If you plan to publish your book, beta readers and critique partners (CPs) are essential to putting out your best possible work.
(For more on how these people can help you out, check out last week’s post on the 5 Things Betas & CPs Can Do That You Can’t.)
First, a quick rundown of the difference between betas and CPs as I’ve come to understand them. These are my personal definitions of the two:
Essentially, a beta reader is someone in your target audience who makes a one-time agreement to look over your work and give feedback. Some betas will just give general impressions after reading the whole novel, others will annotate comments throughout. It’s up to you and the beta to decide on the process that works for both of you. Sometimes if the beta is also a writer, you’ll agree to swap and read for each other, but it is not a long-term commitment. Also, betas often look over a more polished draft than a CP can.
A critique partner is a long-term relationship with another writer that goes both ways. You’ll read each other’s work and give more in-depth feedback, as well as bounce ideas off each other or brainstorm together. Often, you’ll act as cheerleaders or moral support along the publication journey as well. They can look over early rough drafts as well as more finalized ones, and will sometimes re-read the same piece more than once to help you analyze the changes you’ve made.
NOTE: Before making a commitment, be sure to swap a sample chapter or two first to make sure your writing and critique styles are compatible.
But where do I find these people?
First off, friends and family do not make good betas. These people are often not part of your target audience anyway, and many of them are more concerned with cushioning your feelings than making your story better. While there are occasional exceptions, these people will often provide minimal positive feedback and that’s it. This is good for your ego but terrible for your book. You need constructive criticism to improve your story.
Here are some good ways to find betas and CPs:
1. Put up a bat-signal on social media.
For me, that was Twitter, but it could also be a Facebook writer’s group or Tumblr or any other social media platform. When my book was ready for a full round of beta readers, I posted what amounted to a classified ad and found enough Twitter mutuals that were willing to beta read for me.
2. Participate in #CPMatch on Twitter.
This is a fairly regular hashtag event where writers post a brief pitch and contact each other if they’re intrigued by one another’s premise and critique style. I found one of my CPs through this event and it’s been a fantastic relationship. Not only have both our books benefited from it, it’s also developed into a real friendship.
3. Find a local writing group.
Yes, this means sharing your work in person (eek!) but it can be really helpful to sort out your story’s problems in a real-time, live conversation. A quick Google search should turn up any groups in your area, or you can try asking around at local independent bookstores or libraries.
4. Participate in online mentorship and revision contests.
Often the community that springs up around these contests can be rewarding even if you aren’t selected as a winner. During the wait period for results, many participants bond over the experience.
In particular, I found an absolutely amazing group of fellow writers through the RevPit NaNoWriMo event and many of us are beta-reading one another’s books, as well as offering emotional and moral support.
5. Network with other writers.
This one is the most vague and ties in to all of the ones above, but I can’t emphasize authentic human interaction enough. Hashtag games and chats on Twitter are where I found my people, but there are some great Facebook groups too. Tumblr has the #writeblr hashtag, and Instagram has #writersofinstagram. Twitter uses #amwriting, among others.
Start with those tags to find other writers, be genuine, and make friends; some CP relationships will naturally arise out of those interactions eventually.
But what if I’m really shy?
Start small. Make a few brief Twitter or Tumblr or Instagram posts using some writing hashtags and see who finds you. Or gather up your courage for that #CPmatch post and let others approach you first. But one way or another, you’ll have to make at least a tiny step. I promise, most of us don’t bite and are in much the same boat. And your book will thank you for it.