Have you ever finished a draft and thought, “Wow! That’s perfect!” If you have, congratulations. Please share your secret with the rest of us.
While I’ve certainly been excited about what I’ve written, I always recognize that it’s going to need to go through revisions. And the first revision always comes from my critique partners, also called beta readers by some. These are people I trust to look at my work with a critical eye and tell me where the story isn’t flowing or where something doesn’t make sense.
I highly encourage you to have more than one reader. I have a handful of readers, and I bring them in at different points in the process. My first reader is always my sister. (I know, I know, there’s a whole group out there who screams that you shouldn’t have family members read your work.) But my sister is one of my best readers and sharing it with her is an easy transition to sharing it with the world. Plus, she catches all my stupid spelling mistakes. But you’ll need a variety of readers with different skill sets in order to make your novel truly shine:
1.) Find the critique partner(s) you trust explicitly
Sure, you’re not going to agree with 100% of their comments, but this is the person you trust to be honest about your work. Use them first as that buffer between those tricky emotions of wanting to share your work and not wanting to share your work. This person should be encouraging but able to tell it to you straight.
2.) Find the critique partner who **gets your work**
After I edit based on my sister’s feedback, I have a writer friend I send to. Since she’s a writer, I can trust her to know how plots should flow and how characters should be developed. This is usually when I have to do a major revision because things need to be clarified or expanded upon. (Side note: all critique partners should **get your work,** and you may want to alternate who you send to first based on their workload, the type of story you’ve written, etc.)
3.) Find your “reserve” critique partners
Usually after my revisions from my second reader, I send my book off to my agent. But, why, you ask would I do that when I have so many other **AMAZING** critique partners available who also get my work? Here’s why, I like to use them strategically. Once my agent sends me her edits and I revise, I like to send the book to a new critique partner each time. Are they still pointing out the same lingering issues I’d thought I’d fixed for my agent? Have I inadvertently deleted a really important scene or bit of backstory while I was revising? These new readers will catch things like that.
4.) If you’re querying agents, save a critique partner for that step, too
I know you want everyone in the world to read your work before you send it off to agents, but save one or two critique partner’s for this step. Having someone who hasn’t read your book read your query letter can really help. They can point out what doesn’t make sense or where you’ve mentioned a character but not how they’re integral to the plot. They will come to your query letter with the same knowledge an agent would, so listen to them if something isn’t making sense. This can also apply to writing your synopsis, too.
5.) The “Good Grammar” critique partner
Sometimes it can help to have one critique partner who’s really good at grammar read through before you send off to agents/editors/etc. My mom is really good at this, and while most of my critique partners will point out errors, it doesn’t hurt to have someone you know you can count on to do a final read through. Alternatively, you could also hire an editor, but as long as you’re manuscript isn’t riddled with errors, one or two misplaced commas shouldn’t be a deal breaker for agents (just make sure those errors aren’t on your sample/opening pages because that could be a deal breaker!)
Some of these critique partners may be one and the same. The critique partner who gets your work may also be your Good Grammar critique partner. Or maybe you don’t need that buffer of a critique partner who can ease your book’s transition out to the world. It just comes down to knowing what you need and that you’ve got all your bases covered.
If you’re looking for critique partners, feel free to comment on this post with what you write (include if it’s Adult, YA, MG, etc) to see if you can find someone else who might be interested in partnering with you and trading work! Or, check out my blog next week when I list ways to find critique partners!