You’ve written a novel and now you want to know how potential readers would receive it. Or you’re looking for a writing partner to hold you accountable and give input as you write or revise.
It is possible to get feedback on your fiction writing, at any stage of the process, with the help of critique partners and beta readers. I’ve used both, and they’ve been invaluable in my writing journey.
Here we’ll look at what a beta reader and critique partner are, the difference between the two, what you can expect, and how to work with them.
What is a Beta Reader?
Beta readers are readers who read a finished draft of a manuscript and provide feedback to the author. Whereas an alpha reader will read the first version of a manuscript—and they’re typically the first person to read it—a beta reader will often intervene at a later stage once the manuscript has gone through several rounds of self-editing.
Why? Beta readers aren’t professional writers, and they don’t have the skills to help authors when the manuscript is too rough. Their main role isn’t to help the author develop the story, but to share their honest thoughts and opinions about it: the parts they liked and didn’t like, the characters they engaged with most, what caught their attention and what bored them.
Some skilled beta readers, who have more experience in reading manuscripts, whether they offer to do so for free or for a small fee, can spot other errors, such as inconsistencies, plot holes and continuity issues.
Unlike an editor or critique partner, they don’t offer “solutions” to a problem. Their main role is to catch weak areas in the story and advise the author, from a personal standpoint, on what could be improved.
What is a Critique Partner?
Critique partners (also called CPs), on the other hand, are fellow writers who exchange work with each other to provide feedback and constructive criticism.
Writers can work with critique partners at any stage of the writing process, from first drafts to revision cycles. Critique partners offer more objective feedback than beta readers, as they are also writers who have trained and worked on their craft. They can help other writers identify specific problems and brainstorm story ideas.
A critique partner is someone with whom you can develop a relationship over time, based on trust and mutual respect. Although each relationship is different and negotiated at the outset, it involves sharing chapters on a regular basis, whether weekly, biweekly, or monthly, as well as giving and receiving feedback. The exchange process is very important in a critical partner relationship, as is accountability. If one of the authors falls behind and doesn’t share their chapters, it could mean a missed opportunity for both to receive feedback.
In addition, critique partners, just like book coaches, can offer emotional support to writers. If you’re feeling lonely and isolated, having a support network can make all the difference in keeping you motivated and inspired.
However, it is worth noting that critique partners are not qualified editors or book coaches, and some of them are just starting out on their writing journey. They don’t offer the same qualitative guidance as a professional.
Nonetheless, it is recommended to work with a critique partner before seeking help from an editor, as this will save you money in the long run. By identifying and fixing some issues in your story with another writer, you’ll prepare your manuscript for professional feedback.
If you’re just starting out and prefer to work with a qualified editor straight away, look for a book or story coach! I offer this service, and these professionals can help you at any stage of the writing cycle.
Key Differences between Beta Readers and Critique Partners
Here are some major differences between beta readers and critique partners:
Role: The main role of beta readers is to provide an overall impression of a work, based on personal sensitivities and preferences, while critique partners provide in-depth and critical feedback on anything from plot, to structure, to characterization, and pacing.
Experience: Beta readers don’t need to have any writing experience, while critique partners are typically other writers with experience in the craft.
Stages: Beta readers typically read a completed work, while critique partners may read works-in-progress.
Feedback Format: Beta readers may provide feedback in a more general format, such as an overall impression, answering questions, or rating, while critique partners provide more detailed feedback in the form of comments or line edits.
Focus: Beta readers focus on whether a work is enjoyable and engaging, while critique partners focus on whether a work is well-crafted and effective.
Number: Beta readers can be numerous (5 – 10 is a good number to aim for), while critique partners are typically a small group of writers (generally 2 – 3).
Relationship: Beta readers may be strangers (readers) or acquaintances (family, colleagues), while critique partners are typically part of a writer’s community.
Feedback Style: Beta readers may provide feedback in a more casual or informal style, while critique partners should try and provide feedback in a more professional or formal style, though these styles can vary.
Overall, while both beta readers and critique partners provide valuable assistance to writers, the nature and scope of their feedback can vary significantly. It’s important for writers to understand these differences to make the most of working with both.
Managing Beta Readers Feedback
A writer can work with numerous beta readers and therefore it can be overwhelming to receive a lot of notes, in various ways. Here are some tips to avoid that:
Qualities to Look For in a Beta Reader
When selecting beta readers, look for individuals who are reliable, honest, and have a good understanding of the genre of the manuscript. They should be able to provide feedback that is constructive and helpful, rather than simply criticizing the work.
Ask for a Specific Format
It’s best to anticipate any problems by asking beta readers to provide feedback in the same form. You could ask them to send you a written summary of their overall impressions. Or perhaps you have a ready-to-use questionnaire. Whatever method you choose, don’t assume beta readers know the best way to give you feedback.
Organize the Notes
Have a system in place for organizing feedback. Use spreadsheets or other tools to keep track of comments received and their degree of importance and relevance.
Evaluate and Prioritize
Not all feedback is equal. Look for feedback that is consistent across multiple beta readers and prioritize areas of the manuscript that need the most improvement.
Benefits of Working with Critique Partners
So, how can working with a CP be beneficial to your writing career? Here are some ways:
Honest and Constructive Feedback: Critique partners are invested in helping writers grow and succeed and provide feedback that is both insightful and actionable.
Accountability: If you feel isolated, having a critique partner can help you stay on track. Knowing that someone is waiting to read your work can provide you with the motivation you need to keep writing.
Fresh Perspective: Writers are too close to their own work to notice certain issues. Critique partners may identify areas of improvement that a writer wouldn’t have seen by themselves.
Improve Writing Skills: Working with critique partners can help writers learn new techniques, receive feedback on their weaknesses, and improve their craft over time.
Support and Encouragement: Writing can be a lonely and challenging pursuit, and having someone to share the journey with can make all the difference.
Networking: Critique partners can also help writers network and connect with other writers. They may introduce writers to their own contacts in the industry or recommend writers to agents, editors, or publishers.
To sum up, having critique partners can be an invaluable asset for writers. They provide a supportive community of like-minded individuals who are invested in helping writers improve their craft and achieve their goals.
What Can You Expect from Critique Partners?
Critique partners are other writers who have the ability to help you enhance the story you’re writing. A good CP should help you with the following aspects:
Enhance Plot, Pacing, and Structure
Critique partners may give their opinion on the plot, suggesting ways to improve it and raise the stakes and tension. They can also give advice on pacing, noting where things don’t flow well or where there’s repetition. They can also be an ideal partner for discussing overall structure, for example, ensuring that the story follows a narrative structure such as the three-act structure or the hero’s journey.
Identify Plot Holes and Inconsistencies
They can point out parts of the story that don’t make sense, or where the plot seems to be going off the rails. If you’re struggling to make your story cohesive and compelling, a CP could provide invaluable guidance.
Improve Character Development
Critique partners may point out where characters seem underdeveloped, or where their motivations and actions are not consistent with their personalities.
There’s so much more a critique partner can do to help you, but these are some of the most essential aspects. Again, you shouldn’t expect the same level of expertise as a fiction editor (see my article on developmental editing), but with the help of a writing partner, your manuscript will be considerably improved and ready for professional feedback.
How to Work with Beta Readers and Critique Partners?
It’s no surprise that working with beta readers and critique partners can be an incredibly rewarding experience for writers. However, it’s important to approach the process with a mindset of open-mindedness, patience, and appreciation. Here are some tips for working with beta readers and critique partners:
Be Clear about Expectations: Be upfront about what kind of feedback you’re looking for, what you hope to achieve from the feedback, and any deadlines you have in mind.
Choose the Right People: Look for beta readers who read extensively in the same genre as you write. No point asking a reader of mystery for feedback on a romance novel. Look for critique partners who share similar interests, experience, and writing styles. If you’re a more advanced writer, you want someone who matches your experience.
Be Open to Feedback: Approach the feedback you receive from beta readers and critique partners with an open mind. Remember that their notes are meant to help you improve your work, so be willing to take constructive criticism and incorporate it into your writing. As a rule of thumb, don’t argue with the feedback or try to prove your point.
Don’t Take it Personally: It’s easy to feel defensive or hurt when someone critiques your work but remember it’s not personal. Beta readers and critique partners aren’t seeking to hurt you, but rather help you improve your work.
Give Back: If you’re working with critique partners, give your thoughts on their work as well. It’s a two-way street and providing feedback on someone else’s work can help you improve your own writing skills. If you’re working with beta readers, you may consider asking them to be part of your street team and offering rewards in return.
Be Grateful: Finally, be grateful for the time and effort that they’ve put into reading your work and providing thoughts. Take the time to thank them and acknowledge their contribution to your writing journey.
Walk Away: It’s okay to walk away if all you are receiving is negative feedback or if the relationship isn’t working for you.
In conclusion, beta readers and critique partners can provide invaluable feedback and support to writers. Both can be a tremendous help to any writer in their journey, helping them improve their writing skills and develop their craft. Above all, they will help you get your manuscript ready for professional guidance, and your next step would be either a manuscript assessment or a developmental edit.
Have you ever worked with a beta reader or a critique partner? If so, let me know about your experience!