Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

CP or BR

CP (Critique Partner) or BR (Beta Reader)? Which is which? What do they do and which do you need? And how do you show your appreciation?

From my perspective, and stop me if I'm way off base here, a CP is someone who is also a writer. They read your work, mark the hell out of it, provide useful suggestions on style / technique / story. They are people for whom you do the same. A CP also provides moral support, industry news, and a shoulder to cry on when you've just gotten about the worst rejection ever and you feel like you can never write another word. (My CP and I also swap books via mail, but that's not a requirement. It's just fun.)

A BR on the other hand may or may not be a writer. Look at these folks like your test group. They're going to read your book to make sure it makes sense to the general public. They like to read, and they read whatever genre you write. (If you're writing thrillers, and you've got a beta who only reads romances, how much help are they really going to be, other than any romantic subplots you might have?) These are people who you can trust to be totally honest with you. If they think a scene is pointless, they're going to tell you. (Which pretty much leaves most family members out of the BR group.) If possible, these folks also look for typos and errors. I have a computer-tech friend who is one of the best proofreaders I've ever seen. :waves: If I've got a problem, she's probably going to find it and point it out - just because when she reads, they jump out at her like flashing neons signs. They are also people who can provide intelligent commentary, but sometimes the best they can do is say "This part is really good" or "This part stinks on ice" which at least gives you a flag about a scene. Your CP can help you from there.

Most CPs are also BRs. Not all BRs are also CPs. Most people just don't have that much time to devote to a hard critique. A quick read with a few notes? Sure. But don't expect too much from your betas or they'll be finding less taxing things to do.

Since BRs may or may not be writers also, they might not have anything for you to read in return. It's my belief that whether CP or BR, the relationship should be reciprocal in some fashion. My CP and I exchange our work and it's mutually beneficial in that way, plus we tell each other about contests, share research about agents and publishers, swap books - but even if we didn't we're at least putting in the same amount of effort for the work received. With a BP who doesn't write, you have to go the extra mile to make it worth their while. Sometimes just reading your new book is thanks enough, but let's not get a big head and assume this is the case. One thing I've done in the past is to send books. One of my BRs sews a lot, so I sent her some nifty needlework books I had. Find out what kinds of things your BR likes, and treat them to something nice.

Generally, I use BRs and CPs at the same point in my writing process. I don't like to send out work before I've polished it to the point where I think it could be published as is. (And when I've gotten to that point, it just means I can't see where the problems are by myself any more.) Some writers, though, like to beta test scenes or chapters. Others like to get critiques as they go. As with anything, you have to make the determination for yourself.

So, do you have a CP or several? Do you send your work out to BRs? When do you let other people read your work? Inquiring minds want to know.


Alex Adams said...

I think your definitions are exactly the same as mine. Each brings something different to the table.

Tia Nevitt said...

I have a crit partner, but its not very serious at this point. She takes a long time to return each segment, but at this point I am fine with that. Plus, my husband reads everything I write, and is not sparing with the criticisms.

I will want beta readers in a few months, however.

ERiCA said...

Your definitions look pretty good to me! The best thing about beta readers is they can offer feedback on a "virgin read", whereas a CP will have seen/heard/discussed the WIP ad nauseum. The trickiest thing for me is to find someone willing to BR and offer comments other than, "I liked it." (Or my fiance who, unlike Tia's DH, rarely makes it past the first chapter...)

B.E. Sanderson said...

Give me a few weeks, and I'll be happy to beta something for you, Erica. After the move, and before school starts, I'll have time. I promise not to tell you I liked it. ;o)

Let me know when you might be ready, Tia. We'll talk over the whole beta thing. =o)

Lazy Perfectionista said...

I'm still at the very early stages of writing, so apart from my husband, I've only shown excerpts to one friend. She isn't a writer, but has the advantage of being a novelist's daughter, so is used to critiquing honestly. At some point I will be looking around for other readers though...

Kristen Painter said...

I have both CP's and BR's. I think your way of defining them is pretty solid.