Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Difference Between Critique Partners and Beta Readers

beta readers, critiques, giving feedback, novel feedback
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Critique partners and beta readers have similar jobs, but they’re not the same thing.

January is a common month to start revisions and the search for critique partners and beta readers, and my various social media feeds are always filled with comments and thoughts related to both.

This year, I received a direct question from a reader about the difference between a critique and a beta read—and the people who do them.

Like so many other writing terms, these are often used interchangeably, but have slightly different meanings.

What a Critique Partner Does During a Critique

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Critiques are vital to writing
Critique partners are usually fellow writers who read a manuscript with the intent to find flaws, errors, weak spots, and confusing areas, as well as let the author know where the manuscript is working and what its strengths are. They make suggestions on how to fix issues, and give an overall opinion on the novel as a whole.

Critiques can range from very detailed line-level feedback to a summarized overview of the book.

Critiques are typically done during the drafting stage, anywhere from the rough draft up to the finished draft. Most critiques are done somewhere in the middle—once the manuscript is in decent shape, but the author knows it still needs some work or has some issues.

The goal of a critique partner is to help the author fix or strengthen any issues in the manuscript that aren’t working before it reaches the “publishing” stage. For some, that might mean prior to sending it out to agents or editors, others, before it gets published. But it also means the last critique before it goes to beta readers.

(Here’s more on things to remember when giving or receiving feedback)

What a Beta Reader Does During a Beta Read

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Beta readers give the reader experience
Beta readers can be writers, but their real value lies in being regular readers—especially if they’re fans of your genre and market. Their job is do a “first read” of a manuscript as if it were a published book and let the author know their opinion on it. Did they like it? Was it a good read? How did they feel about the character or the story?

They aren’t looking for mistakes or issues with the technical aspects of writing, and they’re not likely to make line comments (though some might to let you know where something affected them, good and bad, and many are good at finding typos).

Beta reads are typically done after the manuscript is “finished” (we all know that varies), so the author can get a sense of how someone who knows little to nothing about the story enjoys the book. It’s testing the book to see if it’s ready to go—to agents, to editors, or to be published.

The goal of a beta reader is to read the novel as if they’d purchased it and essentially give the author “a review” of the book from the general reader perspective.

(Here’s more on questions for beta readers)

As long as you’re getting the feedback you need, it really doesn’t matter what you call the person reviewing your manuscript. But it’s not a bad idea to clarify what you’re looking for. If you ask for a beta read but want detailed feedback, you’re not likely to get it. Same as if you ask for a critique expecting a general review of the book, and receive pages and pages of notes and comments.

(Here's more on beta reader and critique partner etiquette)

Both readers and critiquers play vital roles in the writing process, and it’s useful to have some of each on hand. It’s important for us to know where the technical issues in our manuscripts are, just as we need to know how readers feel about our books.

Do you use critique partners and beta readers to improve your writing? Do you critique or beta read for other writers?

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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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