Do You Need A Beta Reading or a Critique? What’s the Difference?

When you’ve finished a piece of fiction, or think you’re close, you can still make it better. The process starts with sharing it. The question is, how to share it?

Should you post it online on your blog or a site like Wattpad?
Should you share it with an editor?
Should you ask for a Beta Reading from friends or writing partners?
Should you have the work critiqued?

The answer, as with most things writing related, is that it depends.

If you haven’t written many stories or novels, you may want to start with a beta reading. At this stage in your writing experience (and even at other times) you need encouragement and feedback. You want honest feedback, but you also want to hear what’s good about the story, or even some recognition for finishing a piece. Your friends and family, regardless of whether they are writers, are a good first step. You may also find beta readers from volunteers you don’t know. A good beta reader will encourage you and tell you how a general reader reacts. What they are unlikely to do is tell you why they reacted that way.

Does that mean editors or a critique partners are not encouraging? No, but an editor and a critique partner focus on making the story better. There’s a lot less morale boosting and more direct language about why a story isn’t working. Some people find receiving a critique or an edit to be emotionally difficult.

So what’s the difference between and edit and a critique?

For clarity, I’m talking about a developmental editor and someone like a critique partner like you might have in a writing workshop. An editor will be fairly prescriptive and explain why things aren’t working and offer solutions. I think of an editor like a coach.

A critique partner is somewhere between a beta reader and an editor. A critique partner will look at everything an editor does, like characterization, structure, pacing, etc. but the response is less prescriptive and more open-ended. Ideally you want a Critique earlier in the process than an edit and should make an edit easier.

I believe the best way to deliver critiques is mostly through questions. A critique should question the author on the choices they’ve made (consciously or not) and point out the effects of those choices on the reader. The author then has to decide if that’s what they intended and whether to change it. If an editor functions like a coach, a critique partner should be a teammate.

What do these forms of feedback cost?

Beta readers are usually free, though there are many paid services like my own for those who aren’t getting the right feedback from their beta readers or can’t find beta readers. Finding a beta reader for a 120,000 word epic can be a challenge.

Editing is the most expensive, and again, should come at or near the end of the process when the story is as good as the author thinks they can make it. Costs can run between $0.005 – $0.02 per word, or $600 – $2,400 for your 120k word epic.

Critiques are part of what you pay for in a writing workshop, which makes that form of critique expensive. If you are fortunate to belong to a writing group (ideally with some members more experienced than you) the cost may be a critique in kind. Some writers find long-term critique partners. They trade novel length work and give full critiques like you would receive from a workshop.

When it’s time to share your story, consider which type of feedback you need. Even experienced authors sometimes just want a simple beta read to judge what a typical reader gets from the story, and to receive some encouragement. Other times, the story is ready for an editor. Sometimes a story needs a critique: a close reading, critical feedback, and some encouragement.

If you need a beta read or a critique and have no partner or ability to attend a workshop, I provide affordable options here.

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