Beta Readers, Critique Partners, Editors: They’re all the Same, Right?
by Kisa Whipkey
Acquisitions and Editorial Director, REUTS Publications
Beta Readers. Critique Partners. Editors. These are all terms that swirl around the writing community, and authors are encouraged to collect them all, like Pokemon. But that advice, while true, rarely includes the order in which you should use them. And there is an order, trust me. We’ll get to that in a minute, though. First, let’s look at what each of these important roles entails and how they impact your journey as an author, because, contrary to what some believe, they are most definitely not the same.
I’ve written about the different types of critiques several times on my own blog, so feel free to check out that article as well. For now, here’s a small preview detailing the three review types pertinent to today’s discussion.
The Critique Partner
Every writer should have at least one of these. Seriously! Every. Writer.
Critique partners are an amazing blend of friendship and writing ability. Typically writers themselves, these are the people you can be your absolute strangest with. The people who won’t just smile and nod when you start talking about your characters like they’re real people, but actually join in! They understand all your writerly eccentricities because they have them too. But the best part about a critique partner is that they’ll give you brutally honest, valuable feedback. Listen closely to them. Critique partners are a step away from the professionals, and their suggestions are usually right. They can be the difference between handing an editor the equivalent of dog-poo and a beautiful, ready-to-publish masterpiece.
Next to the critique partner, the beta reader is probably the most hailed tool writers turn to. However, they are not the same as a professional editor. Don’t be fooled by their lengthy reports and the marked-up manuscript they hand you. These critiques fall under a wide range of possibilities on the helpfulness scale. A conglomeration of every category I’ve listed in the aforementioned article, their feedback can range from exceedingly helpful to downright missing the mark. So your best strategy is not to rely on any single one.
The beauty of beta readers is that they’re most valuable in groups, like a pack of wolves or a pride of lions. (Yes, those are meant to be slightly ironic choices.) Though beta readers are best in large numbers, they’re also more likely to corroborate the things you didn’t want to hear when in a group, tearing your book apart limb by limb until you feel thoroughly mauled. So comb their feedback carefully, looking for the recurring things that consistently pop up. Those are the problems you might want to consider addressing. The rest? Well, take it with a grain of salt.
The Professional Editor
Editors fall into two categories (which is another topic I’ve covered at length in this article here: Storytellers & Grammarians: The Different Types of Editors) — developmental (a.k.a. structural) and line (a.k.a. copy). So let’s quickly look at each.
~The Developmental Editor~
Developmental editing focuses on the actual elements of storytelling, the underlying framework of your story. Critiques of this type will talk about things like character/world development, pacing, dramatic tension and suspense, to name a few. They won’t go into detail on the mechanics of writing, but will go into heavy detail about what’s working and what isn’t, and most importantly, why. This is one of the most valuable critiques you’ll receive during the pre-publication phase. Often, your book won’t go to press until the issues found by a developmental editor are taken care of. So they’re definitely good people to pay attention to.
~The Copy/Line Editor~
Where the developmental editor’s domain is everything storytelling, the copy/line editor lords over all things technical. They will go over your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb (and this handy little thing called a Style Guide — an editing bible, so to speak), providing valuable suggestions on everything from word choice to sentence phrasing to punctuation usage. These people are masters of the English language and will help you refine your work into it’s most clarified form. Also similar to the developmental editor, they tend to stand between you and your final goal of publication, so it’s wise to listen to their advice.
Okay, so as you can see, beta readers, critique partners, and editors, while definitely similar, all serve completely different functions. And the astute among you have likely already noticed the sequence in which I put them. That wasn’t an accident; this is the order in which you use them, the sequence where you’ll glean the most value from each type of critique. But I often see authors reverse the order, hiring editors before employing beta readers, and using critique partners and beta readers simultaneously. Don’t do this. It defeats the point and hinders the natural progression of your story.
Each layer of the process is meant to add something to the one before it. Critique partners are supposed to boost confidence while keeping you from falling on your face, beta readers are test subjects whose mission is to give you a glimpse at the kinds of responses your readers will have, and editors are the creatures who usher your work through the gates of publication and into the hands of readers. If it were the wolf pack mentioned above (I adore wolves, in case you couldn’t tell), it would look like this: critique partners = subordinates, beta readers = the beta (or second in command, for those who aren’t as familiar with wolves), and editors = the alphas. Anything employed after an editor is considered an advanced reader, not a critique partner, not a beta reader. Because after the editor, your book is published and no longer in development.
And there you have it, the roles, definitions, and order of usage for three of the most prominent critique types. May the knowledge serve you well. 😉
About the Author:
Kisa Whipkey is a dark fantasy author, a martial arts demo team expert, and a complete sucker for Cadbury Mini-eggs. She’s also the Acquisitions & Editorial Director for YA/NA publisher, REUTS Publications. She developed a passion for storytelling at a young age and has pursued that love through animation, writing, video game design, and demo teams until finally finding her home in editing. She believes in good storytelling, regardless of medium, and applauds anything featuring a snarky lead character, a complicated narrative structure, and brilliant/uncommon analogies. Currently, she lives in the soggy Pacific Northwest with her husband and plethora of electronics.
Her personal blog — featuring sarcastic commentary on all things storytelling — is located at www.kisawhipkey.com.
Or connect with her via Twitter: @kisawhipkey.
And, of course, to learn more about REUTS Publications, please visit www.reuts.com.
You can find more of Kisa’s work on her Goodreads page!
A huge thank you to Kisa for being such an amazing person, editor, writer, director, and all of the above! I’m so happy to have “met” you through this feature. You bring such wonderful advice to the table and are just so incredibly kind. Who knows, maybe one day we will even be working together in the publishing business.
As always, a giant “Thank You” to everyone who has, is, and will be participating in this feature! You all are wonderful people and I can’t thank you enough for everything that you do for new, beginning, and struggling writers.
Never forget how incredible you are!
❤ Kelly, Lauren, and Melissa