In a recent interview, I was asked if I used beta readers or crit partners. I have both, and firmly believe every author should.
A beta reader is there to catch the glaring plot holes. The stuff that just doesn’t make sense. If your hero is walking around a bug infested cellar and brushing cobwebs aside like they’re nothing, he should not then freak out at the sight of a spider five chapters later. They give me feedback on flow, pacing, and the story in general.
A crit partner is different. These are the talented individuals who will go through your manuscript line by line and let you know if phrasing is awkward. Spelling, punctuation, and fine details do not escape their notice. They’re going to catch you if you change a character’s name, used the same city from a completely different book, skip a chapter (jumping from 5 to 7, for example), and argue with you if something is physically possible to do.
I’ve got a group of four beta readers, and 4 or 5 crit partners. The crit partners and I work on a mutual basis…we do this for each other. If comments come back from two or more of either the beta readers or crit partners, chances are I’ll change that spot only because something’s not reading right.
Why do you need them? Simply put, the more feedback you can get on your book before you send it to a publisher, the better. Publishers are looking for reasons to tell you no. They only want to put out the best books, the ones that will sell. If your story has plot holes that you didn’t catch, it’s going to get rejected. The more honest feedback you can get, the better. For both that one book and your writing in general.
Okay, you say, but how do I find good crit partners and beta readers? Start with other writers (published or aspiring), whose work you like. Be willing to not only take critiques with grace and an open mind (they’re not trying to cut apart your baby, but make it better), and return the favor. Beta readers can be friends, but they have to be ones who aren’t afraid to tell you something’s not right.
When you find good individuals, ones that you work well with, don’t abuse them. You can agree to disagree, yes. But don’t fly off the handle at them in an email about them not getting the point of the story. These people are doing you a favor! Don’t repay it by refusing to listen.