Do you want a soufflé or a bowl of mush?
Who are these fabulous beings? Well, first, let’s define the difference between the two.
Critique Partners: working with you chapter by
chapter of a work-in-progress.
Beta Readers: offering feedback AFTER at least the
first draft is complete on the whole MS.
When do you use beta readers?
Stephen King in On Writing discusses writing with the door shut. He believes that a writer needs to draft in the dark without any input from the outside. He would not advocate critique partners, instead relying on beta readers once his drafting was complete.
When do you use critique partners?
Not every writer feels comfortable wandering in the dark, waiting for input before forging ahead. If you find yourself going over the same chapter again and again, this is when critique partners shine. They can help get you past that nagging chapter, that plaguing scene, that sagging middle or that dull beginning. Like baking cookies with kids, they cheer you on when you're doing well (yum), and call you on it when you're not (more chocolate chips).
Where do you find them?
By far the most common question I'm asked about critique partners and beta readers is where to find these mystical beings. Here's the thing, they're not all that hard to find. The key: social media. Join writing related Twitter chats, comment on writers' blogs, go to a professional organization (RWA, SCWBI, SFWA) chapter meeting (find one in your area or online), attend conferences and workshops, talk on writing forums, and most of all, don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Writers are often introverts, but the only way you'll find the help you need is to ask. As I told another writer just this week on Twitter, the worst that can happen is the person says, "No". Know what happened? She asked me! And...I said yes.
What do I do with all of this feedback?
Let it cool. The worst thing you can do when taking that fresh MS out of the oven, or in this case, getting it back from your critique partner or beta reader, is to cut into it. Read over the feedback, but before you start making changes, give it a few days or even weeks to percolate. Roll it around your mind and see what sticks. Don't be defensive. Don't dismiss the reader's comments. But, don't blindly follow them either. You need to see what works best for YOU and YOUR story.
Do you use critique partners or beta readers? Which method works best for you?