The Question of Beta Readers
Which best describes your role as and use of beta readers?
How many stories do you beta read in a year?
If you are a beta reader, what is your feeling on crediting beta readers?
When using a beta reader, do you credit the person?
Before I begin, I am going to offer a gentle reminder that just because I say that I do things a certain way doesn't mean that I am also thumbing my nose at people who like to do things differently. This is just my preference and opinion. I understand where other people are coming from in choosing differently than I.
Disclaimer done. :)
I found myself thinking about beta reading the other day, or more specifically, the conventions that guide crediting beta readers for their help with a story. I find this interesting because, again, the world of fan fiction is very much at odds with the world of original fiction. Since I was "raised" in the original fiction world, came into fan fiction after having original stuff published, and recently, started counting myself among both crowds, then I find myself comparing the social differences and conventions between these two worlds.
In the fan fiction world, I see a strong convention toward always crediting those who beta-read one's stories. In fact, I've seen beta readers make grumpy comments along the lines of, "If you use my services, then I expect my due credit." And most writers I know who always use beta readers also always credit them. (Of course, I am aware of the fundamental flaw in this judgment: Of course people who credit their betas are going to appear, to me, as the people who "always use betas." People who use betas and don't credit will likely register as people who don't use betas. So I expect that this will skew my perceptions a bit, hence the poll.)
But this is curious because, when I write original fiction, it is understood that the people who help me get the story into shape will not be credited.
Why the difference? One community expects credit while the other eschews it entirely. (Well, save the novelists who get a page or two of acknowledgment. But in short fiction, aside from a dedication here and there, I've never seen anyone credited.)
I have a couple of theories.
One is that the fan fiction community is just that: a community. And so rather than viewing something as an "editing service," we tend to view beta-reading as a favor performed by a friend or writer whose opinion we respect and who we want to share in our success. These people have worked hard to earn our respect. They don't just get a title--"EDITOR"--that makes them an automatic authority.
Even at the level of critiques by peers rather than editors, I find a much closer community with my Silmfic peers than my o-fic peers. I realize that this is my own personal experience more than anything: I belong to a tiny fandom (Silmarillion) and a huge o-fic workshop group (Critters). For some, it could likely be reversed. I'd be interested in the perceptions of someone who belongs to a huge fandom (e.g., Harry Potter) and a small o-fic workshop group. Are the beta-credit conventions the same?
And this also fails to account for the help I am given with my o-fic by friends whom I also respect as writers. Many of my Tolkien fanfic peers help me with my o-fic. Yet while I wouldn't hesitate to credit these people as betas for my fanfic, then I accept their help on my original stuff, knowing that I'll probably never be able to publicly acknowledge them.
So perhaps it is the very practical matter that publications simply won't allow the sort of nods that fanfic writers give to their betas. For some of my stories, I've had around two dozen people offer opinions at various points along the way that shape the revisions that I make. What magazine wants such a list at the start of a piece?
But even beyond that, the attitudes between o-fic and fanfic are different. For o-fic we strive to present a piece that is not only flawless but that the reader will assume took that shape without any effort on our part. We don't want readers to know about the months of multiple revisions, the many times through workshop, the growling and the hair-pulling, and we certainly don't want anyone to ever know about that awful first draft.
But fanfic writers generally (in my experience) make no mistake in presenting themselves as students of writing, always learning. It's the same idea that being "published" in fandom (as in putting a final draft on an archive) does not make one immune to critiques or bar further revisions on the way that being "published" in o-fic tends to do. No matter how many times I "finish" AMC, for example, I will always go back and tinker and make tiny changes. Because publishing fanfic is far more informal and fluid than publishing o-fic.
So fanfic writers, of course, care more about crediting the people who help them to grow as writers, and these are more often than not beta readers and reviewers. Because fanfic writers value demonstrating growth over perfection. O-fic writers value perfection over letting an audience know what it took--growth--to get there.
Of course, I know that there is a self-publishing o-fic community out there, i.e. FictionPress, that I know little about. How do things work there? Do writers use betas? Do they credit them? Do they make endless niggling changes to their stories the way that fanfic writers do?
Personally, I beta-read far more stories for other authors than I have beta-read. I write so much that it seems an unfair burden to ask any single person to be my beta reader. That would be a full-time job unto itself. I can count on one hand the number of fanfic stories I've gotten beta feedback on.
I always credit my beta readers.
Yet I don't expect credit in turn. In fact, I'm almost embarrassed to receive it because it goes against the way that I've always perceived those who offer feedback and critique on a story: as invisible and unsung heroes. It seems wrong, to me, to ask credit for simply sharing my opinions on a person's story. Yet I understand why people do and why beta readers expect this. It's just not something I've personally been able to get behind to the degree of putting my foot down and insisting on being listed as a beta reader.
Any other thoughts on this? Why we expect credit as fanfic betas? Are we presumptuous for doing so? Or am I off entirely in my perceptions of this convention in fandom and the reasons behind it?