So, there’s two things you probably need to know about, if you want to be anything like successful as a writer:
Beta Readers & Critique Partners
(Maybe you’re that one, lone genius, toiling away on your masterpiece without the need for input or feedback – but the odds are against you on that one. A quick test: if you’ve ever noticed a plot hole in your writing – not right away, but like fucking months later – then you’re not that genius person. You’re just like the rest of us. And well, if you want what you write to read by an audience, involving other people is going to be a requirement at some point.)
Now, it’s important to recognize that those two entities are meant for different purposes.
Which is the reason I’m writing this post – to elucidate the differences.
Let’s start with Beta Readers:
Beta Readers can be anybody. Really. Anybody at all.
They don’t need to be writers or editors or even particularly well-educated. They just need to be readers.
The point of a Beta Reader is to get an audience’s view of the work.
Does it bog down anywhere? Does the reader get bored? Confused? Any characters that are notable for either being awesome or complete pieces of shit.
You ask a Beta Reader if they liked it or didn’t, and what they did or didn’t like about it. Does the story make sense? Any plot holes? That kind of thing.
Beta Readers are absolutely essential to discovering if the story is doing what you, as the writer, want it to do.
Critique Partners on the other hand need to have a bit more specialized knowledge.
First, they need to be readers, and preferably writers of whatever genre you’re writing in.
Second, they should know something about story structure. How does a story come together? How does it keep moving? What about tension? Foreshadowing? Thematic elements? Motifs? Plot beats?
You get the picture.
A critique partner doesn’t need to have an English degree, but they need to be at least passingly familiar with how a story works or doesn’t work.
And they need to be able to be honest with you about what’s not working. They don’t have to tell you how to fix it. In fact, when they do it’s usually wrong. But they have to be able to tell you. That means both finding a good partner, preferably one who understands tact, and making sure, as the writer, you’re presenting an open and receptive mind.
(It doesn’t suck if they’ve an eye for grammar and continuity, but it’s not a necessity.)
Writing is usually a seriously solitary endeavor, but revision can and likely should be a group effort.
As writers, we’re too close to our own work. We need fresh eyes. I know that, personally, sometimes I’m in such a rush to get an idea down on the page that I leave significant parts of it written only in my head. And when I reread it, my head automatically translates those missing pieces.
So, I need someone who isn’t a native speaker to tell me where I’ve let important shit out.
I’m on my 5th novel – I stopped counting the short stories – and it still happens. Hopefully to a lesser degree than it used to, but there it is. Or, there it isn’t, which is more frequently the case.
Now, if you write only for yourself – it’s a hobby and you’re not interested in letting others read what you’ve written – that’s a completely valid way to spend your time. And you can ignore the preceding.
But, if you want other people to read and enjoy your work, you’ll benefit from having a group of readers you can count on to provide feedback in these areas.
Finding people you and your writing fit with is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.
I have no advice about that.
I generally impose on my friends to be my beta readers.
So far, no critique partners I jive with. But I’ll keep looking.
(Helps that The Wife is pretty much English savant.)
Anyways, good luck on your writing journey. If you’ve got questions, or you’re looking for another set of eyes, leave a comment and we’ll talk.
Until next time…