Monday, November 25, 2013

Critique Partners Versus Beta Readers

Last week I discussed critique groups as a whole, and whether they were a good idea. I got a lot of great feedback on the topic, but wondered if people were talking about beta readers, rather than critique partners, in some places.

So what is the difference?

That's the question. When is a critique partner a beta reader, and vice versa? I'm willing to bet there will be quite a few differing ideas on this, so I'm going to throw out what the terms have meant in my head, and then I'll look forward to seeing how others define the two.

Beta Readers

To me, a beta reader is someone who will take the manuscript in its entirety and read it for an overall view of the manuscript. Basically, a detailed review. They're reading it as a reader, not a fellow writer. Their opinion is meant to give you an idea of what your audience might think. Is the book readable? Does it have good flow? Are the characters interesting? Would they purchase this book?

When you seek a beta reader, you're looking for someone to tell you whether anyone would read the book, not necessarily for specifics on character arc, grammar, etc. You want to know about the general readability of your book from them.


Critique Partner

A critique partner, my understanding, is someone we want to read the book as a writer. They're looking for the dynamics of writing. Story and character arc, realistic characterization, plot, theme, grammar. They should be looking at your work with the eye of someone who has experience with the dynamics of writing, someone who has experience writing and/or has attended various workshops and conferences and can give an educated opinion. Rather than looking at what the reader has to say, their opinion should be closer to that of agents and editors. Instead of saying, "Would someone buy this at a bookstore?" as a beta reader would, they should be asking, "Would an agent/editor give this a second look?" Is it salable? Is it ready?

By Roxy,

I have an awesome beta reader (not that I've given her anything recently) who intermingles the two. Though she isn't a writer, she has a great eye, and she is accustomed to beta reading/critiquing her husband's work (he is an aspiring screenwriter). For me, that is perfect, and just what I need. She catches problems with the story flow, the characters, grammar, etc. But she's looking at it from a reader's point of view, not a writer's.

On the flip side of that, I have my critique group, made up of people in various stages of their writing journey. They bring writing knowledge to on the dynamics and specifics to the table. I find having both of these a helpful part of my writing journey, each for their own reasons.

This is just how I see it, in brief. What's your opinion? Have I fudged the two? Do you see the definition of these two terms in a different way?

May you find your Muse.


  1. I think those are perfect definitions. I have two test readers who are just readers and look at the overall story, plus three critique partners who are writers and they tackle it like an editor.

  2. Those sound like the correct definitions to me. As for us, we don't have beta readers. We have people that are more of the two combined. I mean, while you're in there, why NOT tell us what you think about the characters, the story arc, if you find any grammar/spelling errors, etc? Kill two birds with one stone.

  3. Your definitions agree with how I interpret the two, Shannon. We need both opinions for a complete assessment of whether a story is working on not.

    I have to send my critique partner some new writing to review after November ends. She is an excellent editor and beta reads first, so she blurs the line as well. I'm so glad we met online during a writing class. She also writes scifi but isn't concentrating on that right now.

  4. In addition, a CP is someone that may look at pieces of your manuscript as you work on it, in effect, an alpha reader.

    In theory, a beta should only ever see the completed manuscript. The beta, as in video games, is someone there to catch an errors that may have been passed over. They're looking for the "bugs" in your book.

  5. There was a time a thought Beta and Critic was the same. I wasn't sure what was the difference. I asked a friend and he told me the explanation you're giving me. I find it logic.

  6. I think you have that right. I think of beta readers as readers not writers. Writers look at it very differently.

  7. The two that I have are both beta and critquers.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  8. I agree with your assessment of the difference between the two. The only problem with a critique partner also being a beta reader is that it is tough to get that first-through read overview when one is working in line editing mode.

  9. This is probably the best comparison I have ever heard. Lisa above is so right. Writers struggle (I sure do) with reading everything in line edit mode, which is why my husband (a reader, not a writer) is the perfect beta reader. I need to add to this list, and save the deep edits for my critique group. Thanks for spelling out the difference!

  10. Hey Shannon,

    For beta or worse, I note what you wrote.

    I have no need for either. We would rather do our own thing and we like it that way, thank you.

    On behalf on my human, Gary,

    Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar!

  11. I like my beta reader to alert me to plot holes or bit mess-ups in the continuity.

  12. That's how it was explained to me, so I think it's a dead-on correct explanation. I've been a beta reader, and am a critique partner, and I enjoy it. I am slow, though. The beta reading goes quickly - I love to read and since I'm not a very experienced writer yet (as in one story published, one unfinished mess of a novel)I think I qualify as beta reader. At least this writer thought so ;-) The critique is taking longer as I'm a detail person. Every little detail...
    Tina @ Life is Good

  13. This is a great explanation Shannon. I would think a Beta Reader would be more useful in the early stages than a Critique Partner.

  14. For the longest time I had no idea what the difference between the two was. Still not sure I really know but I think your explanation makes sense.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Shannon!

  15. Alex, that sounds like a solid crew you have there!

    B&B, true! I like that my main beta reader is someone who is grammatically inclined and does this for her husband's writing. Still sort of two birds...

    D.G., that sounds like a good system you two have worked out.

    Andrew, interesting, that makes sense. I've been struggling with whether to take bits of my WIP to critique group, versus one already finished.

    Al, so many terms, so little time!

    Mary, I tend to agree.

    Shelly, do they split it up or do it at the same time?

    Lisa, that makes sense. I do tend to be in different modes at once when reading, though if they've asked targeted questions I have an easier time splitting the two.

    Sharon, I wish my hubby liked to read! It would be so convenient to have my beta reader living right under my roof.

    Penny, well now, you've got a built in beta reader/critique partner.

    Susan, I like them to look for that, too. It's so easy to have it in your head and assume you got it down on paper.

    Tina, that makes sense. I'm into the grammar details.

    Maurice, could be. I'm wondering at which order (critique and beta) makes the most sense.

    Julie, hee hee, I hope it does! I'm trying to go with that, anyway, so I can pretend I know what I'm doing.

    Happy Thanksgiving!