Guidelines for Authors, Beta Readers, and Sensitivity Readers

When Writing

  • Identify what you want out of the relationship with your beta and make sure you clearly communicate your needs. If you’re only concerned with typos or spelling, state that. If you want your beta to provide feedback and suggestions on larger picture issues, such as plot, characterization, or worldbuilding, specify that. Betas have different strengths and areas of focus. Be clear about the sorts of feedback you want and the sorts you do not want. Depending on the feedback you need, you may want to work with more than one beta on a story. If so, communicate clearly with all of your betas.
  • Be respectful of your beta’s time. They are volunteering their labor. If you have a set date by which you wish to publish, tell them and allow them as much time as possible to review your fic.
  • If you want feedback on something specific (eg., pacing, characterization, structure, etc.), let your beta know. Also discuss how you want them to give you feedback, including issues like directly editing versus tracking changes versus using the comments feature in Google Docs or Word.
  • Let your beta know about any sensitive content and content warnings in your story or chapter to let them make an informed decision about working on that content.
  • If your fic contains sensitive or potentially triggering topics and themes, consider seeking out a sensitivity reader in addition to your beta reader(s). A sensitivity reader is a specialized type of beta reader who holds a lived experience or marginalized identity that the author does not, but that the author intends to portray within their fic.
    • There are a variety of topics, themes, and events within the Buffyverse (and the Spuffy relationship specifically) that can be considered sensitive, controversial, or difficult to navigate in fanfiction, including: intimate partner violence, racism, homophobia, transphobia, physical abuse, emotional abuse, manipulation, fatphobia, fetishization, sexual assault, ableism, classism, sexism, etc. Though this is not an exhaustive list, we recommend seeking out a sensitivity reader for any marginalized identities/lived experiences that you have not personally experienced. Sensitivity readers can also be useful when attempting to portray a specific career or research discipline that you are not immersed in; for instance, if you were writing a fic exploring the military-industrial complex within the Initiative, it may be helpful to work with someone who has served in a branch of the American military.
    • A key phrase to remember when writing a story that involves marginalized identities you do not personally share: “Nothing about us, without us”— it is important to not only engage a beta reader for your work but to also seek out sensitivity readers with lived experiences in the topics you have selected for your fic.
  • While betas are there to offer you input on improving the story, ultimately, it is your story, and you make the final decision on what the final story will look like.
  • Understand that betas are human and are not going to catch everything. Ultimately, you are the only one responsible for the content of what you post and the shape it is in.
  • Unless they request otherwise, acknowledge and thank your betas when you publish.

When Beta Reading

  • Respect that it is the author’s story, and as such, it is at their discretion what recommendations are taken and what are not. Never attempt to rewrite or impose your views or tastes onto the author’s work. Negotiate ahead of time what in-text corrections (such as typos) are acceptable; do not assume.
  • Be upfront about what you bring to the table, whether you’re eagle-eyed and can spot a typo from a mile away or better with broader, big-picture development. Many authors have multiple betas; knowing your strengths as a beta can help them round out their publishing team.
  • While the author should do their due diligence and inform you about potentially sensitive or triggering material, be vocal if you have set boundaries on what you will/will not beta.
  • Be clear about your availability and turnaround time and any changes to either. Communication is key.
  • Be kind in all communications, especially as it pertains to the author’s work.

When Sensitivity Reading

  • A sensitivity reader is a specialized type of beta reader who holds a lived experience or marginalized identity that the author does not, but that the author intends to portray within their fic.
  • No sensitivity readers are one-size-fits-all; you may feel comfortable serving as a sensitivity reader for religious themes (e.g. if you are Jewish and the story focuses on Willow’s religion in parts), but not as a sensitivity reader for accessibility or disability reasons (e.g. if you are able-bodied and the story focuses on Spike’s time in a wheelchair in S2). It’s important to know your limits and communicate them effectively.
  • It is important to remember that, even if you hold a marginalized identity, your experiences are not universal to all individuals with the same marginalized identity. As with beta readers, your input serves as suggestions to the author, but with an increased emphasis on authenticity and identity-based portrayals in fic.
  • If you are curious about the history, value, and application of sensitivity reading, consider reading articles like the one linked here. While the article focuses on published original fiction, the importance of sensitivity reading rings true in fanfiction communities as well.