Critique Partners v. Beta Readers

This week’s topic, and the series to follow it, is thanks to my friend Tanner Childs, and some of the information is inspired by Kim Chance’s Youtube video on the same topic. Beta Readers (Betas) and Critique Partners (CPs) are two groups of people who are essential to the author’s editing process. They typically come in to help us writerly folks polish our books, novella, etc. before we send it out to professional editors, agents, etc. They are basically the lovely guinea pigs that help us to better understand how our book is going to impact readers. Contrary to popular belief though, they’re not the same thing.

Kim makes a point in her video that Betas are typically non-writers who read your material as someone would if they were pulling it off of a shelf at a bookstore. They search for plot holes, point out flaws in storytelling, or tell you if characters behaving inconsistently, whether your world is vivid and easy to make sense of…  Any “big picture” things that your readers are likely to notice.

Critique Partners, according to Kim, do the same thing, but are also fellow writers, so they can catch things the average reader might miss. Grammar issues, awkward phrasing…. All the more nitty-gritty, techie fixes will catch their attention, in addition to the “big picture” issues. Kim also says that, as implied in the name, the two of you agree to form a partnership where you read each other’s works. Beta reading only goes on way, CPing is a two way street.

I think all of her points are very valid and important, but I also think there’s a little bit more to it than that, on both ends.  To simplify things I’m going to make two bulleted lists: one for CPs and one for Betas. Please remember that these are only my opinions, based on my experience being a Beta, and having my own great CPs in my friends Tanner & SGD Singh.

CPs

  • Fellow writers with whom you swap works
  • Generally come before Betas and read the roughest form of your manuscript/chapter
  • Can also be brainstorming partners and are usually around for the long haul of the writing process
  • Generally writers do not have as many CPs as they do Betas, depending on how well the relationship works out for both parties
  • CPs will generally see the work in multiple forms, more than once
  • A CP should be semi-knowledgeable/interested in your genre, especially if you intend to brainstorm together

Betas

  • May be writers but can also just be readers
  • Come after CPs and get the most polished/up-to-date version of your work before it’s sent to an editor
  • Usually are only there to give feedback on an already semi-polished product, and offer suggestions, rather than brainstorm like a CP would
  • Generally a writer will have multiple groups of Betas, and send their work out in rounds, after considering/incorporating feedback from the previous round to determine how feedback changes
  • Betas will likely see the work once or twice, in the  cleanest form possible
  • A Beta may be interested/knowledgeable in your genre but they don’t HAVE to be. I believe Jenna Moreci or Vivian Reis pointed this out on their Youtube channels, but it’s important that at least some of your Betas are NOT your ideal target audience, because it will give you a chance to figure out if your audience is bigger or smaller than you originally thought, which can help you fine tune your marketing later on.
  • And finally, another great point of Kim’s-  You need to be confident your Betas are going to give you sound, honest advice and not be afraid of hurting your feelings. I hate to break it to you, but you are going to get your feelings hurt during the process; taking criticism is HARD. The good part about doing it with people that you trust, but you also know won’t sugar-coat their thoughts, is that I guarantee the feedback will be ten times more helpful than “It was great!”As nice as that is, it won’t make your work editor, agent, or publisher ready.

Next week, we’ll talk about how to find CPs, and how to be a good one.
Challenge of the Week: Was this helpful to you?

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