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Beta Reading Samples: 4. Corn! Blame it on the Corn...! Sort Of
We thought you might also find it useful to see how a beta circle can develop. This chapter, written by HASA members Marta and Tanaqui, explains how their beta circle, which also involves Gywnnyd and Lady Aranel, came into being.
Firstly, what is a beta circle? You may already be familiar with the beta/author relationship, where one person will beta another person's work. Often (although not always) this relationship is reciprocal: author A will beta author B's work, and in turn author B will beta author A's work. A beta circle develops when more than two authors all provide reciprocal betas on each other's pieces.
The members of our beta circle all joined HA/HASA around the same time. Gwynnyd, Lady Aranel, and Tanaqui all joined within about a week in October 2003. Marta had joined a little earlier but only became really active around the same time. So we were all “new” members at much the same time.
It’s often the case that new members form beta relationship with other new members. This is probably because many longer-term members have already developed commitments at HASA. They may be involved behind the scenes helping to run the site, they may have established beta relationships formed when they first joined, or they may simply be so over-nuzgûlled that they barely have time to write all the stories they would like to and just don't have much time to spare to get involved with new members. Of course, some new members form beta partnerships or beta circles with established members. However, it is our experience that new members have many valuable gifts to offer each other. We treasure the friendships we have developed with our beta partners; and we believe these connections probably run deep because we were learning about HASA at the same time and could help each other make sense of the world we found ourselves in.
Yet it is not enough merely to be a new member of HA/HASA; you must make yourself a visible member as well. There are several ways you can do this. We share here those that worked for us and you can find more suggestions and examples in the Beta Reading at HASA article.
First, get involved at HA and the HASA forums. Tanaqui and Marta first connected at Marta’s forum, where she was trying to discuss one of her longer stories, "The Lady of Gondor." By that time, Tanaqui had already responded to a request from Marta at HA for feedback on a poem, and she had also read and commented one of Marta’s shorter pieces (without being asked to). Likewise, Tanaqui asked at her forum for help with some archery material in her piece "Sufficient," and Gwynnyd volunteered.
When you post a story at HASA that you'd like to get feedback on, make sure that you link it to your forum and start a thread with specific concerns you have about the story. (If you are unsure how to create a forum or link it to your story, you can find tutorials on both topics by selecting "Forums" from the drop down menu under "Sections" at the top of every page and then clicking on the "tutorial" link at the top right hand side; feel free to contact the Welcome Manager if you still have questions.) If you read a story and someone has linked to their forum, check out what sort of feedback they want and provide some if you feel you have something useful to say.
Don't forget to comment on other discussions you find interesting that are not strictly related to someone's stories. Lady Aranel, who first came to the fandom through the movies and was struggling to read the books, asked for advice on how to make the books easier to read. Tanaqui responded, and the two began exchanging private emails, both LotR-related and general chat. Lady Aranel asked Tanaqui to beta her piece "Awakenings" and soon managed to persuade Tanaqui to let her beta one of her pieces in return..
Gwynnyd, Marta and Tanaqui also connected further over agricultural discussions at HA. Marta was working on an idea for a Shire story (currently on the back burner) and wanted to know what crops might be harvested at different times of the year in the UK. Tanaqui, who lives in England, offered lots of helpful suggestions. She also commented on how, as a Brit, she always gets a bit jolted by the scene in the maize field in Jackson's FotR. To which Marta — who had not yet begun her stint as a HASA Challenges Manager but had already exhibited the necessary skills of opportunistic nuzgûl flinging — replied with the suggestion that Tanaqui should write a story for the Movie Challenge.
When the nuzgûl finally bit a few days later, Tanaqui realised she would need some help writing this piece as she had never been inside a maize field. She posted a request to HA, and many people replied — including both Gwynnyd and Marta onlist, and Lady Aranel by private email. Gwynnyd demonstrated her phenomenal research skills — which our group values highly — from the start by digging out lots of useful web links.
Speaking of Challenges...
… if you are active at HA and HASA, trying all the things suggested in the Beta Reading at HASA article, and still not finding a beta reader, you might try participating in a challenge. It's a great way to meet other writers. Tanaqui intended her story "Sufficient" to be humorous but, as Faramir stories have a tendency to do, it became rather angsty. She proposed the "Don't Worry, Be Happy" (aka, "Happy Faramir") challenge to encourage stories featuring Faramir where the Captain of Ithilien experiences no angst.
Gwynnyd asked Tanaqui, as the challenge originator, to provide beta comments in private (by e-mail) on her entry, "Bare Feet and Beer." Marta also requested beta comments on her entry but made a classic new member mistake: not realizing that she could ask for feedback (from Tanaqui or another member) in private before posting in the beta archive at HASA. This forced Tanaqui (and the many other HASA members who kindly commented) to provide comments in public through Marta’s forums on the earliest and rawest drafts. Tanaqui also flung a most vicious nuzgûl for a sequel in the process. Marta agreed to write the sequel, but only if Tanaqui would beta it.
Meanwhile, Lady Aranel had made a request at the I Need a Beta forum for someone to provide a grammar beta on other pieces (since Tanaqui normally does not do pure grammar betas). Marta responded. Lady Aranel knew Tanaqui and Marta worked together, so she asked Marta to beta a piece she was working on at the time for Tanaqui. Around the same time Gwynnyd started providing feedback for Marta’s piece "Lady of Gondor."
So we were all linked up with each other in some way (with varying degrees of reciprocity) and the e-mails were flying thick and fast — and it was getting rather confusing to keep up with it all. At the end of January 2004, Lady Aranel had a flash of inspiration and set up a Yahoo! group through which we could share WIPs and provide feedback. Our beta circle was officially launched.
Because this style of beta-ing seemed to work so well, Tanaqui asked for a new feature that would make detailed feedback easier to manage on the HASA site. And so Workshop was born.
Notice the dates when Tanaqui's beta circle was becoming established. Gwynnyd, Lady Aranel, and Tanaqui all joined HA/HASA in October 2003; the Yahoo group was not set up until the end of January 2004. That's nearly four months we spent getting to know each other. The time was well spent, of course: it allowed us to connect as individuals as well as writers. Those personal friendships are a major reason why our group works so well. But it did take time.
Yes, Gwynnyd, Lady Aranel, Marta and Tanaqui were lucky that a group of four compatible (and slightly mad) women were all looking for beta partners at the same time. But HASA is large enough that three or four slightly mad people are always looking for a beta. Remember, around fifteen new members join HASA every week — an average of one or two a day — and sometimes it’s more. If you aren't compatible with any of the members currently looking for beta partners, hang around a week and there'll be new members for you to try and hook up with.
The point is: we made this luck for ourselves by putting ourselves in positions to meet each other. Get involved. Post at HA and at the HASA forums. Join an existing site or open workshop or create your own. Ask for a beta, and offer your services to other authors. And above all else, enter a challenge! (Sorry, Marta insisted we put that in — she’s a tad biased on that last one. But challenges are a great way to meet other members.)
So the moral of our story: enter the Movie Challenge, and you too can organise your own beta circle. :-)
On a more serious note, we would all agree that our beta circle has been a truly amazing experience, and that we have all learnt a tremendous amount from each other. We also have the pleasure of feeling that when any one of us gets praise for a story, it feels like praise for the rest of us — while we have all been nearly as blessed on a personal level as we have creatively.
Happy hunting, and may you all "make your luck" and find a beta circle as rewarding as ours.
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