How Critique Partners and Beta Readers Can Improve Your Book
Regardless of how experienced an author is, every manuscript needs some form of evaluation (and subsequent revision) before being published. Yes, even the world’s top authors can’t publish a manuscript lifted straight from their computer—they have teams of experienced editors and publishing experts to make sure their work is in tip-top shape.
A writer is simply too close to their own story to see issues that may be glaringly obvious to an outsider, such as plot holes, poor character motivation, or confusing explanations. They need someone who can offer objective feedback to improve the manuscript before it’s sent to an editor or a publisher, which is why manuscript critiques are so valuable.
Writers can hire professional editors to critique their work and pen an insightful, multi-page editorial letter on its strengths and weaknesses, providing general suggestions for improvement. Authors can also team up with critique partners, beta readers, and sensitivity readers to get feedback on their manuscripts.
If these terms are new to you, read on to learn what they refer to and how these collaborators can benefit you as an author. If you’re searching for a professional evaluation, check out our manuscript critique service.
What is a critique partner?
A critique partner is anyone willing to offer feedback on a manuscript. They don’t have to be a professional editor or a publishing industry expert. They look at big-picture elements such as plot, structure, and characters and share their general impression of the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript so the writer can make revisions. While they might have no idea how you can fix a given issue, simply knowing that there’s a problem is valuable feedback.
Critique partners can be friends who are avid readers, but your best bet is other writers as they know more about the writing process (and possibly the publishing process). Fellow authors will have a good sense of narrative and character development and can provide some practical tips—after all, they tackle the same issues in their own work, so they can be a great source of advice.
A similar but more in-depth evaluation is available with a manuscript critique, where an editor assesses the overall structure, plot, characters, themes, and other elements and offers recommendations for revisions that can strengthen the story. Since a manuscript critique is rendered by a professional editor, they can pinpoint exactly what the issues are and how to fix them, making their feedback more valuable than that of your friend or author buddy.
What is a beta reader?
A beta reader is called so because they typically do a second reading of a manuscript, after a critique partner (the alpha reader) has gone through it. Upon receiving feedback from your critique partner (or professional editor), you should have substantially revised your manuscript based on the input, so the beta reader evaluates a more polished version of your work.
A beta reader is typically a layperson, simply someone who loves to read, so they don’t necessarily have the expertise of a fellow writer or a professional editor acting as a critique partner. Therefore, a beta reader will approach a manuscript very much from a reader’s point of view. They may not know much about publishing and will likely not be able to provide specific feedback, but they will offer their general impressions and what they liked and didn’t like as a reader.
Most authors get their friends and family to serve as beta readers, but there are also professional beta readers you can hire. The latter have knowledge of book trends in the genres they favor and can provide more targeted advice to help you capture the attention of your target audience.
What is a sensitivity reader?
You can think of a sensitivity reader as a type of beta reader focused on sensitive topics. If your book portrays marginalized people or cultures other than your own, you may want the opinion of someone who has those experiences.
A sensitivity reader’s role is to flag any misrepresentations, stereotypes, or content that could be offensive to a particular group. Of course, offense is subjective, so even if you hire a sensitivity reader, that doesn’t mean your material will offend no one. Your sensitivity reader may flag sections some readers wouldn’t consider offensive, and they may overlook portions they deemed fine but others would find problematic. A sensitivity reading isn’t a guaranteed way to avoid offense—it’s just an option to minimize it.
Where can you find beta readers, sensitivity readers, and critique partners?
Beta readers can be anyone, so many authors recruit friends and family although you should choose people who are avid readers and who you think are most likely to give you their honest opinion. You’ll also want people partial to your genre—a friend who devours historical romance books isn’t going to be a great beta reader for your sci-fi thriller.
Sensitivity readers require specific expertise and can be more challenging to find since you need people who can represent a given community. Some can represent multiple groups, so look for overlap, if necessary. Try to engage with the community represented in the book although this requires some relationship-building. There is also a directory of sensitivity readers available on WritingDiversely.com.
Critique partners should be writers. If you don’t know any other authors, there are many writers’ groups on Facebook and online forums, and most cities have a local author group, so take the time to get involved in the writing community and make some connections. This can provide benefits beyond finding a critique partner—having writer friends can be a rich source of motivation, inspiration, and great advice.
If you’re looking for a professional evaluation with an expert in the publishing industry, then consider a manuscript critique. You can hire us to evaluate your manuscript and help you whip it into shape for publication.