I’m interested in the kinds of fanwork that goes on in the production of fanfiction; there’s more than we usually articulate, and I’ve often felt like we haven’t got the language to differentiate between the different kinds of beta work that goes on behind the scenes. So I’ve given a shot at articulating and classifying the various kinds of beta reading I’m familiar with.
SPAG Beta. Spelling, punctuation and grammar. This is your basic line edit. This is the person who catches your typos and silly mistakes.
Dropped Words Beta. Some people might be both a SPAG and a dropped words beta, but I feel this one deserves pulling out. I don’t know about you, but I can’t write a damn sentence without dropping at least a word or two. I think the word is there, I can practically see it there, but it’s not there. Many (if not most) people will add the lost at or an or the in there for you in their minds and not notice, but the laser eyes of a dropped word beta will put you to rights again. To be a dropped words beta you need to be able to look at the text without getting drawn into the story, and that’s both a special skill and a sacrifice for someone who actually likes your story. So anyone who can do this: you are a treasure, a gift, and made of gold.
Plot Beta. This is work that happens at the very beginning, as well as throughout a story. A plot beta is the person you talk your story out with, she’s your sounding board in the creation process. She may not be into SPAG or dropped words, and might not be a britpicker or formatting genius, but that doesn’t matter. Your plot beta’s not really there to worry about your word choice. She’s there to help birth a story with you. I write very long stories, so plot betas come in early go through my outline with me as I construct it. A plot beta is one of the few who end up beta reading an outline, in my experience. Many betas I’ve worked with don’t want to know what’s going to happen next in a story. They don’t want to be spoiled. So you can keep the spoiling conversations between you and your plot beta, and keep surprising a SPAG and formatting beta.
Research beta. This person works with you to help you pin down the bizarre facts you need to get your story right. Like a plot beta, they can act as a sounding board and help you construct the fine details.
Character Beta. This is someone who will act as a north star for you on a particular character. This is helpful if you’re writing about a character you don’t feel entirely certain about, or you just want someone to argue with you about the actions of a particular character so you can feel confident that s/he is at least close to being in character. It’s actually hard to keep the canon core of a character in your mind as you morph and change him/her, so having someone around who isn’t off on your flights of fantasy with you can be helpful in that respect.
Emotional Flow Beta. This is someone who reads your story for its emotional flow. Is it working? Does it ring true? They’re not there to debate whether the characters are OOC, just to tell you if the actions you’re describing feels real. This is related to a plot beta, and can be related to a character beta, but is different than both. Your emotional flow beta might have no idea where you’re story is headed and is just reacting to what’s on the page right now, which is useful. (hiddenlacuna suggests: whump!beta.)
Settings and Location Beta. This is someone who is attuned to the places you’re setting your stories, works well with Google Maps, and is anal retentive enough to correct you if you say it takes forty minutes to walk to that Tesco when it actually takes about twenty-five. This person is often also your Britpicker, but this is a separate service, I’d say.
Britpicker. Everyone knows what a Britpicker is, right? The person who tells you you’ve used the word “gotten” again, and that “recognize” doesn’t have a z in it in the UK. Also it’s a lift for God’s sake, not an elevator! In other fandoms, you may need an Americanpicker or other. (I’ve yet to be asked to act as a Canuckpicker, much to my disappointment.)
*-picker. You can call in an expert on anything, really. If you have violins in your story, call in a violin expert! Cricket? The inner workings of the BBC? Find a picker for that! It never hurts to call in someone with specialist knowledge.
Smut Beta. The person who helps you sort out those insanely complicated sex scenes. This is someone you trust not to laugh their bums off at you as you stumble through this terrifying territory.
Canon Beta. Someone whose inner knowledge of the canon in question is exquisite, and who can make sure you haven’t made any egregious mistakes.
Formatting Beta. This is a person who makes sure your code is clear to be posted. In more complicated stories, this might be a bigger deal than usual.
One person can be many of these things; obviously they’re not mutually exclusive. I think you could merge a few of the pieces and end up with a sort of sounding board beta you talk to before and during the writing, and then the person with the laser eyes you call in once you have something to actually look at. But these are (at least some) of the work that is behind the scenes of a fanfiction story.
If you are someone who would like to be someone’s sounding board, but you don’t really want to be responsible for line editing, you can still offer to beta. It’s just a different kind of relationship, and different expectations on both sides! All kinds of betas are welcome, useful, and intensely valuable!
Did I miss any?