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 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!