Outside feedback is vital to the success of your manuscript.
As I’ve quoted many times before on my YouTube channel, according to Terry Pratchett:
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
Our first drafts are imperfect translations of the perfect story in our minds. This version of the story isn’t ready for the eyes of the reader. But in order to improve the weaknesses in our story, we first need to be able to locate them. That’s where critique partners (CPs) and beta readers come in.
Before we get into where you can find CPs and beta readers, let’s first talk about what they are.
Critique Partner Vs. Beta Reader
Critique partners are writers who provide feedback on your work, usually by request (to exchange chapters or full manuscripts).
Beta readers are people who read your manuscript as a readerfirst (rather than a writer). Most of the time, beta readers are not writers.
A good CP will:
- Be kind and professional when providing any kind of feedback
- Be timely in their feedback and maintain agreed-upon deadlines
- Be attentive to the feedback you are looking for (such as big-picture editing vs. grammar)
- Find any faults or shortcomings in your writing (that you may have overlooked), including world-building holes, wonky pacing, pointing out when a character is two-dimensional, and much, MUCH more
- Show you the worst and best of your writing to help you to reach your full potential
- Provide specific recommendations for areas of improvement (without telling the writer how to write their story), and not simply “I don’t like this”
- Encourage you to write the best version of the story you want to write—and not the story they want to see
A good beta reader will do many of these things as well. However, since many beta readers are not writers, their feedback will not be as in-depth. For example, common feedback from beta readers might be something like: “I was bored in this section.” Then it’s up to you, the writer, to determine where your pacing lagged and how you can make that scene or chapter more engaging. (Unless, of course, you meant for the pacing in that chapter to slow down.)
Finding a Critique Partner or Beta Reader Is a Lot Like Dating
I will be the first to tell you that finding CPs and beta readers, especially when you are first starting out, is exceedingly difficult. It’s a heck of a lot like dating—where you put out feelers to see who would be interested in swapping chapters. If it’s not a good fit, then you amicably part ways and start again. If you find someone who clicks, you have to continue to channel your inner chill and ask if they want to swap manuscripts. (Or whatever process works best for you.)
Personally, I’ve probably worked with an upwards of fifty CPs over the course of the last ten years, and I’ve now found my humans. It’s not going to take everyone nearly as long, but be prepared that the first CPs and beta readers you connect with might not be your community.
Where Do You Find Critique Partners and Beta Readers?
First and foremost, you must put yourself out there. You can’t wait for them to come to you. Below are a few places where there are writing and/or reading communities and you can potentially find CPs and beta readers.
- If you see an interesting pitch in a Twitter pitch contest, tweet at that person and ask them if they are looking for a CP.
- Follow writing hashtags, such as #amwriting, #writingcommunity, and so on. Start chatting with writers and see if anyone there wants to swap stories.
- Similar to Twitter, follow the writing hashtags to see who is currently writing a book and might be looking for feedback. Be a friendly, normal human and engage with them in the comments. When it feels natural, ask them if they want to swap stories.
- I’ve said this in my iWriterly videos, and I’ll say it here. There are writing communities on YouTube. Don’t be afraid to jump into comments on my videos (and other writing videos) and ask other writers if they want to exchange chapters with you. AuthorTube is a great place to connect with writers, especially in the comments. But respect the person if they say no.
FACEBOOK WRITING GROUPS
- There are many writing groups on Facebook, some of which are dedicated exclusively to beta reading. Do some research, ask your fellow writer friends what they have used, and see what happens!
- Unlike the other recommendations I’ve offered thus far, Goodreads is a community of readers (vs. writers). This may be where you find more beta readers than CPs. However, definitely check out some of the groups on this platform for beta reading. There are lots of voracious readers!
LOCAL WRITING GROUPS AND SOCIETIES
- Depending on what age category and genre you write in, you might want to check out some local chapters for writing societies, such as SCBWI.
- If you’re unable or do not want to pay the annual fee to be a part of writing societies, you could also check out places like Meetup, which hosts a number of different groups.
One thing I recommend to all writers looking to find CPs and beta readers is to post on whatever social media platforms you are most active on, saying you are looking for volunteers to read your book and provide constructive criticism. However, if you have an existing author platform, it’s much easier to call for beta readers and have folks interested in reading your story (than if you have no platform at all). Still, I do think it’s worth trying—in addition to proactively putting yourself out there in the handful of communities and places I’ve recommended above.
Best of luck finding your writing community!