Critique Partner vs Beta Reader

I just finished Maggie Stiefvater’s latest book, The Raven Boys. As I nearly always do, I read the acknowledgements at the end, too. I find it interesting to see who they thank, and enjoy seeing the inter-writer connections, mentions of other authors whose books I’ve read.

Maggie includes this in her Raven Boys thank-yous:

Thanks to … my tireless critique partners, Tessa "Dead in a Ditch" Gratton and Brenna "This is Interesting" Yovanoff.

I’m also grateful to everyone else who read for me: …[here she lists five more people]

What struck me as interesting here was her distinction between her critique partners and her other readers.

The terms "critique partner" and "beta reader" are two that get thrown around a lot in the writing world, often interchangeably. After reading Maggie’s acknowledgements I thought I’d google what the blogosphere thinks the difference is.

There are a lot of posts out there about this. And the funny thing is, no one seems to agree on the definitions.

Some examples from the first couple pages of Google results include:

CPs offer detailed feedback on both plot/characterization AND craft, while BRs only look at plot/characterization.
CPs will provide detailed annotated notes within the manuscript, while BRs only provide overall thoughts at the end.
CPs are other novelists who read like a fellow writer, while BRs are non-writers who assess/comment from a reader’s perspective.
CPs work with you/help you out while you’re drafting, while BRs never read anything until there’s at least a complete first draft.
CPs will read a manuscript multiple times, while BRs are one-and-done.
CPs stick with you for multiple projects, while BRs are one-and-done.
CPs reciprocate with feedback, while BRs don’t.

For me personally, I see a little bit of all of these, but I think this writer and this one came the closest to my own definition. That is:

A beta reader is someone who will read your manuscript and offer feedback on it based on how it is at that stage. Their level of feedback, depending on the reader, may or may not be equal to what you receive from your CPs. You may have some further correspondence with your beta, both to clarify points of confusion from their critique/feedback and just to keep in touch and see how things are going, but the extent of the work you do for each other is largely limited to that single read. If you’ve done some serious revisions based on feedback, the revised version goes to a different beta reader with fresh eyes.

A critique partner, however, is your partner in crime; they’re your accomplice, not just an associate. They’ll read your manuscript just like your beta, but they’ll also be willing to read it again to offer feedback on  your revisions. They may see bits and pieces at a time if you’re having trouble with a particular scene, or if you’re the sort to prefer to receive feedback for each chapter as you draft. They’re someone to bounce ideas off of, both large ("Is this a stupid idea for a novel?") and small ("What do you think if I sent them to the zoo instead of the movies in this scene?"). They’ll read your query (if you’re at that stage), synopsis, background material, whatever you’d like feedback on. They’re there for every stage, not just one read.

Critique partners will probably stick with you over many books; chances are they’ll become a good friend. Beta readers may come and go, depending on a variety of factors, though some may be longtime readers, too.

I personally like to have a lot of eyes look over my manuscripts. Like Maggie Stiefvater’s book, Secrets had a total of seven readers. So did Magestone. However, the seven weren’t all the same – there was some overlap, but there were also some new people. Most of the people who have read my manuscripts have been, by my definitions, beta readers; I only have a couple people I’d consider critique partners. That’s less because I value some people’s feedback more than others and more that it takes a lot of time and effort to be a critique partner, so it’s only really possible to maintain a couple relationships at that level.

I do think, however, it’s important to have more than one reader to give you feedback. First of all, that one person isn’t always going to be right, necessarily, and it’s good to have a balance of opinions. But also, if you have multiple readers you can send the new version to them to make sure your revisions work. Though everyone’s different, I think a good number to aim for is one or two critique partners, and two or more beta readers.

(Wow, that turned into a rambly post! When I sat down to write it I was thinking, there’s already so much posted about this, I’m sure I can just do a quick job…)


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