Short answer: YES! Beta readers and critique partners are essential for your revision process.
But, before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s define these people.
Beta Reader: these are people who read your manuscript as a reader first (not a writer). They will give you their reactions as a reader and give basic feedback, but not critique specific writing elements.
Critique Partner: these are people who critique your work as a writer. They will dive into elements such as character development, plot, story structure, pace, tone, and so forth. And note the ‘partner’ here–it’s usually a reciprocal relationship where you exchange manuscripts or chapters and critique each other’s work.
So, now that we’ve got the definitions down, why did I put such an emphatic, bolded, underlined YES? Well, let’s imagine you have a finished manuscript. First of all, WELL DONE. You’ve written a book! That’s a huge achievement. Maybe you’ve done some revisions. Maybe you’re ready to throw it in front of an agent’s eyes.
Wait! Before you do that, throw it in front of someone else’s eyes, say, like a beta reader or a critique partner. So far, only you have read your manuscript. You know all the ins and outs, you know the characters as well as you know yourself. And that’s part of the problem. You need an outside perspective to lay some eyes on those pages. You are too close to your plot and characters that you may completely miss something that is unclear or makes no sense outside the author’s brain.
I would suggest finding critique partners and beta readers. First, critique partners to really break down technical parts (flow, tone, structure, character arc) that might need to be reviewed. And how does one find a critique partner? I found some of mine at a writing group in Los Angeles. I’ve found others at writing conferences (which are frequent and across the globe, virtual now because of COVID, but in-person pre and post pandemic!). I know some have found their critique partners on Twitter! Your friends might even be writers and you don’t even know it. Keep in mind that this partnership is almost always reciprocal, so expect to critique their chapters and/or entire manuscript while they do yours.
After critique partners come beta readers (though there’s no written rule on which come first). Again, these are people who are reading your manuscript as a READER, not a WRITER. They can point out parts that are slow, or what was confusing or unclear, whether the emotional sections hit right, and overall if they were satisfied with the story.
I’ve found both types of readers invaluable. I say to you honestly I have no idea where I’d be without my critique partners and beta readers (thank you if you’re reading this!). Having one critique partner or beta reader is good, but I would suggest aiming for three different sets of eyes on your story. Everyone comes with a different background and different experience and that diversity is valuable. Someone might catch what a different critique partner missed. Remember, if we want our books to be read by the masses, it’s good to get more than one opinion on your novel before it goes in front of an agent.
All in all, having someone else read and even critique your work can elevate your manuscript to the next level. It’s worth the time, effort, and social interaction. I promise.
Do you have beta readers and/or critique partners? How has your experience been?