By Tammy Oja
Transcript from an actual conversation: “Those hands under the piano. I swear I almost died.” “What hands?” “Are you serious? You didn’t see the creepy dirt-covered hands reaching out from under the piano?” “So that’s why everyone thought that scene was so scary. I’m going to watch it again.” “This time do it with your eyes open.”
The human brain weighs around three pounds. It’s a constant source of flowing information taking in data, converting it to useful memory, and recalling it when necessary. One of the most fascinating things about the brain is that each one does things in its own unique way. Each new bit of information sorted and stored creates pathways to get where it needs to be faster the next time it’s needed and that is driven by experiences it’s already had. Many experiments have been done showing a group of people in the same place at the same time will report the event with different key elements.
What does any of this have to do with Beta reading and critique partners (CP)?
Let’s start with the basics.
What Is A Beta Reader?
A beta reader is someone who reads a draft of your work and gives feedback on the work. Depending on the author’s preference, needs, and skill level of the reader, it can be as simple as stating if they enjoyed the book, if the plot made sense, or pointing out things that need work. Being a beta reader is like being a test driver. It’s taking the manuscript for a ride and taking note of things you notice, both the good things and the bad.
What is a Critique Partner (also called a CP)?
The difference between a beta reader and a CP is significant. A CP isn’t casually reading to see if anything glaring jumps out at them. It’s getting below the surface and seeing the work on a closer level. It’s going line by line looking for things that could be strengthened, tightened, scrapped, or changed. It’s daring to dig down into the pit with the author and wiping away the swoon of a new story to focus on the bones of it. The CP is the last stop between the final dress rehearsal and opening night. Whether your querying, sending it to an editor, or whatever stage it’s being prepped for, the CP is a necessary safety stop on the way.
I get why I’d want one, but why would I be one?
The true test of the value of a beta/CP reader is to be one. When you read a work in progress that you haven’t burrowed around in since its inception, you see things that the creator may not have. Plot holes, typos, the changing of a character’s physical traits, name changes or inconsistencies that have leaked over from the first draft to the one you’re reading now. Things that happen because when you write, you develop a sort of blindness to after a while. Those autocorrects on your phone—your brain does that too, only they aren’t nearly as funny in a finished draft as they are in a text to your bff. Reading for someone else strengthens your skill, and those “catches” become a part of your memory bank, nestling into the wrinkles of learning folds, which is really useful when you turn back to your own work.
The perks are numerous:
-A free work to read
-Helping out a friend
-Strengthening your own skills
-Having the same thing done for your work
-A partnership that can become lifelong
Sure, it’s taking time away from your own writing (and other things you could be procrastinating), but it’s an investment in yourself as well as your fellow writer and there’s nothing more fulfilling than knowing you’ve made a difference.
My CP is more than a writing partner—she’s a great friend, and I find her input invaluable. She highlights things I need to work on, points out things I can’t see, and always adds a bit of encouragement to balance it out. Just like any partnership, it’s a give and take that only grows stronger with time.
Do you need a beta and a CP?
The answer is yes. As scary as it is to volunteer to have your WIP examined and possibly shredded, it makes your work stronger and your skills rise. The true win is your work, but the experience of having someone on the usually solo ride with you is an unexpected and welcome benefit.
So get out there and find your partners. Ask someone in the community, DM, go to CPMatch on Twitter, or ask around. Chances are there’s someone on the other side of the keyboard looking for you too.
Tammy Oja (she/her) is currently writing paranormal suspense whispered to her by characters that refuse to be silent. Along with writing, she’s a full time nurse and mom to two teens and two very energetic pups. One of her favorite procrastination spots is Netflix, where she’s often yelling advice to British bakers and house hunters through the screen. You can find her on Twitter retweeting the sparkly stuff, or giving facts about corvids. Tammy is represented by Ann Rose of the Prospect Agency.