Do I Really Need a Beta Reader or Critique Partner?

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?


Revision Woes & Learning How to Cut Words

I am now on my fourth revision of the novel I finished in late April of this year. It has gone through many cuts, re-writes, tweaks, and has certainly been shouted at by yours truly. I cannot convey how much I have struggled and learned throughout this process. I feel like a completely different writer and the way I look at writing has changed fundamentally.

I’ve been using a few tools to get through this revision process. I started out with Janice Hardy’s Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, which I’m still using today as I get through this fourth revision. It’s been instrumental in getting me to where I am today. She accounts for all different kinds of first drafts: incomplete drafts, plot-suffering drafts, and, most relative to me, too-long drafts.  I also read her Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) which completely changed the way I wrote and viewed others’ writing. Despite being a fairly simple topic on the surface, it was an eye-opener and game changer. Her work, in general, has been very helpful to me in becoming a better writer and all the savageries you must tuck under your belt to get there (kill your darlings).

I have cut 25,000 (25k) words from my novel. 55 or so pages, for those of you who think in those terms.I never thought I would be able to do that. I looked at my behemoth and I’m like I CAN’T CUT ANYTHING. But I could and I did. And I should have. The phrase, “kill your darlings,” doesn’t just refer to killing off characters. It means cutting beloved paragraphs, scenes, and entire chapters. It means coming to terms with the fact that although you love this scene, cutting it will probably make your entire body of work stronger. It’s been a very painful learning process, but I’ve come away stronger. I feel less indecision and remorse about cutting scenes because I know that being more concise and true to what it’s about will make the entire novel stronger.

Does it get easier? How do you do it? I think an understanding of why you’re doing it is first and foremost. Like previously stated, cutting all those extraneous bits of my novel made the story stronger. It’s like getting a haircut when you’re overgrown and overrun by split ends. Those split ends aren’t going to lead anywhere, they’re just distracting from what the entirety of your hairdo could be (if you chopped ’em off). Strange metaphor but, eh.

If a scene or chapter is particularly special or meaningful to me, or if I think it may be useful in another part (usually isn’t), I’ll tuck it away into my “Cuts” folder in my Scrivener file. That way, it’s not truly gone forever. It’s a secret way to make it hurt less.

I’m sure my book is still too long at this point. As I type this post, my manuscript is at 188,506 words, which is roughly somewhere between 358-539 pages, according to Scrivener. I’m going to continue with my revisions and continue to pare it down to size until it’s telling the exact message I want it to. I’m still going to be sending off to agents and publishers, because I feel ready, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop revising.

Anyhow, I hope my shared stories of my revision struggles and enlightenment can help you in some way. Please don’t hesitate to comment below with any questions or stories you have. Thanks for reading.