This post was inspired by a video by the ever so lovely Kim Chance. The topic is one that you can find answers to all over the internet. Ava Jae did a video on the same subject, and Jenna Moreci has discussed her beta reading process in detail (here, here, and here here, in chronological order)—all three of these ladies are wonderful and awesome, and you should check them out. Just saying.
Anyway, a disclaimer before I actually discuss this: these definitions are my own definitions. They overlap with the discussions cited above, and differ from them in some ways. None of these are actually “correct” or “right” as far as I know. There isn’t a right way to write. Everything below is just my personal opinion. From hereon, “Beta reader” will be shortened to “Beta,” and “Critique partner” will be shortened to “CP.” Both images are courtesy of Google Images.
Who are you?
Beta: I am a reader. I am, ideally, someone in your target audience (or someone who will help you figure out your target audience). I might be a total stranger or a friend (who isn’t too close to you) who reads a lot. Sometimes, I represent a diverse group you’re writing about.
CP: I am a writer and your partner. I am probably at a similar writing skill level as you are, or at a similar point in my project as you are in yours, or both. I have or will probably become a friend to you.
What do you do?
Beta: I read your manuscript and tell you how I respond to it emotionally. I tell you whether I like your characters, how I feel about your plot and the pacing, whether I think your writing works, and the like. If I represent a diverse population, I tell you whether what you’ve written rings true to me. I tell you how I feel about what’s already there, and why.
CP: I read your manuscript and give you advice from a craft perspective. I also talk about character and plot, but I will be more likely to address development and structure (respectively) than whether I like something (though I should also tell you what I think you did well). I will tell you how to improve what’s there and give suggestions as to what you might want to do in future drafts.
When do I show you my manuscript?
Beta: By the time I see your manuscript, it’s probably already been through a handful of drafts and some revision and edits, both by you and by another person. You want to check in with me before you go to an editor (professional or not), though.
CP: I might see your first draft. I might see a later draft, too, but I can be involved from the very beginning of the process to the very end. I will definitely see the draft before the Beta.
How many of you do I need?
Beta: You want a fair few of me, honestly. You want a diversity of opinions from a diversity of backgrounds, so you can get a fuller picture of the response you’re getting to your novel. Some people suggest as many as 20 and more, and that’s not a bad number to shoot for. It’s easier to see trends that way.
CP: You might have a small handful of me. Maybe as few as 1, maybe as many as 5. It depends on whether you’re in a writing group or not, and how comfortable you are sharing your initial drafts.
Do I actually need you?
Beta: Objectively, no. You can do a great job without me. Chances are good, though, that it’ll be even better if you give me a try.
CP: What Beta said.
What do I do for you?
Beta: You let me read your work before everyone else. Isn’t that pretty cool?
CP: You do the same thing for me that I do for you. It’s a partnership, and we exchange pieces. You should expect to give back to me the same sort of feedback that I give to you but on my writing.
And that generally covers my opinions on Beta Readers and Critique Partners. Speaking of, I’ll be interested in finding some of both in the relatively near future for The Project. Keep an eye out for that, or just tweet, DM, or email me if you’re already interested ;]
How do you define Beta/CP?
What do you think of the definitions here?