Which Way Do I Go? Critique Groups, Critique Partners, or Beta Readers

Hey, SE Readers. Happy 2021. Joan here today.

No matter if you’re a beginning writer or have been writing for years, you’ve probably heard the terms critique groups, critique partners, and beta readers. Since the onset of indie publishing, critiques and beta readers are more important than ever. Traditionally published authors can benefit from these groups as well.

You may ask yourself which way to go. Let’s look a little at the differences.

Critique groups are most often composed of a group of local writers. They have a set meeting schedule with most meeting weekly or every other week. When I first began writing, I attended a weekly critique group. A published author/editor was the group leader. The feedback I received was extremely helpful as I struggled with words of my first novel.

Another plus to having a local group is friendships. Several of our members stayed in the group for years and naturally, a few of us became close. Some of the women members would meet for dinner once a month before attending our meeting.

On the downside. Unless you specify the group is a specific genre, you’re likely to have a mix of different genres. Some might write Sci-Fi, others romance. You may even have some non-fiction writers. While the members can offer comments and suggestions on sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, etc., not everyone will understand the basic elements of a specific genre.

It’s also possible to have some “want to be writers” that dabble but aren’t serious about the craft of writing. There is also a problem if a group becomes too large. We set our meeting time for two hours max. When more people began attending, we had to limit submissions to a specific page count.

There is also the issue with the “dabblers” who bring pages that take valuable time from the serious writers. I believe in helping anyone who is serious about writing, but if an author has a deadline, a critique group may not be the best choice.

Critique partners are a minimum of two people, but usually no more than three or four. While they can be local writers, often they are from different parts of the country and sometimes foreign countries. (Mae Clair has a wonderful post about finding critique partners. If you haven’t read it, just click here.)

The partners write in the same or similar genre and most often are published authors. They understand the craft and are serious about their work. I’ve been with my critique partners for about three years now. The feedback I’ve received has been far more valuable than what I had with the larger group. And though none of us have met in person, we have become good friends.

There are no set meeting dates and times. Each partner reviews the work on his or her schedule. My group sends submissions via email using Microsoft Word. We use the track changes feature for our suggestions. We also copy each partner so others can read and learn from work that is not their own. Personally, I wouldn’t trade my group for anything.

Some authors use beta readers. Even if you’re a part of a critique group or have a critique partner or partners, you can also benefit from using beta readers. They may or not be writers, but they have a love of reading. Beta readers can offer valuable feedback from a reader’s point of view.

I’ve used beta readers in the past, and I still have one I use today. He isn’t a writer, but a person who enjoys my books. He’s provided several helpful suggestions and has caught mistakes as well.

Are you in a critique group or have a critique partner? Have you used beta readers? Please share some of your experiences in the comments.

67 thoughts on “Which Way Do I Go? Critique Groups, Critique Partners, or Beta Readers

  1. In a Critique group with no more then 5 & all of us are in Storyteller Academy and all working on different children’s picture book genres. Absolutely love it! It is so valuable and we are all able to utilize what we learn from the classes. Better yet, when we get a manuscript close to ready, we can join a mentored critique group with either published authors, illustrators or with agents themselves. Amazing experience and great feedback. I would highly recommend this to anyone. However, one of the things taught in SA are how to properly critique so each person has a basic script to somewhat follow and loose guidelines on what to present. I felt learning this was equally as important as being in the group. Anyway, just some thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In November I asked a couple of people I knew back from my schooldays if they’d be beta readers for me. It’s the first time I’ve gone down that route and I’m looking forward to it. What I’ve told them I’m really looking for is for feedback as to whether the current scene works for them or not. (I’m using my betas as ongoing support rather than bringing them in at the end.) My family are my critique group and they have the first draft to go through and scrutinise. If more than one of them has an issue with something then I know that this is a big problem that needs sorting. They also pick up on things like typos but it surprises me how each of them finds mistakes that the others miss. My daughter-in-law was the only one to point out that one of the characters changed names twice and back again in just over two pages…
    Thanks for this, Joan. I’m off to listen to my radio now!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like you have a great set-up. I’m smiling about the character name change. While I didn’t do that, I mixed up the names of two of my male characters, who just happened to be best friends. It was a romantic scene with the female lead. My beta reader caught it. We shared a laugh and I said, “That gives a whole new meaning to my best friend’s girl.” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The group of creators I work with hold vastly different visions of art, and even comedy. Who nows if it will even work? So far, we have found a tenuous balance where every voice is heard, though sometimes we find ourselves not speaking for days at a time because someone misplaced a comma and someone else mistook the error as something to correct. Alas, I think at some point we will need to utilize what you call “beta readers” to lower the temperature and regain our former camaraderie. Outside eyes and voices may be helpful because they at least seem impartial. -TD

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Which Way Do I Go? Critique Groups, Critique Partners, or Beta Readers – Nutza

  5. I have enjoyed and utilized all critique groups, writing groups that give gentle feedback and writing partners. I have long appreciated critique groups of different sorts. The only issue with partners is that sometimes (temperamental or sensitive) personality impacts more strongly as folks become more and more involved sharing and discussing merits and weak spots Or perhaps I have not picked the best partners! I prefer readers to be more objective, not so engaged with me that differences in opinion or preference may become erosions in a group or partnership. I took a break for a couple years and lately have missed having one of these options, though! Good post- thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Having the right partners is important. Unfortunately, there are some writers who only want to get ahead in the game and they don’t care who they push around to get there. I’m blessed to have wonderful and caring partners. The objectivity of readers is an important part to consider as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I just started using a beta-reader for my newest project. It is an eye-opening experience. Feedback is so important to the development of one’s writing skills, and we can’t rely on after-the-fact reviews to really understand what our readers are experiencing. Be prepared to have some less than glowing comments!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi Joan, you are very fortunate to have found such wonderful critique partners. I have tried to people in South Africa, but it hasn’t really worked out for me, so know I share my work with international people instead. It is the most marvelous learning opportunity, to get feedback from other writers. It is the best thing about this writing journey, to be continuously learning and improving.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. An interesting post, Joan. I was blessed with my first published book, that I lucked into a couple of good beta readers, one who even managed an almost line by line content edit gratis. Man do I owe her big! Anyway, I was happy with the beta structure, and will be doing the same again for books II and III in my current series. Then a pro edit and I’m all set to go!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I participated in the 6-member face to face critique group for five years, Joan, and it was wonderful. We were all sci-fi/fantasy writers, which was helpful. I learned a ton. Now I work with one talented critique partner and an editor who provides the final set of eyes. Plus random beta readers. I can’t begin to express how generous the writing community is and how vital these collaborative relationships are. Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I have used all three. I find the critique group if it is an intimate group to be useful, but when it grows to a large size, the critiques tend to be less specific. My critique group is my favorite of the three. I have used a beta reader, and that has some advantages, but my critique group has been the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Excellent post, Joan. Mind if I add a tip? Be careful of critique groups made up of mostly unpublished writers. Since they’re still honing their craft, they could give bad (or just plain wrong) writing advice. Same goes for critique partners. Try to choose a partner at the same level or farther along in their writing journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great post, Joan. I have used Beta Readers and they have added valuable insight to the story. I recented joined a critique partnership online with two other authors. This has been a new experience for me. I’ve learned a lot, grammer, formatting and structure, along with fixing those plot holes. I haven’t tried a local group, but they are available.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I belong to a critique group but rarely share what I’m writing anymore. I mostly listen to what they’re working on–and I learn from the comments they get. Just being with a group of serious fellow writers is enough to recharge my battery. My daughter–not a writer–reads everything I write, and so does my critique partner. All three things–the group, a beta reader, and a critique partner–balance things out for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What a wonderful post, Joan. My sister has been my critique partner for years, and even though we love each other unconditionally, we also promised to be honest and we are. More recently I’ve had the opportunity to partner with a small critique group and that experience is proving to be invaluable. One thing I’ll mention that we’ve found to be very helpful with sharing our work is a platform called “Trello.” It is free to use and you create boards where you upload work to be critiqued then upload the pieces after they’ve been critiqued in Word using track changes. It’s a great tool, so just throwing that out there. Thank you for sharing! A most valuable post!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I have used critique groups and beta readers. The beta reader direction has been the most beneficial because the reader’s perspective tends to wash out individual bias on the genre. It is the story and characters that beta readers give the most feedback. Since I use an editor, I don’t need feedback on commas, etc. I found with critique groups, they seemed to concentrate on grammar rather than the story’s substance. I have never used a critique partner. Good post, Joan.

    Liked by 2 people

    • All good points, John. Back when I was still attending the critique group, I would take sections that my critique partners had already reviewed. One night, I had included a scene where a character is in his car and turns on the radio. One person couldn’t find anything to mark, so she asked, “Does anyone use a radio anymore?” I was like, “Ever heard of Sirius?” I was a little perturbed but later laughed. That was one of the things that made me realize it was time to move on from the group.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Re the radio, Joan. I have a CD player in my car, and the only time the radio is switched on, I know my husband’s borrowed it, Maybe some characters would listen to radio and some not? It would say something about them.

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      • I hear you. I had a simular experience when one member gave me a lecture on how many commas I had missed. I explained that the editor would likely catch them. She made some comment about the lack of professionalism in relying on an editor. I never went back. I loved your radio story.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Joan, this is a wonderful post looking at the differences of writing groups, critique partners, and beta readers. Thank you too for the shout-out on my earlier post.

    I’ve been a member of several local writing groups, all of which eventually disbanded or I left because I wasn’t growing as a writer. Working with critique partners is the ideal fit for me. I positively love my group and how each member brings a different perspective.

    Despite all the years I’ve been writing, I’ve never used a beta reader, and don’t expect I will in the future. By the time a manuscript has been through my CPs, I feel confident any flaws (outside of what an editor will bring to the table) have been addressed.

    Great post, Joan!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ve done all of these. For my first novel, the critique groups helped me with the basics and with some of the issues of being a first time author. I’ve come to rely on beta readers to let me know if my books have that spark I’m looking for and to become early reviewers once the book is released. This is great info that I’m going to reblog. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I’ve done all of these. My local group was much like your experience. We eventually went our own ways and disbanded. I benefitted from beta readers when I could find them, but my online critique partners have been the best. There is a level of experience there that gives any suggestions more viability.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I started with beta readers and find their suggestions valuable. They are my first go-to. They are avid readers, so they help me find my errors and plot/character holes. I’ve recently joined with a couple of critique partners, and their assistance is invaluable. They help me dig deeper, and they find the nit-picky errors that readers may not notice when they get lost in the story. I wouldn’t give up either one. Both help make my stories stronger and more enjoyable for the readers. Great post, Joan! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  20. I have used beta readers and they can provide insights into things that are confusing. For example, in my current wip, a beta reader pointed out that she knew little about the culture I was writing about. (Vikings) she was confused about some points. Having researched the culture, I forgot that what had become common knowledge to me would not be to others.
    I’m in an online critique group, too. While it’s very useful in many ways, there are flaws. We post a chapter at a time. The critiquers can be anyone, many have not read previous chapters and query things that had been made clear previously. But they do still pick up things, so it is useful.
    I have 3 or 4 regular critiquers on the plarform who critique my work as soon as it’s posted, and they are the most useful.
    I’ve not tried critique partners, though. I might give it a go.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yes. I was so steeped in the culture I forgot about the poor reader. I’ve now added more to help. At least I hope it helps. It was a very hard life in those days. My MC is a girl of 14 when we meet her, just before she becomes 15. Originally she was 13 coming up to 14, which was marriageable age at that time, but a critiquer thought that people in this modern age would find that arranging a marriage for a girl of 13 would be too much for them to take, so I upped it by 1 year, so she’s nearly 15, and actually 15 by the time the story really begins.

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  21. Thank you, Joan, for illuminating the different possibilities. I’ve worked with a critique partner and with beta readers and always find it immensely helpful. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Pingback: Which Way Do I Go? Critique Groups, Critique Partners, or Beta Readers | Story Empire | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

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