A to Z Challenge

X-Factor: Beta Readers and Critique Partners

X is for X-factor.

As writers, we know that we need an extra set of eyes on our work. But who should we trust? To answer that question, here’s a guest post by author friend Stephanie Faris.

Writing can be a lonely profession. Even if you enjoy those hours of toiling away on a piece of fiction, until another person reads it, you never really get an objective opinion. If you’re lucky, you form friendships early in your career that allow you to always get that feedback you need. Or maybe you’re like Stephen King and someone in your own house serves as a first reader.

But even after you’ve finished your novel, extra eyes can be crucial to success. At that point, you usually progress from a critique partner, or an entire critique group, to at least one beta reader. It’s important to know the difference, since they can be two completely different groups. You can also bring beta readers in early in the process if you want to save some time later. Here are some key differences between critique partners and beta readers.

Critique Partners

If you’ve never been part of a critique group, you’re missing a great experience. There are several ways critique groups operate, whether they have only two members or 200. One way is to have all members read pages in between meetings, then spend the meeting itself summarizing feedback on each member’s pages, with line edits on the pages themselves. Another way is to have members take turns reading their pages aloud, then let other members off their critique immediately following.

You don’t have to leave the house to participate in a critique group. Many of today’s groups gather online, where it’s easy to exchange pages and share thoughts. Writer’s organizations often have critique group matchmaking services, but you can also place announcements in Facebook Groups, on Twitter, or on your own blog. Chances are, there’s someone right now looking for a critique partner just as you are.

Beta Readers

Critique groups are generally made up of your peers. Beta readers, on the other hand, represent your readership. If you write romance or sci-fi novels, you’ll want someone who is an avid reader in those genres and can give honest feedback from that perspective. A writer for children and teens should search for enthusiastic readers in their target age group. Often children and young adults will excitedly sign up to be part of your “street team” if it means they get access to early copies of your book, as well as free items like bookmarks.

As tempting as it may be, try to avoid relying on relatives and friends for this part of the process. You’ll want someone who can give an honest opinion, unclouded by personal relationships. Instead, reach out in online writing forums. This list can help get you started. If you have ARC copies you can send out, use those, but online readers may be fine with reading an electronic copy of your manuscript.

Having a second pair of eyes on your manuscript can give you the objective read you need to improve it. Whether you’re counting on your peers or you’re getting feedback from beta readers, make sure you’re open to whatever you hear. You may not agree with every comment, but often if you get past your personal attachment to your work and really listen, you can make your manuscript better than ever.

Stephanie Faris is the author of the middle grade books 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses, as well as the Piper Morgan chapter book series. An accomplished freelance writer, her work has appeared in Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Pacific Standard, Mental Floss, and The Week, among many others.

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Do you have any questions for Stephanie? Do you have beta readers/critique partners?

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