Critique Group or Beta Readers?

The general consensus is that writers are a lonely group. We work alone, pounding out stories that jump into our heads, and what the reader sees once a book is published is ours alone. That can’t be further from the truth. We do write the first draft, second, and third, however many are required to get the story right, by ourselves. But a good writer realizes that they must have a dedicated group of people willing to assist them with cleaning up their work.

The good writers, those who become authors, have a great group of people behind the scenes. Those members of a critique group, or the beta readers, see the initial book. They read it slowly, making notes about what works or doesn’t work. They’ll catch improper grammar and misspelled words, missing or incorrect punctuation. They are the unsung heroes of the writing world, people willing to assist the writer, often for nothing more than a copy of the book once it is published.

How does one go about finding these people?

Critique groups abound on the web. It’s not difficult to find them with a simple search. The problem lies in finding the right group for you, and that can take a lot of time. Do you want a group where one person posts each week and the rest critique their work before moving onto the next individual in line. These are often done a chapter at a time. You could spend years polishing your work until it’s publication ready. Most of us aren’t that patient. Check out each group. Contact the moderator if that’s possible, and interview them as to what is expected of you if you join and how the group operates. Take your time settling in with the group.

Remember, it will take months to find the right group for you. Don’t be surprised if you join and leave several groups before you find the right one. You’ll be the new kid on the block, and will have to take time to fit in. If you don’t feel as if you’re part of the group after a month or two, move on and find another group.

Beta readers are usually good friends of the writer, people they’ve known for years, but who aren’t afraid to tell him or her what they think about their book. It’s a difficult job. You can’t praise everything and say nothing is wrong. That wouldn’t be doing your job. You have the unhappy position of saying that Susie just can’t suddenly turn into Supergirl in chapter six, because someone is pushing her buttons. It’s your job to dig out bad plot points, overdone descriptions, narrative that bores the reader to tears, and then find a constructive way to tell your writer friend that this doesn’t work and why.

Treat your beta readers well. They can turn your book from a middle of the pack offering to a winner.


A serious author will always find ways to thank their beta readers. Members of a good critique group will find themselves getting published around the same time. These are lifelong friendships you can carry on long after you receive your book contract. Choose your partners in the revision process well. 

Comments

Jess Alter said…
Fantastic post on appreciating the real value of beta readers, K.C.! I appreciate your clarification of beta readers' roles and your reminder that their input can elevate our work from good to great.

Kudos, and thank you for writing this.
KC Sprayberry said…
Thank you. Beta readers and critique groups have been a huge part of my success. I'm sad to see that a lot of authors now bypass this very important step.