Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Is There A Difference Between Beta Readers and Critique Partners?

Veronica sez: I enjoyed V.S.'s take on the subject of beta readers and critique partners so much, I asked her to post the discussion here for her December blog topic and she kindly obliged. So here's the answer from V. S. Nelson, to the rhetorical question she posed in the title line:

You bet there is! First, I’d like to define the terms beta readers and critique partners we so often use in the writing world. Simply put, a beta reader is someone who reads an author’s unpublished work.  He or she can be an author, but this isn’t a requirement. A critique partner is another author who you expect feedback from. They both serve a valuable service to the author.

Some authors use beta readers to read their work just before their story goes to print (or in this day and age, uploaded to a site like Amazon), while others, like myself; prefer to utilize two different types of beta readers. I call them pre and post. My pre-post-beta-reader reads my work prior to it being edited. I primarily use my pre-post-beta-readers to make sure I have a story long before I spend endless hours editing something that might end up in the trash. I use their advice to enhance story lines, character developments and numerous other things.
Once I have evaluated their advice I put it to good use by beginning my rewrites. When I am satisfied with my changes, I send the manuscript back out to them for another quick look. If no more suggestions are made, my work is then sent to my critique partners and then to my first (copy) editor.They, of course, makes a variety of suggestions and corrections, sends the work back to me for another round of rewrites.
When I have completed the rewrites (yes again) it goes back to my copy editor for a hard look. Confident the work is in primo shape; I send it to my line editor and am ready to share it with my post-beta-reader. I have them complete a form, much like a judge would use in a writing contest. The form allows me to see if there is anything else that might need to be tweaked before I consider it ready for publication.
I have, of course, promised a signed copy of the finalized version not available to the public for their services, other wise known as an ARC (Advanced Released Copy.) 

Critique Partners
As I previously mentioned, a critique partner is another author/writer who evaluates your work and in return you evaluate her/his during the writing process. Critique groups consist of 2 or more writers and can be as large as 20 or so members with the average being around 4 or 5. Typically, critique groups meet bi-weekly or monthly depending on the needs of the group. These groups evaluate or critique sections or chapters as the novel is being developed or written. 
A Good Critique Partner or group is not a fan club. You are not there to praise another’s work, but to help each other with the writing process. Do not expect praises from your critique partners. Be thrilled if you get them, and know you are on the right track, but be warned if you get them too often, you might have a fan, not a real CP. Something I learned a long time ago, other authors are the hardest to please, as they should be.
A Great Critique Partner is worth their weight in gold as they spend hours reading over and critiquing your work with a fine tooth comb -- sometimes nit picking the tiniest things you missed… all in all, they help develop your manuscript into a piece of art. 

Acquiring Beta-Readers
            First rule of thumb is not to ask a close relative, like your mother or husband, to read your story. They are too close to you to give you an unbiased opinion. You want someone who, above anything else, is HONEST and DIRECT. Hearing, “I couldn’t get into your story, or your hero lacks something.” is not what you want hear--but if it is the truth you need to hear it before you spend hours upon hours writing and rewriting a 400 page novel.

This is why I request my pre-post-beta readers to read the unedited version. CONTENT, FLOW, and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT are essential to every great novel no matter what genre’ you are writing in. 
I’d like to give you ideas on who might make a really great beta-reader and give you some ideas where to find those beta readers.

(1)   Find someone who is well versed and reads you genre.
(2)   If you write from both male and female POVs; find someone of the opposite sex. These individuals can help you greatly with everything from romantic scenes to bloody battles.
(3)   If you are writing military romance or suspense; find a soldier, cop or someone who has expertise in that field.

Finding beta-readers is easier than you might expect. All one has to do is mention they are an author and they seem to come out of the wood work. But be careful and make sure you both understand the rules before you hand over your work to someone you really don’t know that well.
A beta reader who is tempted to share your work with every one of their friends is not for you. Remind them, you have selected them—and them only.
Another thing I will remind you of is having too many people read your work will give you too many outside ideas. Don’t ask everyone you know or meet. Trying to please the twenty people who read your book and commented on it will eventually drive you to creating some major mistakes. Remember you can’t please everyone and please, above all else stay true to your muse.

Joining a Critique Group

            The easiest place to find a critique group is through your local writing association. If you’re not a member of one, try visiting a local chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of American) or Sister’s in Crime. Newspapers often list local meetings. Check your bookstore bulletin board for locations for writing groups. Find someone or a group that fits your needs. As I mentioned they vary in size and what they are willing or not willing to do. If you join one and it works out for you, great! If not, find another.  

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