The Difference Between a Crit Partner and a Beta Reader

Eeek! Yahoo! I can't believe I've met my deadline and I have more freedom to revisit friends' blogs, and generally live a more normal life. That can all start tomorrow, as it's getting late and said deadline was JUST met. Whew.

So, having just given my third novel to several readers before giving it to my editor, those readers are on my mind. I'm so grateful for them! I have two types of reader: my critique partners, and my beta readers.

What's the difference? I'll give you my version, and then maybe some of you will have more wisdom to add, or a different perspective.

Critique partners are other novelists. They read like writers. Often, they read the book in chunks, giving me corrective advice as they go so I don't go off in a bad direction. Critique partners have an obligation to be constructive. Does that mean we always beat around the bush? No--we can be very frank. But MOST importantly, we try to avoid subjective opinions in favor of craft, we try to consider the other writer's intentions, and if we make a criticism, we should always suggest a way to fix the weakness we are noting in one another's work. That's a rule of constructive criticism in general: you don't just go in and say "I don't like this." You say: "This character trait or behavior isn't working for me. Maybe if you did this instead, it might make it work." When critique partners go in with blanket criticisms and no suggestions to help, things get messy, and some talks may need to happen between partners! Now, your crit partner may not always agree with the proffered suggestions, but that's OK. What matters is that you offered your brainstorming power, so your crit partner sees you are trying to help--or so you hope. :-)

Beta readers are NOT other novelists. They are novel-readers only. I have wonderful beta readers: two of them are well-read in my genre, while one of them is more a literary fiction type who loves a good historical novel. They're very smart and very analytical. But in my beta readers, I don't necessarily expect a writer-type opinion. What's really valuable from a beta reader is the subjective reaction. I *want* to know if a beta reader likes the heroine and hero for completely subjective reasons. I don't need to hear suggestions from a beta reader about how to fix things, though of course suggestions are always welcome! But they're not under the same unspoken agreement of professionalism as a critique partner.

One of my beta readers combines the qualities of both a beta reader and a crit partner. She gives me a subjective reaction, but she also often suggests a corrective measure. (And her subjective reaction is pretty objective to begin with!) Overall, though, I call her a beta reader because she's not a novelist, but an excellent nonfiction writer. Her viewpoint is invaluable as someone who has read a *ton* of good novels but doesn't write them.

What do you think about the difference between crit partners and beta readers? Do you have both types of reader, or just one? What's most valuable to you about their feedback?