In addition to showing great enthusiasm for discussions of butt hair and garage porn, readers commenting on this blog ask a lot of questions about critique partners and beta readers.
What’s the difference? How do you find them? When do you need them? Is it normal to trade sexual favors for critiques, or did that dude just totally scam me?
I probably won’t answer everything in a single post (except the last one – perfectly normal). But I’ll give you the best overview I can in 584 words or less.
What the @#$% are you talking about?
Everyone uses the terms differently, but to me, a critique partner is a fellow writer with whom you exchange manuscript critiques and brainstorming. As writers, they’re capable of saying not just “this sucks” but “this sucks, and here’s how you might fix it.” Beta readers are just that – readers skilled at catching mistakes and giving you a gut check on how real readers might respond to your book. The three betas I’ve worked with since the dawn of time are exceptionally skilled at spotting specific issues – grammar, inconsistencies, and instances where my characters act like asshats.
How do I find them?
You could try standing on a street corner holding a cardboard sign, but I don’t recommend it. One of the best online resources for finding critique partners and beta readers is the forum at Absolute Write devoted to this purpose.
Another great option is trolling online discussion forums for your specific genre. I met longtime critique partner Cynthia Reese in the eHarlequin discussion forums when we were both newbie writers learning the ropes. Check out blogs and chat loops for your genre to find other authors in your shoes (which is a little gross, so spray some Lysol before putting your feet back in them).
Organized writing groups are another good resource. At my first meeting of Rose City Romance Writers, someone offered to connect me with critique partners. Sisters in Crime (SINC) offers an online group for new authors called The Guppies.
As for beta readers, all three of mine are former co-workers. It’s a perk of 10+ years working in marketing & corporate communications that I’ve connected with smart, savvy folks who like words, but you can find good betas in many places. Belong to a book club? Mine it for betas. Got a co-worker with his nose in a book on lunch breaks? Maybe he’d like to help an aspiring author.
How does it work?
There are no hard and fast rules about critiquing relationships, except to avoid being a jerk. While Cynthia Reese likes to feed me one chapter at a time and review my comments before writing the next chapter, critique partner Linda Brundage and I both prefer to finish the entire novel before swapping. There’s a fairly even trade of critiques, though slower writers can end up doing more critiques for faster ones.
Since beta readers aren’t getting the same benefit from the relationship, I make sure to let mine know how much I appreciate them. My appreciation usually has a cork protruding from the top, but a heartfelt thank you note will also suffice.
So that’s my quick-and-dirty overview. If you already have critiquing relationships, how did you find them? If you’re new to this, what questions do you have?
Oh, and feel free to use the comments section to connect with potential critique partners. Just try to avoid the whole sex-for-critiques arrangement, OK? Authorities tend to frown on that.