One of the most important steps in an author’s writing journey is getting feedback on their work. No matter if you’ve written your first draft or your tenth, feedback is always valuable. As authors, we are so close to our own work that it can be difficult to catch mistakes – whether they be plot holes, character inconsistencies, or pacing. This is where having a beta reader comes in.
Critique Partners and Beta Readers
A critique partner – or CP, for short – is a fellow writer on the same journey as you. Unlike beta readers, who will be reading the work as a whole, a CP will help you look at your work on a more personal level. They’ll help you spot plot holes, character and world inconsistencies, help you brainstorm ideas, and so much more. With your CP, they’ll not only be looking at your own work with a close eye, but you’ll also be looking at their work as well.
It’s both polite, and common curtesy, to give back what you receive. Don’t be a bad CP and take their feedback without giving some of your own!
More often than not, by gaining a CP, you also gain a friendship. Having someone in your corner who roots for you every step of the way is so helpful in the writing process.
Beta readers – or simply known as betas – can be writers themselves, or just people who love to read. Unlike CP’s, who will most likely know your book inside and out, a beta will go into your book with fresh eyes, unknowing what awaits inside, much like a reader would if they picked your book off the shelf.
A betas feedback is beneficial, as they’ll tell you how they felt about the book as a whole. Did they like the story? Did it grip them the entire way through? Were there any parts where the pacing dragged? These are all things betas will be able to point out to you. They’ll be able to tell where the weakest and strongest parts of the novel are in a way that the writer – who’s so close to the project – can’t always see.
While you can enlist family and friends to be beta readers for you, it’s best to find someone who has an unbiased opinion of you and your work. Your family and friends most likely won’t be honest with their feedback, in an attempt not to hurt your feelings, so finding someone who can lay on the hard truths about your work is more beneficial to your growth as a writer.
NOTE: A beta reader and CP are in no way obligated to do any editing for your novel. Don’t expect them to do line edits, copy edits, developmental edits, etc…unless you and your CP or beta have specifically agreed to exchange any type of editing for one another.
But How Do You Find Them?
The only way to find beta readers and critique partners is to get involved in the Writing Community. I find Twitter in particular to be the easiest place to meet writers, but there are plenty of other places, too.
Twitter Hashtags and Chats:
• #StorySocial (Every Wednesday at 8pm CST)
• #Chance2Connect (The second Tuesday of every month at 8pm CST)
• #WritersPatch (Every Sunday at 10am CST)
Free Beta Readers, Free Critiques, and Paid Editors
Professional Beta Readers
Beta Readers & Critiques
Writers Helping Writers
Writers, Beta Readers, Critique, Advice, Writing Exercise & Rainbows!
First Chapter Critique Group
NOTE: I’ve also heard that Goodreads is an excellent place to find beta readers, but I’ve personally never tried it. I’ve found all of my beta readers and CP’s from Twitter.
When Should You Start Looking?
You can start looking for beta readers whenever you feel ready, but it’s important to do so BEFORE looking for a literary agent, editor, or attempting to publish. It’s also recommend that your draft is as clean as possible before sending it to betas. You want them to focus on the STORY – not the grammar and spelling mistakes inside.
A good beta reader can catch many of the mistakes as I’ve mentioned above, and many of these things can be fixed with a few rounds of revisions. No matter if you’re looking to traditional or self-publish, you always want to have your manuscript as good as you can get it. Having a manuscript littered with easily fixable mistakes will not only bring rejection, but often, more work for an editor (who will only charge you more for their time, if you’ve hired a freelance editor).
What Should You Ask?
The more specific you are, the better the feedback will be. Give your betas something to look for or keep in mind while they’re reading. Here’s some examples from my own beta reader questionnaire that I sent with my last WIP:
• Is there anything about the world-building that doesn’t make sense or needs elaboration?
• Did the setting interest you? Was the world vivid in your imagination?
• Did the story hold your interest from the very beginning? Why or why not?
• Were there any spots where the story lagged or you lost interest? If so, why and where?
• Were there any scenes that bored you or had you skipping pages? Why?
• Was there enough conflict, tension, and intrigue to hold your interest?
• Were any parts of the plot predictable?
• What grabbed your attention most?
Feel free to be as detailed or simple with your questions as you see fit!
How Many Beta’s Do You Need?
As many as you think you do! There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, but my personal advice would be to secure ten beta readers, at least!
The reason I say this is because you want a wide variety of people to look at your manuscript. Everyone will come at it with a different opinion and take on what they get out of the story. With ten different pieces of feedback from ten different people, it can be easier to pinpoint what is and isn’t working.
If you have ten beta readers and eight of them finish the book saying they LOVED the ending, but two said they were disappointed, whose feedback do you agree with? But if eight beta readers say they hated the ending, and two say they loved it, what do you do then?
If a majority of beta readers come to the same conclusion on what aspect of your story isn’t working (Act I dragged, this character fell flat, they loved the ending, etc…) more often than not, they’re right. If one or two beta out of ten mention, it could be their personal opinion.
It’s also beneficial to have a larger number of beta readers in case someone doesn’t finish. People are very busy, and even though people may commit to read your work, not everyone always sees it through. Make sure you have enough betas that if someone does stop reading, then you’ll still have plenty of feedback to work with!
What To Look For in a Beta Reader
Familiarity in Your Genre
You’ll want to find someone who actively reads what you write. For example, if you’re writing an epic fantasy complete with sword fights and dragons, but give your manuscript to someone who has never picked up a fantasy book in their life – well, their feedback might not be the best.
You want to find someone who would be in your target audience.
Finding someone who can be brutally honest is the next thing to look for. It may sting at first, but you’ll have to grow a thick skin. Find someone who won’t sugar coat things.
How to Work With a Beta Reader
Develop a Thick Skin
To be a writer, you have to have thick skin. It’s just the way the profession goes. You will face rejection every step of the way, and working with betas readers will be no different.
The beta reader stage is all about whipping your manuscript into shape. It’s about fixing everything you can’t see with your own eyes. A beta reader’s job is to judge your manuscript, not you.
As I mentioned above, asking questions is so important. By asking detailed questions and getting detailed answers back, you can see where your manuscript will need the most work.
Analyze Their Feedback
Once you get your feedback, it may take a while to digest. I recommend reading all of it and letting it stew in your mind for a couple of days before trying to make changes. Having betas also gives you a chance to step away from the manuscript. Take a step back and really think about what they’ve said, why they’ve said, and if they’re right.
NOTE: Beta readers are not always right. Take everything they say with a grain of salt. Remember, this is still your work, and you can choose to agree or disagree.
I personally think the best way you can pay a beta reader back is by offering to beta read for them in return. Betas take time out of their lives to read your work, and returning the favor is one of the best things you can do. When I enlisted my beta readers, I offered to return the favor to every one of them.
At the end of the day, having beta reader’s feedback is one of the most valuable things you can have as a writer. Beta readers help to make your story stronger, and help you grow as a writer. It’s important not to skip this step in your writing process!
How do you work with beta readers? Are these tips helpful? Let me know in the comments!
XOXO – Devon