It’s important as an author to have fresh pairs of eyes look over your work once it’s completed. Other people see things you might miss, even though as authors we can be the most critical of our work. When I’m re-writing a book for instance, I have someone beta-read for me to make sure I’m not missing plot points, or to make sure I don’t have parts of the story that should have been deleted still in there!
Beta-readers are important because these are people you trust that are fans of the genre you write. They will be able to tell you what they liked, what they felt fell flat in your book, and give you good suggestions because they read so many books in the genre. If you don’t know any readers of your genre, I’m sure you know someone who loves books. An avid reader will be able to do the same because they know what makes a good story flow for them while they’re reading.
A critique partner differs from a beta-reader in that your critique partner is usually another author you trust to read your work – someone you know will give you good advice on plot points, editing, character development etc.
When I joined a writer’s organization, I met a lot of great authors at a conference and some of them became my critique partners for a time. Now that I’ve been published for a few years, I use beta-readers more often than critique partners, mostly due to the fact that I’m not a new author anymore, my confidence at being able to write a good story has increased, and I have great editors I work with on a regular basis with my publishing house. Nowadays, I want to know if a reader feels anything is missing for them, and I take their feedback and feel out how or if I want to change anything.
I get asked a lot to critique people’s work, and unfortunately these days my answer is ‘no’ for the simple fact that my writing schedule is busy. I do critique samples when I host workshops. My advice to authors is to join groups in-person or online. Be open to constructive feedback. It’s difficult to have someone be critical of your work, but if you’re serious about being good at what you do, you need to be able to hear what others have to say about what you’ve written. Be wary of people who tear down your work. There is a difference in constructive feedback and picking apart everything you’ve done.
I recall the first time I hired an editor to edit one of the first books I’d ever written. It came back with so many red track-changes that at first I cried! Then I saw what she’d done, and I knew I could learn. I encourage everyone to love what you do, but step back and let others help you make your manuscript shine. Be open to how others view your work because there is so much to learn, and another perspective gives you a fresh view of what you’ve done. You do not have to always agree with a beta-reader or critique partner, but more often than not, if these people care about you, they will want you to become better.
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