Tuesday, April 2, 2019

#AtoZchallenge Beta Readers vs. Critique Partners

Beta Readers vs. Critique Partners

Hooray, you’ve finished your manuscript! After a celebratory nap, your next step is to start revisions, and a big part of the revising process is getting feedback from other people as beta readers (also called betas) and critique partners (often shortened to CPs). They sometimes get confused for one another, so let’s run through the differences first!

Critique Partners

A critique partner is just that: a partner. Ideally, they should be someone who writes the same genre as you with whom you can swap manuscripts. Because they’re a fellow writer, they’re someone who can examine your manuscript for things like voice, plot, and worldbuilding. A good CP can be there for you during several rounds of revision, and you may even seek one out before your manuscript is complete.

Beta Readers

Beta readers are, first and foremost, readers. They look at your manuscript as if it were a book they just took off the shelf and aim to answer the question “What did you think?” They are big-picture readers, focusing more on the feel of the manuscript than the nitty-gritty of grammar and phrasing. You should, at the very least, have a finished manuscript to send to beta readers, preferably one that has been polished by critique partners already.

Before you start looking…

Make sure your manuscript isn’t a rough first draft. Give it a couple passes for grammar and spelling, plot issues, consistency of characters, that kind of thing. You don’t want to overwhelm your reader with minor issues that will distract from the things you want them to focus on.

Come up with a list of questions or things to watch for. It’s a good idea to give your CPs and beta readers some guidelines, so they can think about these topics as they read.

Remember that you might need a thick skin. You’re offering up your manuscript to be picked apart, and that’s hard!

Where to look…

Writing communities, both online and in-person, are everywhere. Whether it’s a local Meetup group in your town or a Slack group with members around the world, you’re bound to find someone interested in your work. The #CPMatch event happens every few months on Twitter, and that can be a great event for people searching for CPs.

As tempting as it may be, friends and family members are probably not your best bet. It can be hard for them to be objective about your work, especially if you have talked to them about it in the past. Keep in mind the fact that they may not like it, or that they may give you critique that you don’t want or agree with. Think of it this way: Are you willing to jeopardize your relationship with someone to get feedback on your work? The answer is probably “no.”

Once you find someone…

Swap some material, whether it’s the first chapter or first twenty pages. You each want to get a sense of what the other person’s commenting style is like. Are they brutally honest, or more of a compliment sandwich person? Figure out what you need from your reader and try to get it if you can.

Critique one another’s work and go over the notes you received. Do they understand your work? Have they provided useful notes? Do you like their manuscript, and do you want to read more?

Ready to keep going…

If you like this person’s work and are interested in continuing to work with them, it’s time to figure out the details. Establish a schedule – how often will you send material back and forth? Do you have a deadline by which you need your feedback? Will you work in Google Docs or Microsoft Word?

Send your list of questions or items to keep an eye on. Make sure that your beta or CP understands the list before they get too far into the manuscript. It’s no help to you to get notes you can’t use!

Remember that if you feel like a CP or beta relationship isn’t working out, it’s okay to say so. You wouldn’t stay in a relationship that didn’t make you happy “in the real world,” and writing shouldn’t be any different. The goal with CPs and betas is to make your work better, and if someone’s notes aren’t helping you do that, you don’t have to take them. If a CP or beta is constantly slamming your work without providing constructive criticism, maybe it’s time to step back. Don’t let anyone stand in the way of achieving your writing dreams!

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary badge


TWW said...

well done, some real fine information.

Fe said...

Thank you for the excellent advice.

I have finished my first fantasy novel and did, as newbies do, gave it to some friends and family to read. I was quite prepared for the negatives though and a couple of friends said that they just couldn't get into it because they don't like fantasy (also to your point :p).
Warm regards
Sent here from A-Z.

Trisha Faye said...

Great blog with a lot of good information. I'm so glad you stopped by during A to Z so I could discover you. (Writers Zen and Vintage Daze)

Erin Penn said...

I always tell people don't tap family members because they know how you talk and will fill in the blanks even without meaning to. Good solid definitions and descriptions - especially the fact it is okay to break up. Thanks for dropping by my blog earlier this month!

Random Musings said...

Both are a great way to get feedback on what's working or not working in a manuscript once you get too close to it to analyse it properly

The Joyous Living said...

good tip about the friends and family. it's so easy to want to hand it over to them. of course being in a writing class helps since you have all these captive readers, lol. those were the good ol' days.


Lisa said...

Good tip about the questions sheet. A friend of mine does this and as a beta reader, I use it! Helps me look closely at everything. Also, just in case you didn't know, you have an "I" up today as your letter instead of a "B"! Thanks for a great post!

Sue Bursztynski said...

I’ve never done anything as detailed as a critique partner, though I was once part of a group that read each other’s stories and met for coffee once a month to discuss them. And believe me, there was plenty of criticism that needed a thick skin! I have had the odd beta reader. Somewhere in Melbourne there is a young woman who may still have a copy of my manuscript for my YA novel which she read as a teen and wouldn’t part with! The finished product was very different.

C Is For Isobelle Carmody


Roland Clarke said...

Excellent tips. I've found some B for Brilliant readers/partners through IWSG.

S. M. Saves said...

Glad this straightens things out for me. I initially thought betas and CPs were one in the same (heard beta thrown around, not so much CP). It makes sense that one looks at the whole picture and the other the details.
Great post!

T.S. Valmond said...

Beta vs. critique partners can be a real asset if you can find them. This is a challenge for writers who have trust issues. :-) I look forward to seeing more of your A-Z theme this year. -(Dragons & Spaceships)

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I have excellent beta readers who sometimes act as CPs as it suits them :-) Great post!

Ronel visiting from the A-Z Challenge with Music and Writing: Let's Talk Boybands

JazzFeathers said...

Thant sounds a lot more organised that I usually do, LOLO!
Personally, I prefer to not ask questions to my beta readers, because often what they don't say is as important as what they do say. Depending on what they write to me when the finished the story, I may go mor einto details, but I prefer not to give direction at the beginning.