a beta.

On Playing with Multiple Letters of the Greek Alphabet

Yes, you greedy readers, it's possible to not only have a beta but a gamma, delta, etc.

The words of GinnyW, author of Coming to Terms:

"I have two betas, each with different strengths. DeeMichelle encourages me, checks my grammar, and challenges me on my ideas. Then there is Shug, my closest friend. (She jokes that we share a brain cell... which sometimes, it feels like we do.) At this point, I don't think that I could write something without her. If I need to expand something, she points that out for me as well, and I do the same for her. Oooo, and as a bonus, she is good at fixing my atrocious grammar. With two betas, there has to be a balance. What is the old saying? Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth. A writer needs to have people that she trusts and who will be honest with her. I'm very lucky to have found two such wonderful women who push me along. I love them both dearly."

Note by Smellyia: DeeMichelle and Shug (sshg316) are both prominent authors in the Harry Potter fandom. They are each extremely talented and well-respected in their communities. If you have a hankering to get your HP fix, these are EXCELLENT places to start. Go embrace the AU people.

On Finding a Beta & Becoming a Beta

The many ways:
1. Visit the beta section of the Twilighted forums
2. PM someone whose stories you like (and who is currently accepting stories according to their FF beta profile—oh yeah, and READ the profile to see if you're a good match)
3. Announce in your author's notes that you're looking for a beta on your actual story.
4. Find your FF-soul mate and make sweet alpha-beta, beta-alpha love to each other's stories on a continual basis.

Tech Tips:
If you're considering being a beta, you'll probably want to post a beta profile on FF. To do this, there are requirements. You have to be a registered FF member for at least 1 month AND you must have published at least 5 stories on the site OR have published entries totaling at least 6000 words. So, if you're planning on bugging writers about being a beta, you should plan on getting your profile together in advance. Also, the DocX feature: FF has an anonymous system set up for you and your beta to easily exchange documents. You both agree to accept documents from each other under the DocX tab and then you're good to go. Of course, you can skip it and exchange emails and be g-chatters.

*Special thanks to houroflead

Weekly Tip: Opposites writing styles are a good thing with betas. Let's say Sally is a snarky urban Brit with impossible transcontinental spelling issues, a crotchless panty collection that would make Hefner proud, and an overfilled ashtray. Now we'll say that Kathryn is an emo American suburbanite who refuses to own a cell phone, has a shrine to the late David Foster Wallace, and likes guyliner. Oddly enough, they both love Twilight. Kathryn fixes Sally's spelling, makes her expand on key parts of her story, and giggles over her lemons. Sally yells at Kathryn for getting too emo to write shit and forces her to remove all excessive eyeliner and hand-through-hair descriptions. On their own they're… *shrug*, but together—they rule.

A Yin Yang Tale You've Heard Before by Smellyia & siDEADde

Let me start by saying that this is not a guide on how to find or deal with a beta. I have no idea how to do either of those things. Pastiche has given you the basics of betaland, but I'm just here to tell you my story.

This is about me and my siDEADde (Dead Inside).

So I used to be one of those authors. The one who swore she was an ISLAND. I needed NO beta and could not SUFFER the insignificant opinions of others. Nevermind that my grammar is HORRIFIC, but that mattered not in the face of my inner tortured "artiste."

I was so lame and full of it...and may still be, but that's another topic.

One day, in a random group chat with the soon-to-be formed Erudites (myself, siDEADde, tnuccio and Avalonia), I took the opportunity to wax emo about all the issues I was having with my pivotal chapter in Disaffected—the chapter that kicked off my Angst Arc. It was suppose to be the catalyst of the whole damn fic, and I was doing a semi-shite job of translating my thoughts to pen. So what do I do? I turn to my trusty gchat homeslices for an impromptu ego rub. WD-40 anyone?


I got NO ego greasing that night. What I got was a barrage of suggestions, word replacements, and the occasional "um, no." Basically, the consensus was "Eh, it's good enough, we suppose." Just good enough? Unacceptable. I was completely horrified at my mediocrity and the epiphany that I had become complacent in my own self-assessment of skill was nothing short of seizure-inducing.

All the critique I was subjected to that night gave me a reason to pause and think. Why did I write fanfiction rather than an original manuscript? Was it for reviews? —no. Was it for instant gratification? —no. Was my goal to be the the biggest BNF in Twilight fandom? —hell to the no. I put more stock in my real life for personal accomplishment.

I wrote then and continue to do so now because I want to improve. I DON'T want to be the same shite, different day author who is constantly waxing on with a waving fist about my own self-perceived brilliance. Stagnating stories are the devil I swear and I was teetering on a fine line of my own.

I wanted to personally erect a glass ceiling that I could break through with every chapter I post. My ceiling is low compared to others, but it's mine and I truly believe the journey of each writer is singularly unique. But it's not a lone adventure one should ever embark upon. You'd end up wearing all black in a corner rocking yourself chanting lines from the epic novel that never was.

So who holds your hand?

I don't know, but I know who keeps mine leashed with an iron fist. Who is said Fuhrer?

That would be siDEADde.

Smellyia Yin and siDEADde Yang
In our yin and yang relationship, I have found that fandom life before siDEADde was slightly a-dynamic. I had no force to attack with and therefore the work I put out was equally devoid of the life I wanted to breathe into it. She isn't my twin, as we have very different temperaments and outlooks on life...actually, we are VERY different people, but something about how we counter each other just makes for excellent collaboration in this context. Since that night so many moons ago, I have found that demanding her to be my beta has been the best and worst decision I have ever made in my quest for the written grail.

I don't think she gets how completely dependent I am on her skills. (Shhh. Don't tell.) The evil bitz needs no more power —hence, the WORST part of my decision. But that is a minuscule price to pay for the free assistance I con out of her on a weekly basis.

Basically, I come up with whatever machinations my mind feels like producing at that time. I get down what I like to refer to as "the bones." Because really, each chapter is a shadow of what I'm capable of until she inserts an ungodly amount of comments which jog my integrity and creativity as a writer (I am seriously tempted to show a copy of my edits here).

Actually, I will give you an example, because seriously...this shit can get ridiculous. This is an example of one comment from the edit of Chapter 21 from Disaffected:

My Bones:
“The side I laid on faced out the window and the bark of the tree I couldn't identify outside softened as I continued to stare. The bark became soft curls surrounding the stalwart trunk of the tree. It was such a dichotomy of comfort and strength. A pillar I could constantly lean on and be enveloped in like a down pillow.”

Comment from siDEADde:
“Eh, you can do better than this.”

Fruits of my Labor and Listening:
“I laid on my side in the bed I shared with no one. It was the only way I could ease the growing pains as the tiny life in my ever protruding belly pushed against my spine. I didn't have someone behind me to rub the ache or relieve the loneliness. Outside my window, a tree I couldn't identify in it's stalwart and consistent root entranced me. The bark was no longer just a harsh scratchy brown, I saw auburns intermingle with copper and cocoa. The branches swayed in the wind and they became curls surrounding the trunk. A pillar I could constantly lean on and be enveloped in like a down pillow.

The leaves, previously fighting for space in their green multitude, had mostly withered off to the ground in the cooling temperatures. There were only three lone leaves remaining, aged and fragile. Their amber veins could be seen in the sunlight shining through their papery skin. They held on through a stubborn stem, not willing to concede defeat just yet. Each battle was fought by itself.

So, there you of the smaller bits I've changed based on one small observation from a trusted confidante.

These edits are not your traditional red marks denoting grammatical mistakes or inconsistencies in tenses —I think I'd be sorely pissed if someone gave me just that as an edit after this fruitful experience. She is forever telling me MORE (I now loathe this word) and giving me the motherly "Now, I know you can do better than this" spiel. I whine and cry through every step of the way (I may be the only author whose beta feels the need for a disclaimer at the top of each returned edit copy), but when she tells me "you need more Emmett here," I know she's right. If she says "Bella sounds like a punk," I know she's right again. Would I ever have fixed these issues on my own? Probably not. Left to my own devices, I'm a complete complacent slacker like that.

The thing is, I respect this broad. I trust her. I know she has faith in me and to not take her seriously would mean I didn't have faith in myself (or way too much of it as some of the more confident may feel). So she says jump and I say how high. I don't post anything without her eyes on it first and when my ideas are so beyond the realm of sanity that she guffaws at me in the most direct way possible, I pay attention. No kidd gloves needed here. I check my ego at the door when we are in beta mode.

This is what I know about the matter of having a beta based off of one of the most professional relationships built on mutual admiration that I have ever had:

• I found me a friend. Someone who is as invested in my success as I am in her's. What I give to fandom is a direct reflection on her and the time she has put into me. Know that Rome was built not by Caesar, but by the blood and sweat of those who stood alongside him.

• I appreciate and respect her by LISTENING to her. At times, it may be difficult to swallow my own pride and to be patient, but the reward I KNOW is waiting for me at the end makes it all worthwhile.

• Patience is my least favorite virtue, and siDEADde is re-schooling me on the positives of the theory. While Rome was not built alone, it also was not built in a day. It takes time to churn out material I can stand by. We go over edit after edit and sometimes it's a week-long beta process.

• I trust her implicitly. I can say this about just a select handful. I have been burned in the past by trusting easily with my own personal work and working with someone who has more integrity than I imagined possible in a human being, has made me see what trust really entails.

What my little love fest here is saying is that a beta is more than someone who glances over your words and says "Brilliant! Just fix that typo." It's a friendship born of trust, respect, and faith. I don't think it's anything I could ever find in an advertisement or randomly through casual conversation. I am too high maintenance to be appeased so easily by something so simple. It just happened for me, and I understand that not everyone is so lucky, but friends who can tell you the TRUTH and really push you to do better out of their altruistic wish for you to be successful —those are the betas of worth.

So listen. Take it personally because if you are a real author, your work is a part of you, BUT don't mistake the constructive critique as an attack on you. If you and your beta are in a real yin and yang relationship then every bit of observation your beta shares is something to consider if not scoop up and run full blown panther-like with. This leads to my most important opinion on this matter: Don't be an egomaniac. None of us are as good as we, our friends or our devout readers presume us to be. If we were, well then you'd have a Pulitzer resting on your IKEA bookshelf now wouldn't you?

But there is a light at the end of this dark and dank tunnel —you can get there. JUST LISTEN TO YOUR GOOD BETA. And then when you plateau to the brilliance you had always assumed you were in possession of, guess what? You've got a new glass ceiling to strive for.

Talk about dynamic.

(Sidenote —I also attribute each one of my successes to every woman I have had the pleasure to form lasting bonds with through this medium. I'm not mentioning names, because you each damn well know who you are and don't need my validation. And to my idea whores and helpers —tnuccio and Avalonia —you both are partially responsible for any fail I produce. Send the angry PMs to them. J/K...sort of.)

**special thanks to GinnyW for answering random fandom vernacular questions for me.

I am not a demonstratively emotional person. I am an awkward hugger and I never know what to do when someone cries. I don’t like situations I can’t control, and emotion is one of those uncontrollable banes of my existence. When confronted by emotion or compliments, I have a strange need to hide or resort to self-depreciating comments. Sooo, the other day Ms. Smellyia pops her invisible self up in gchat and dangles the carrot:

“Hey, will you look over something I just wrote for the blog about betas?”

Now, I will look over anything Amelia asks me to look over, the random grammar and spelling mistakes aside, because: it’s always brilliantly funny or emotionally powerful. Plus, I just like to see things first. So, I opened the email and was overcome with a flood of love and appreciation. I immediately tried to find my dark, secluded happy-place filled with glorious emptiness, but alas, the note was too wonderful and I was plunged headfirst into admitting my horrible secret.

I had stalked Amelia with the intent of beta’ing Dis.

Yes, that’s it. I said it. It had been my intention all along. I should be ashamed, but honestly, I’m not. It started several months ago when I was lurking at Twilighted. Intrigued by the EmoBanner, I popped onto Disaffected. At first, there was the eye roll. I am generally –not- an AH reader, but I told myself to read five chapters before I passed judgment. By five I was hooked. I read all 16 chapters in one night, the whole time ranting and raving to my bestie/cyber-twin Avalonia about it. I lamented every typo or grammar quirk. I remember vividly what started the sly beta-maneuver. I quote a pre-gchat conversation:

“Where is this chick’s beta?!?! Peeked should be piqued; it’s should be its. Whoever is reading this should be fired. A writer who can make such an amazing image with the word tessellation should not have a beta who misses so many things.”

Ava, ever the rational one, suggested that perhaps the writer didn’t have a beta. I boggled. Not have a beta?! I have two because I’m insecure enough in my writing that I need two people to confirm it’s not the worst thing they’ve ever read.

“Impossible!” I had thought. There was so much raw talent there, so many lines that couldn’t have been done by some randommer with no guidance. So, I left a token review in the little time I had before bed, intending on reviewing each chapter the following day. To my surprise, and utter delight, I had a review response in my inbox before I could sign off. This started a flurry of conversations through emails concerning typos and grammatical errors and I realized Ava had been right. This Smellyia had no beta. The quest began.

To make a long dramatic story, short, I was suckered into gchat by the aforementioned Smellyia, dragging poor Ava along for the ride. I dropped hints. Sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much. Finally, she played right into my hands. No one was on, and Melia needed someone read. So I volunteered…something along the lines of:

“I’m pretty good with grammar, and I’d be happy to look at it.”

Thus, the fateful night of Ch17. After that, HEA bb's.

Now, all snark and silliness aside, I have to say that this is one of the most amazing collaborative relationships in which I’ve ever been. When I use the word collaborative, I don’t mean we write together. This isn’t at all true. I honestly don’t think Mel and I could collab-write. Our styles of writing are incredibly different, and our genre preferences are polar-opposites. I don’t mean co-dependent either, because in spite of what Mel may say, she doesn’t need my presence to finish a chapter. We just understand each other on a level where I have never met anyone else.

I will say that the relationship was a slow blossom. I was hesitant to rip, and she was hesitant to disagree, but as we worked more together the understanding grew to a point where explanation was no longer really needed. Melia mentions in her piece that I say jump and she asks how high. This isn’t true at all, because when I say jump she already knows how high to go, and how long to stay up there. When I requested more Emmett, that was all I said, “I want more Emmett.” That one little request turned into an amazing allegory that I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams. I have been fortunate enough to find an author with amazing talent who isn’t so caught up in her brilliance to see that there can always be more and better. We are win, not because of Amelia’s success and my subsequent recognition, but because we have a connection that brings out the best in both of us.

What my piece here is supposed to concern is the beta’s side of the equation. It’s hard to take the friendship element out of it. I, too, have found someone that I call friend. For me, that’s a big deal because I don’t say that to many. But, Mel is right. We put that aside when we come to the editing table. I do not do her a service by letting anything less than great get posted. If we do disagree on how we think something is coming across to the reader, we hash it out. We run over the chapter sentence by sentence. We discuss, we run ideas, and we brainstorm. It is a relationship I am proud of because it is a productive, working relationship. There is no more fangirling; I’ve gotten over my starstruckedness. It’s all business. Then the piece gets posted, and I live vicariously through all of her amazing reviews.

As far as what I know…nothing, but as far as how I feel about the beta/writer relationship:

~ You want to find a beta (or in my case, a writer) who compliments your own abilities. I’m a good reader. I’m well-read. I’m definitely not the end-all, be-all of grammar, but I know I’m better than the majority of people. I needed to find a story that I was interested in reading, and whose author had talent that I admired. Like Forrest Gump said, Melia and I are like peas and carrots, very different yet very complimentary.

~ You have to trust the person with whom you are working. If I spent hours on a beta, leaving comments, suggestions, and corrections, then the story was posted with a blatant disregard to anything I had said, I wouldn’t want to beta with that author anymore. She doesn’t trust the advice I give her, and now I don’t trust her motives for giving me the piece to begin with.

~ Find someone who loves what you do, but is working to help you both grow. A beta who simply tells you that everything you do is great isn’t helping you. Even if everything you do –is- great. The best authors have editors and support systems who have given suggestions and constructive criticism. They wouldn’t have been published without assistance.

Unlike Amelia, I don’t have a way with words. When she sent me her initial post my instinct was to copy and paste it into word, correct any spelling mistakes, highlight and comment on ¾ of it, and then wait for her return reply: beta-sequence go! Then I realized I was going to have to write a piece of my own, thus baring my black soul and dirty little secret to all. I was hesitant, but she reassured me that I could immediately go back into the cave. So I’ll throw this document on my doorstep and dodge any fallout that comes my way.

If I leave you all with anything, let it be that no one is perfect, even your beta. The trolls will still come and find something to nibble at, alas it is human nature to envy those who have more or are better. Just build a relationship that ameliorates the soul and the ability. Savor it with a cup of your favorite beverage, laptop-warmed legs, and fingers that are permanently curved from gchat.

Pastiche is hilarious as hell and quite possibly the Second Coming. You know this by now. Find her here.

Smellyia runs this blog alongside her homeslices and is a stealthy brown. You know this too by now. Find her here.

siDEADde is an emo hermit who is now in hiding from fandom. She isn't taking Beta requests because she is afeared of society at large. Stalk her here.


  1. I really enjoyed this post, and for so many reasons!!

    I have come to really, truly trust one of my betaes because she is always looking to make my story reach its full potential by suggesting and adding and deleting and tweaking. I use her for plot ideas and general story help. We've become great friends, which has been awesome! I have two other betaes that are fantastic with grammar and punctuation stuff, and I would really suffer without them. I always make sure I credit them and promote them because they deserve it. I consider it my payment to them.

    I also resently took on some stories to beta and love it. Not only has it helped me apreciate my own betaes more, but I've made friends with some that I most likely would never have met other wise, and it would have been a huge loss to me. Also, betaing other stories has helped improve my own writing and imagination development. I find I enjoy betaing almost more than writing my own stories!

    So thanks for posting this, it was something we all needed to "hear" whether using betaes or not.

  2. IDK what to comment on first?

    Pastiche, you offer exceptionally great tips. I'm one of those guilty people who doesn't have a beta. And if you've EVER read a chapter of WA, this point is probably painfully obvious.

    I'm impatient, much like you.

    Angel does my pre-reads, and sometimes I even throw one to DT or JDSK, but mostly I leave the grammatical shit up to myself. This usually comes back to bite me in the ass when some reader PMs me with a message akin to...

    "So... I noticed a lot of mistakes in your latest chapter... and every single chapter prior. You mind if I list them all here and make you feel intellectually inferior? Maybe I'll even insult you verbally and include those gratuitous expletives you enjoy so much. Maybe I'll create an ENTIRE hate community devoted to your story because you NEVER spell EMMETT correctly. Kay?"


    It's my own fault. I put too much faith in Microsoft Word and my own two eyes, and even more faith in the belief that no one will really care if I miss a few thing here and there.


    That's total bullshit.

    Things DO get noticed.

    When I do graphic art, I can flip the canvas on my monitor as a mirror image to give me a completely different and opposing perspective. It helps me mold it to two different views instead of one.

    This isn't possible with writing. You stare at the words too long, and they just become fact inside of your mind. I don't always realize when something doesn't fit.

    I promised myself, on my next fic, I'm having that shit beta'd so hard that my readers won't even remember what the concept of a grammatical error is anymore.

    Well, maybe that's wishful thinking, but whatever.

    Thanks for the tips on hunting down betas as well. Sometimes I'll utilize siDEADde's amazing grammatical knowledge, but I understand the need to forge a long term beta relationship.

    As for siDEADde, I'll just say... and I realize I have no basis for comparison, but she is the best damn beta I have ever seen.

    She is genius, brilliant, frighteningly intelligent, and really fucking hilarious. I have only had the immense pleasure of seeing her full-on beta process ONCE.

    It was for a WA chapter.

    It was only one page in MS Word.

    The word count of the comments exceeded the word count of the single page.

    Am I over exaggerating?


    Maybe not.

    Smellyia would say, not.

    All lined up in that right hand margin and greeting me like...

    "Hello there! You really thought this was up to par, eh? Get off your high horse and fix your shit, because we comments here don't care about stroking your ego. Learn to use a possessive pronoun already. And by the way, Les Mis called, and it wants its gazillion commas back."

    It was beautiful and purple and I was ridiculously excited to see REAL criticism for once. Most people don't realize how important it is. The nice comments are great and all, don't get me wrong. But sometimes you really need someone to point out the weaker links without reservation, and without being a complete hater. It's how we grow and learn to progress our talents.

    I smiled and squealed... and... okay... maybe I was a little emo too, but it was awesome being scrutinized. Call me a masochist, I don't care. I'll gladly take it.

    The whole... one page comment fest really sealed my fate with the entire concept of betas.

    Furthermore, siDEADde made Dis a better story, and at the time, I didn't even think that was possible.

    It was.

    She made it so.

    So, here's to you siDEADde, from one awkward hugger to another. You rock my socks and make the world of fan fiction a better place just for merely existing in all of your splendorous magnificence.

    I love you gloriously roughly.

    Thanks to Pastiche, Dolle, nina, gallantcorkscrews, GinnyW, Smellyia, and siDEADde for all the great insight and advice. Speaking from the heart of a complete newbie to this odd and awesome craft, it is much appreciated.

  3. Such a great article; great tips for writers regarding the beta relationship. I too am one who did not have a beta for a very long time; partly because when I write a chapter I want it UP right then, and partially because I'm wildly insecure and anticipated a breakdown of epic proportions at the return of my red-inked document. To all those like me, I say...suck it up. If we really love to write, we need to get over ourselves or we'll never get any better.
    My favorite part of the article of course, is the play by play from my favorite gruesome twosome. Well I remember the late night obsessing of every line in Disaffected that came from siDEADde. In fact, I think that was the beginning of our mutual 'don't send me any more fics that you damn well know I'm going to get addicted to - I have a life, beeyitch!' (a rule which we both gleefully violate as often as we find something great). You two are the Holy Grail of beta teams. It's not often that we get to see two people who are so talented yet so different, work brilliantly together. I'm happy to reap the rewards of your partnership and get my fic fix served up to me so eloquently.

  4. So... I wanted to give a quick thanks to all of the people I harassed for this article: nina, dolle, gcs, ginny, the admins, witvock, jfly, amercnx, HoL, and probably more of you, too. Like, writing an article about editing is a paranoia-inducing experience (especially when one is a veritable misfit in betaland). But I learned loads of new stuff, and it was fun, too, because I got to play with new people.

    And yeah, AG, I know what you mean about the art stuff - it's just... easier to know if its shite because it's in yo face.

    And I should emphasize the I DO beta and get beta'd although I like to keep it "loose" - play the field ya know? Not be tied down... hehe.

  5. Pastiche - First and foremost I should THANK YOU for adding such a dynamic and interesting column to our blog. I feel like the readers truly enjoy yours and wtvoc's bits of advice and hopefully you are both doing a HUGE service to fandom by providing such USEFUL and INTELLIGENT information.

    To all of the people who assisted Pastiche in this endeavor...thank you all so much for willingly letting yourselves be splashed across this blog.

    **I should add that my portion was beta'd by Pastiche Pen. ;)** don't need any more stroking. Your head may swell and you could leave me. Unacceptable.

  6. *headdesk*

    How did I not figure out that siDEADde=Dead inside?

    I loved reading how you described your beta relationship, Amelia. It's that bit of hand-holding with huge shoves in the right direction. It sounds so much more like a collaboration. Which, imho, a good beta relationship is truly like. My grammar is horrible, but really it's not really my primary concern.

    And... oooo... I think that I figured out how to comment with my username.

  7. good job P.

    this is a great subject. We all need help and assistance to make our stories better. often times what is in our heads just does not come across on paper.

    and grammar? look, i almost failed English in HS so I have no idea about any of that. Starshine comes at me with a red pen like you wouldn't believe. Thank goodness for that.

    these topics are so interesting and great!

  8. I didn't get a chance to comment on this yesterday but in no way will I let that undermine my enthusiasm for this subject.

    Pastiche, you hit so many nails squarely on their heads with this piece that my texts to Amelia on writing and style were flying fast. That second look, no matter what our "skill level" means so much.

    It took me forever to get past the embarrassment of showing my work to people before I looked over it with a series of fine tooth combs. As a former editor and a first time college instructor I had the misguided belief that I was above the need for help.

    COMPLETELY misguided.

    Besides the mere fact that grammar mistakes happen, style and content need a second look. As writers, we see the big picture. We know what is coming next. The beautiful scenery and emotion is played out in words unsaid. The problem is we are the WRITER and those words cannot always remain unsaid if we want them to be appreciated.

    No woman is an island. I have never been a writer before and to say that the experience of doing so has been humbling would be an understatement.

    If someone would have told me that jfly would be who I trust implicitly with my work that first time she came onto my forums and ripped me apart I would have laughed at them. But we developed a relationship out of that. (She will say that she didn't rip me apart at all, it would be the part of her that I love so dearly now coming through.)Now, if I have a paragraph that isn't working or if I want to have something happen but I am not sure of direction, she is the first person I go to.

    I NEED the help. Writing is based so much in emotion but beta'ing is based on translating that emotion to others. It took me a long time to do two things that often were at odds with each other:

    1. Press my ego down to a size smaller than an ocean-liner. -- I am not all that special. I have a story to tell and while I may be able to throw words together with some consistency of thought, I do need help. Yes, often times with grammar when I type too fast and more often than not with my clarity.

    2. Let GO OF MY INSECURITIES. -- Just believe that everyone understands that we all make mistakes, we all misspell and misuse out of sloppiness or just plain forgetfulness. It happens and we have to trust that another person is not going to judge us and make us feel bad or inferior. (As an editor we have to remember this as well, writers WANT to be ripped to shreds--JUST DO IT)

    So now I broke my big rule on comment length and I haven't even gotten to what gcs or smellyia or siDEADde wrote. I should have had jfly take a look.

  9. Hello,

    This was an excellent post, and once again - one that was oh so necessary. Each new post in this blog makes me more and more addicted to its content.

    For 17 chapters of my story I did not have a Beta. I would read and re-read my chapters before posting, ensuring that I caught spelling mistakes and other errors. As my story approached this new shift I started to question more and more about every decision I made in the story, and started wishing I had someone else to bounce ideas off of. Finally I put out a request in an a/n of chapter 17.

    Many of my readers responded with offers, which was really wonderful. It was terrifically easy to choose who I wanted to beta for me. cALLIEfornia BENches had no previous Beta experience but sent me a link to their (yes their - a writing team) story and asked me to reply if I was interested. I read their story and was blown away. It was well written, original, and unique.

    They correct grammatical errors, make word choice suggestions, comment on different conversations, make suggestions for various improvements, and allow me to bounce ideas off of them. I know that my story has improved since I started working with them.

    A Beta has to be unfailingly honest. They have to tell you want you don't always want to hear. Writing a story is so personal and I actually get nervous after I send off a chapter for my Betas to look at. Their opinions mean a hell of a lot to me.

    Ultimately having a Beta makes you a better writer. And isn't that a huge part of what this all is about?

    Thanks for the post!



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