The Writing Sparrow Episode 9 | Critique Partner and Beta Reader 101

This week, I talk about the basics of working with critique partners and beta readers – how to find them, when to get them involved, and why they’re so valuable.

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Sarina Langer  00:08

Hello, and welcome to the Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at Let’s get started!

Sarina Langer  00:28

Hello again friends and Sparrows and welcome back. It’s November the 2nd, and this is episode nine. Today, I want to tell you about two of the most helpful groups of people you will meet on your author path: critique partners and beta readers.

Sarina Langer  00:46

Now before we begin, as usual, I just want to stress that this is just my process, don’t feel you need to do it exactly like I do. If you want to shuffle things, you shuffle things. It’s your books, so you need to do whatever works for you and your book.

Sarina Langer  01:02

Now, when I wrote my first book, Rise of the Sparrows, I had no idea that critique partners were even a thing, which is probably why I ended up with, I think it was 21 pages of beta feedback, because they had to raise all the points my critique partners would have normally caught early. But I still got my betas at the same time that I do now, so right at the end just before the proofread, so there was a lot of last minute work to get through before I sent it off for its last proofread.

Sarina Langer  01:35

Nowadays, I actually work with critique partners first, before I even send my book to my editor. I have a dedicated group of seven critique partners that… there’s no reason for this number, by the way, it’s just how it worked out, so you don’t feel like that, like there’s a perfect number to have, whatever works for you is great. I can ask them questions and for their help at any time in the process. So for example, when I’m naming a country and I’m not sure if the names sound natural or great, I can ask them for example. If I, if I’m torn between two or more things, I can ask them for their help.

Sarina Langer  02:14

I think the last thing that I asked them for help with actually was, was a name change for a character. I changed the main character’s name for Blood Wisp from Michiko to Yua. But before I did that, I asked them if they thought it was necessary, I talked them through my reasons for wanting to do it in the first place so we could make sure that I wasn’t just overreacting.

Sarina Langer  02:38

And generally, my critique partners are always there to help when I need them and I couldn’t love them more for it. So if you’re listening, thank you so much. I love you so much, genuinely, and my books are so much better off because of you.

Sarina Langer  02:52

You can discuss anything you want with your critique partners. So be that first lines, maybe you got two or three book covers that you can’t choose between, your blurb, or you can even ask them to read your whole book and give you feedback on that. My critique partners are there for everything. I should really buy you guys tea, thank you so much, and cake. Whatever you want, you deserve it.

Sarina Langer  03:16

With beta readers, on the other hand, I kind of see as my last line of defence before I do the final proofread. So by the time I get betas now, my book has already gone through critique partners,  it’s had at least a line edit, maybe a developmental edit, and it’s had normally at least three rounds of my own edits as well. So the book at that point is around the fifth or sixth draft. Sometimes it’s more than that, depending on how easy the book was. Again, you can do this completely differently if you prefer, but I always think that my book should be as close to the finished version bar the proofread as possible before I send it to my betas. As I said, I’m normally only missing the proofread at this stage. And that way, I can make sure that real people, not necessarily other writers but just readers, you know, who read to enjoy a book, can tell me if the book works and if everything hits the way that I want it to. After that, I normally also get advanced readers. But that’s a topic for a whole ‘nother post.

Sarina Langer  04:26

Normally, both groups, critique partners and beta readers, they are generally unpaid. You might eventually maybe get spam emails, or if you do a search online you might see people offering those services but for a fee. And generally you should never pay for critique partners or beta readers. You can give them something in return if you want. With critique partners, it’s polite and usually expected to give feedback on their book when they are ready, it’s a partnership after all, but don’t feel that you have to give them anything and you definitely don’t have to pay them. It’s very much up to you what you do. And neither group is a replacement for a professional editor. But again, that’s also a topic for another podcast.

Sarina Langer  05:11

Your action step this week is to start recruiting. It sounds terrifying, but bear with me. There are sites that can match you with beta readers, but I can’t recommend any of them because I haven’t used them. If you’re a way off finishing your book still, you probably don’t even need beta readers anyway, to be honest. But with critique partners, it’s never too early to get them on board. As I said earlier, I can, I might even ask my beta readers – my critique partners, sorry – about things like first lines or even to read the whole book before anyone else sees it, including my editor, or maybe we discuss a name or a country name. But you can only do that, obviously, if you have critique partners. And the easiest way to find them is to ask people you already know.

Sarina Langer  06:01

A good critique partner needs to have only one quality and that’s honesty. If they are writers, too, they have a pretty good idea of what to look for, because they know what they need when they give their books to critique partners. But it’s also just as fine to ask readers or even friends and family. But, and I can’t stress this enough, be really careful when you ask friends and family. As I said, honesty is the most important skill for critique partners to have, and often your friends and family members will opt for white lies because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, whereas critique partners shouldn’t have any such issues. If you do ask a close friend or a family member, maybe recruit another critique partner or beta reader at the same time, just to balance that out to make sure you definitely get honest feedback and not just someone who’s just generally really impressed that someone they know has written a book. If you’re already on social media, then that’s a really great place to start.

Sarina Langer  07:01

My critique partner group is actually on Instagram. We have a private message group on there, just the eight of us, so my seven critique partners plus me. And I first met most of them on Instagram directly or Twitter, but I wasn’t actively asking for critique partners at the time, I just started having conversations with like-minded writers and readers. And I just got to know people that way. And then when it eventually came time for me to need critique partners, they volunteered and I asked them if they would mind.

Sarina Langer  07:32

With beta readers, I do it a little bit differently. I tend to ask my mailing list when I need beta readers, so I don’t have a ready-made group of people who are just ready to read my books and tell me everything that’s awful about them. So again, you can do that however you want. If you’d like to have a few beta readers already on backup, people you know who will probably be up for it, then you can do that, or you can just recruit as and when you need them.

Sarina Langer  08:00

I think it’s always a good idea to have a few people in there who you already trust. If you have an ideal reader in mind, it can also be a good idea to ask them, because you will probably get some very varying feedback. Some people might really hate one chapter, others might really like that chapter, one might not comment on it at all, which does not simplify things. So if you have someone in there who you already trust, whose opinion you definitely value, and maybe even your ideal reader, then if you are torn and if your beta readers or critique partners are torn, you can always ask yourself, what did this person say? And then you can trust that and go with that, because not everyone will love your book. And that’s really true as well for your beta readers.

Sarina Langer  08:47

Now if there’s anything else you’d like to know about critique partners or beta readers, get in touch by leaving a comment or asking on social media, my links will follow in just a second. Otherwise, thank you very much for listening!

Sarina Langer  09:05

If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at Until next time! Bye!

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Transcribed by Otter

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Sarina Langer