Saturday, August 10, 2002

Victoria posted sometime ago about offering to beta for a newbie to fandom. Among other brilliant things, Victoria asks Given my view that one should take new authors in hand and help 'em out, do I write this person and offer to beta?

This is a hard question. There's the "encouraging" thing - selfish readers like me want new writers in fandoms with new, exciting takes on things. It's always amazing what comes out of some new voices - because they haven't been quite "assimilated" by fandom and their take on things, when well-written, has the potential to shake things up a little. I admit, shamelessly, that I've been known to nag Certain People to post or to write and I'm not beyond serving up ridiculous challenges in order to get the muse going again. So on that sense - encouragement of writing, to keep them in fandom, offering them FB to stroke egos, yes, I am all about that. But offering to beta? That's really hard.

First, it's hard to find a beta in the first place if you're new to fandom. You're lucky if anyone offers you FB the first time you post (heck, you're always lucky with any kind of FB, no matter how long you've been around). Finding a beta sometimes involves swallowing your pride. The common advice I've seen is for writers to approach other ficcers they admire and ask for help. That's all well and fine, but how often does that work out? I got lucky with my first beta, Liz, who came out of nowhere and said she'd be willing to beta for me. But for VOY, it was much harder. I did ask one writer who I admire for her help and she agreed and I was completely stunned that she would even give me the time of day. Another writer whom I admired and who is considered a BNF in VOY turned down my request, saying she didn't have time. That's fine, I understand that, but it made me wary of wanting to ask anyone at all for a beta.

Asking an established writer for a beta has two drawbacks, neither of which are personal. First, an established writer has her own circle of friends who trade betas. They're pretty busy - even betaing for one or two people takes a very long time to do justice to anything - even with all the best of intentions. Which leads to the second reason why asking an established writer for a beta may or may not work, as the ever wise Victoria says here: Because I barely have time lately to beta for my friends. I don't know if I want to take on someone new, who would obviously need a lot of work.

I get quite a few requests for betas and I turn many of them down. At first, I felt really guilty about doing so, but many of them come at a time when I'm trying to get my own writing done, or sometimes the story is similar in concept to something I'm working on, or whatever the reason. Recently, someone posted in a public forum that she hoped that I (along with other names in fandom) would be receptive to a beta request when she finished her new story. I didn't respond because I didn't know how. I could say, "Yeah, go ahead," as my first impulse. I mean, theoretically, it was a great compliment and I was flattered. But at the same time, I'm not sure that I want to take on a newbie author who is very, very new to ficcing. After all, this person might be a great writer - might be the next monkee or Penny, but really, I don't know that right now and without a relationship with the poster, how can I even commit to something that could either make me deliriously happy or completely insane? It makes me feel hypocritical as it goes against my desire to encourage more newbies in fandom. (And all you Trek writers out there? Why aren't you posting to ASC? Ahem - save that for another post).

So in that sense, it's so nice if someone just up and volunteers to be your beta. It takes away a little of the sting of searching for a beta. Especially if you're someone established in fandom and you offer your help and mentorship to a new writer - they are more likely to stick around. And face it, having a "name" in fandom helps. If a "name" recs a newbie, other people take note, and voila, lots of ego-stroking and perhaps you've kept a new writer around for a while.

But at the same time, I look at my beta queue and how much I have to go through for my friends versus complete strangers. I've done much editing for "strangers" on both fanfic and original fic and I never hear from them again. At that point, it's like, okay, so I just spent two or three hours working on this story and I don't even get a "you suck" in response? Frankly, it makes me feel, well, that I've wasted my time. It's not that I want everyone to agree with everything I say, but acknowledgement of time spent is something that is necessary - I wouldn't even dream of not thanking my betas for the time and effort even if I don't necessarily agree with them (and 99% of the time, they are sooo right).

Victoria says: And then there's the response, if I even get one. I've offered in the past and never heard back. I've done it for someone and never heard back. I've betaed and had the person disappear from the fandom (at least under the name I knew them) and I've betaed and had my suggestions totally ignored.

The changing name thing has happened to me - I volunteered to beta for a newbie who posted to ASC. It was a TOS story and I don't know the first thing about TOS, but no one else had answered this newbie's call for help. I never saw this name again after the first betas - though we did have a conversation or two re my comments to her. Anyway, a couple years later, this writer resurfaced on a "Beta Reader's Appreciation Day" thread on ASC and thanked me for the beta and I remember being absolutely stunned when I saw her "new" name - she'd been there on ASC all along, posting away, generating great reviews. And since I considered her a BNF at the time, her note about how grateful she was to me for offering to beta for her in a fandom that wasn't mine was really quite shocking.

But that is just one instance though of someone I beta'd for who just generally disappeared (and now I do hear from her on and off, but the initial connection made is long gone). And forgive me for being selfish, but at this point, I don't have a lot of time to spend betaing for someone I'm not going to have some kind of connection with. Plus, with friends, it's easier to be honest and they won't take it personally. I can say, "I didn't like this part" and they won't hate me for saying so. The trust is already there, the respect as well - you won't have that at first with a newbie writer. In fact, you could run the risk of alienating them completely from ficcing at all, or from you.

And BTW, this also applies to established writers. I have half a mind to write to an established writer on ASC who *insists* on spelling one of the character's names wrong. This makes me insane because this person has been on ASC just as long as I have been, if not longer, and *still* hasn't mastered the art of punctuation or looking up the proper spelling of a character's name. But then I think, a character's name is the simplest part of ficcing, is it not? So if this person doesn't care enough to check the Official Site for verification, why should I?

In the end, I guess if I thought a writer was worth mentoring, if I saw potential - yeah, I'd sent positive, gushing FB and then ask at the end of the email if they would be open to more critical comments? If they say no, fine, move along, and hopefully they get the help they need from someone else. If they say yes, then I'd probably make some generalized comments, nothing more and see how she/he reacts to them. A lot of newbies simply aren't interested in constructive criticism and for that reason, I'm not entirely sure that asking straight off if they'd like a beta is the way to go.

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