Disclaimer: There is no right or wrong way to use critique partners and betas, just like there is no right or wrong way to write a book. This post is just my opinion on the subject, based on what’s worked for me and what I think will. If you disagree, that’s ok. Be yourself.
So, you’ve got your book almost done, Your author platform is growing, and you’re wondering what these CP’s and beta’s are you keep seeing people mention online. CP stands for critique partner and beta stands for beta reader. Welcome to the wonderful world of feedback.
I’ve said many times, in different ways, that it’s easy to just write a book and publish it. However, if you want to write a good book that people will want to read and enjoy, you have a lot of work to do. A lot of hard work. Critique Partners and Beta Readers are part of that process. For those who don’t know, some definitions:
Critique partners are fellow writers who will read your manuscript and give you feedback on things like: pace, character archs, plot holes, and even possibly grammar. Some feedback you will ignore and some you will act on, using it to improve your story.
Beta readers are people who fit your target audience, are not usually writers although they can be, and give feedback on things like: how enjoyable a read it is, if the ending is predictable, and if there were any parts that were confusing. Just like with critique partners; some feedback you will ignore and some you will act on, using it to improve your story.
Both of these groups are priceless because the people in them are seeing your story for the first time. That means they will catch problems you miss because you are too close to see them. Luckily you don’t need to pay a fortune for either group. Beta readers are traditionally paid by receiving a free copy of your book (signed would be nice), and critique partners usually expect you to return the favor by being their critique partner.
It’s true I have seen people charge for both of these services, however I feel it’s kind of weird to pay money for this kind of feedback. It’s like saying, “Here’s $50. Do you like my book?” Now, before anyone dumps a bunch of hate on me, thinking I’m calling them liars, that’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is that my little insecure brain would always wonder if it was really them liking my book or if it was the dollars talking. Now, when you’re talking professional editing (and we will in a future blog post) that’s a whole different story.
Anyway, there are no hard and fast rules on when or how to use either of these groups. Each writer finds the process and timing that works best for them. Chances are however, you will go several rounds with each group. I suggest checking out what several writer’s processes are for these two groups. Take what sounds like a good idea from each of them and try it for yourself. You can always try a different way next time. Live and learn.
Here’s how I use CP’s and Betas:
There’s three times I call on critique partners: when I’m working through ideas before writing begins, during the writing process to get feedback on small sections I’m struggling with, and when I’ve completed the final draft to go over the entire book.
I find CP’s either by asking specific friends or sending a general request out on social media. If I ask a specific friend, it’s usually because it’s come up in conversation. I don’t just ask out of the blue. Putting someone on the spot like that is not cool. When I send a general request, I make sure to specify that I’m only looking for people who are writers and that I will be offering to CP for them in return and we’ll work out other details via private message.
One of the things to specify in the private message, is that the first exchange of story material is a trial section. If for any reason they don’t want to continue reading my story, all they have to do is say so and we’ll part ways with no hard feelings. They don’t even have to give a reason if they don’t want, although it might be helpful to me in finding a replacement CP. The point is, not everyone is a good match for everyone else. Writing styles, level of skill, personality, and a million other things could make the experience uncomfortable for one or both parties. If either one of you wants out, don’t sweat it, just say bye and move on.
I haven’t decided if I like Google Docs or Microsoft Word better yet, so I leave it up to my CP which they prefer. Either way, I send them whatever part I need help with, along with a requested deadline for them to send it back with their comments. If it’s the final draft, I’ll send a few chapters at a time, give them a couple weeks to read and send it back, send a few more chapters, rinse and repeat.
Keep in mind I don’t have to make the changes they suggest, but I should take them into serious consideration. I also should take the job of critiquing their work seriously when the time comes. Some tips for that are:
- Be honest. If you think something’s not working say so. If they didn’t want your opinion they wouldn’t have asked.
- Be nice. How you word your feedback makes a difference. Remember, you’re trying to help them improve, not crush their confidence.
- Be specific. General feedback like, “I loved Alice.” or “The fight scene sucked.” Is OK if you include why. Remember, as a writer you’re expected to help with the technical aspects beta readers can’t, like character development, plot holes, etc.
- Be sure to include the positive. If all you talk about is what’s wrong, then they’ll think that’s all there is. Point out what’s working as well, and not only will you boost their confidence, you may save the best parts from being cut later.
Once you and your critique partner have gone over your book, and you think you’ve got it all nice and pretty for the public, that’s when you start with betas.
By this point, it’s best if you’ve figured out who your target audience is so that when you start looking for betas you can make sure at least some of them fit that criteria. If you don’t know, go back and ask your CP. Besides being in your target audience you should have a list of things you’re looking for in a beta. I mean that literally, write it down, type it up, have it handy. Each writer will have a different list but here are some to think about:
- They love to read. This is a no brainer. If they don’t read regularly, you’re wasting your time and theirs.
- They love your genre. If your book is high fantasy and all they read are detective books, they’re probably not going to be able to give much constructive feedback.
- They are reliable. Sometimes this is a leap of faith, but if you already know they never show up on time, or do what they say they’re going to, you might want to think twice. Or at least don’t count on their feedback being on time.
- It’s a bonus if they’ve been a beta before. Definitely not necessary, but it would be good to know. If they have, ask what their experience was like. You may get some tips that could help.
To find betas you can use the same resources you did for critique partners. The difference is when you send out your call you want to specify that while writers are welcome to apply, you are looking for non-writers as well. In fact, you want readers, book lovers, book worms, anyone who can’t get enough of the written word. That’s because this time you want to know about the readability of your book. Is it entertaining, are the characters relatable, etc.
Next comes the complicated part, at least for me. My first time using betas didn’t go so well. So, I did some research to find out where I went wrong. Looking around the net I found one writer who seemed to have her stuff together. In fact, she was so together, it overwhelmed me just listening to her process. I did some thinking on it and came up with a hybrid plan of hers and my own design. Tomorrow I’ll post that plan in all it’s detailed splendor.
It will take a bit of time to explain and I don’t want to over whelm so I’ll dedicate Part 2 of this post just for it. Until then, let me know what you think so far. Have you used CP’s or betas in the past? Have you been one? Leave a comment and I’ll answer soon as I see it.
Happy reading/writing 🙂