Sunday, April 3, 2016

Crit Partners vs. Beta Readers

This week's topic in the Bordello is critique partners (CPs) - why we do or don't have them.

It's surprising to me that, while many aspiring and newbie authors use CPs, it seems like many authors gradually grow away from them over time. Particularly if they are working with editors. Also, more and more these days I hear writers refer to "beta readers" more than CPs, which I think indicates a few trends.

First off, let's define some terms, as they are in the Jeffe-verse. Your mileage may vary, but this is how I see it.


A CP is someone who reads your work with a critical eye and provides feedback that might range from light edits to recommendations for exhaustive revisions. Usually this person is another author, who may or may not write in the same genre that you do. This relationship is usually reciprocal, where you act as a CP for their work, too. In fact, it's usually better that way, because having one person provide all the crit can cause problems for both. On the one hand, it's not fair to the person providing all the work and getting no benefit, on the other, a person who provides crit without subjecting themselves to crit in return can become callous and even mean.

Beta Reader

At the risk of being all GET OFF MY LAWN, when I first turned my dewy newbie author eyes on the shiny goal of becoming a career writer, I never heard the term "beta reader." Later I began to hear it used by established authors, who used it to mean a group of select (usually devoted readers of a series) people who would read the finished book with the expectation that feedback would be mild or high level. Then I heard more self-publishing authors adopt the term - and they seemed to use it in place of CP. To me (and I could be wrong), this reflects a trend of thought among self-publishing authors that critique kills voice and originality. A beta reader relationship can be reciprocal, but is more often one-sided.


I'm going to say that an editor is a paid, professional position - whether paid by a publishing company or a self-publishing author. (I have both. In fact, my editor from one of my traditional publishing houses works freelance also, and I hire her to edit my self-pubbed work, too.) An editor of this type typically provides developmental edits, which can range from mild tweaks to exhaustive revisions. A second stage, line-editing, handles less substantive issues - grammar, wording, continuity, etc. Note that copy-editing and proofreading are different! Those should not address content, but focus on formatting, grammar, typos, etc. This relationship is almost always entirely one-sided.

Okay! All of that said... do I have CPs?

Yes, indeedy, I do!

From the very dewy-eyed beginning, I have valued my CPs, and nothing has changed that. One of them is sister Word Whore Marcella Burnard. We've been CPs for ... wow, Marcella - six years? And sister Word Whore KAK has been a CP off and on. Several of the Word Whore alums have been CPs, too - though sadly are also CP alums at this point. People move on, yanno? These days I have two steadfast CPs who see almost everything I write. I also have several other author friends who I can send stuff to, depending on what the story is (since I write in multiple genres). My author assistant, Carien, acts as a beta reader at times - particularly on questions of series continuity.

My CPs are the ones who make sure I don't turn in complete shite to my editors. They read for me and we can talk out plot arcs and world building points. Some of my CPs skip reading and we just brainstorm plots with each other.

But all of this is by way of saying that I value crit highly - whether from CPs or editors. I think my editors can do better work if I've run things through my CPs first, because they can then focus on the higher level stuff and not have to fix basic structural/world/story issues.

As for the idea that critique can ruin voice or creativity... No, I don't believe it. Sure, an author has to winnow through the feedback she receives. It's key to learn what's an individual preference and what's going to matter to a lot of readers. But the one thing I'm sure of - almost no CP or editor ever sets out to kill a book and force it to conform to some standard. If you do encounter a toxic person like that - run, don't walk in the other direction. And know that it's the person, not the institution.

Good CPs are gold. They keep me humble, willing to examine my own work in depth, and on the course of ever-improving.

Thanks ever so much, ladies!


  1. Cheers to the days of being your CP. So fun to play a tiny part in a story's evolution!

  2. Critique can ruin voice or creativity... Seriously?
    How can you improve if no one tells you what needs to be improved?

    Great post :-)

    1. I totally agree, but not all the special snowflakes feel this way. :-)

  3. Positive feedback Jeffe and well said - CP or beta readers dont just exist in reviewing authors works - the exist in all walks of life and are also regarded as "four eyes". Important to have someone go over a piece of work before its published or becomes law etc to ensure no gaping mistakes but also to help you when sometimes word blindness takes over when you have read a piece of something over and over again.

    1. This is very true! And I worked with a research group in academia, then in enviromental consulting for nearly 20 years - QA was an essential part of all documents produced. Saved my behind many times!

  4. Special snowflakes, cute :)

    Nicely defined post, Jeffe. Each critique source is different but having some form is necessary. I always say when I stop learning then it is time to move on to something else.