Writing Tips

How Three Different Rounds of Critique Partners & Beta Readers Help Me Revise

“How do you revise?” is a question I’m often asked when talking about novel writing, especially if I’m giving a speech to a group of writers who are approaching the end of their first draft.

Writing a first draft is hard enough. But perfecting it? Well, that can feel so daunting that many writers freeze. Hopefully, that won’t happen to you. An easy way to prevent that revision trepidation is by enlisting the help of critique partners and beta readers. Some consider these the same. Others differentiate between the two. Critique partners are often fellow writers who exchange critiques, whereas beta readers are non-writer reader friends who are just there to read and tell you their impression.

So how do you find critique partners and beta readers? Local writers’ groups, like SCBWI chapters, or online writing groups on Facebook, Twitter, etc. are a good place to start.

I found my local Kansas City group through a local conference. It’s been seven years now of monthly meetups where we exchange pages and help each other out. I found all of my other critique partners through the internet, including other local writers. We exchanged a few pages to see if we were a good fit first (and I did have a couple critique partners not work out before I found ones that did). Each person has their own availability, expectations, strengths, and skills, and that’s something I factor in while writing and creating a revising plan. It’s always good to communicate before you even begin. Let your critique partners know where you’re at in the writing process and what you need/want from a critique, as well as an ideal deadline. That way, when you send off those pages, everything is set up for success.

Over the years, I’ve tried many different types of critique schedules, but this is what has worked for me.

For every novel, I have at least five beta readers and three different rounds.

First Round: Critique Partners While Drafting

I may be unusual, but I love giving my roughest of first drafts to my trusted critique partners. Why? They help me point out glaring flaws I missed while outlining and prevent me hours of writing in the wrong direction. I definitely let them know it’s a first draft, and I typically pose specific concerns I’m worried about (while encouraging any and all thoughts they have on top of that). Sometimes, I’ve even decided to stop writing a book after sending in my first third. Why? Because the questions asked made me realize I didn’t have my shit together yet and to go back to the drawing board. I’m actually in the middle of this right now. I’ve been sending my first draft to my KC group as I write it, knowing that I’m struggling with an initial time element to the piece, and their questions have been helping me piece it together in a way I couldn’t do on my own. I’m 8,000 words in. Better to fix it now than 40,000 words later.

Second Round: New Critique Partners for Revised First Draft

One thing I didn’t mention above is that while I’m drafting I try not to go back and revise until I finish the first draft. There are always exceptions to this rule, but I do try to stick to that plan. That way, when I finish my first draft, I already have everyone’s notes from when I was initially drafting organized. Because of this, I’m basically set up to revise the moment I finish, and that’s what I do. I jump right in. This is my first major overhaul, and when I’m done, I set out for new critiques. I don’t want this group to be anyone from my first round. Why? Because my first round already read the book. They may remember details from the first draft, and that can cause confusion on whether or not the new draft is actually working. That said, during this time I may also send this draft to the original group just to see if they feel like the original problems they pointed out were fixed. But the key to the second round is FRESH eyes. I aim for 2-3, but sometimes 1-2 is enough, depending on how unsure I feel and my critique partners’ availability/level of expertise.

Third Round: Critique Partners & Beta Readers for the Third Draft

After revising for the second time, I typically can revise on my own until I end up with a product I want readers’ eyes on. If I can’t get there after round 1 & 2, well, then it might be time to trunk the project for not working. (But again, that’s just me.) I like to send this draft to my friends who are avid readers of the genre. (I also send it back to my previous critique partners if they want to see it!) But this round typically lets me know the little things I need to finetune to really pack a punch in a scene. And it’s always fun to talk to readers.

This is just my method to the madness. I know many other writers who have totally different writing/revising strategies. This one just works for me. As always, you’ll have to figure out what works for you. But maybe this gives you a few places to start.


6 thoughts on “How Three Different Rounds of Critique Partners & Beta Readers Help Me Revise

  1. This is really useful Shannon. I like you, have always shared my WIP as it goes along with the writing group I have been part of for over 20 years – their stage by stage critiques are invaluable and, again like you, I generally save them up until I’ve finished the first draft ready to provide the material to attack the 2nd draft. I then give them back the full revised draft, which they do appreciate as they have only read it in bits with often a month or two between chapters and it helps to get their opinion of the novel as a whole. But after taking on this feedback and subsequent revision I have not really sought much more input, and have learnt from my experience of submitting my recent novel for publication that it could have benefitted from more feedback before being submitted. As it was I had to make substantial revisions on the advice of the small press that has eventually taken it on, and I feel the manuscript could have had a better reception from other agents/publishers earlier if I’d sought out more readers before submitting.
    Friends can be good for this, but I feel I might get more honest feedback from people who don’t know me . I’m about to embark on the 2nd draft of my current WIP, but when that’s done I may seek out some Beta readers unknown to me. Any ideas how to go about this?
    Just to say as well, my rate of production is much much slower than yours, the novel that has been accepted was about 8 years in production and then another 6 to get to the point of signing a contract with a small independent publisher. So it’s in the interest of speeding that up a bit with my current WIP that I’m looking at getting more readers in advance of submitting. See my blog https://pennyfrances.wordpress.com/2023/01/10/a-long-journey-to-success/
    You are in a very different sphere/genre to me, Shannon, but I have followed your blog for many years now and have always valued your wisdom and advice. Thanks again

    1. Thank you for sharing your story! It’s always great to see how other writers do it. To find new beta readers, I’d explore Facebook groups. Search “beta readers + (genre)” and you might find a group where readers offer that. You may also just stick to fellow writers for now and find a few new critique partners to add to the mix instead. You could also put a call on your blog or reach out to bloggers who are open to read. That may mean searching in the WordPress “Reader” under the topic “beta reader.” I hope this helps!

  2. I agree with you about completing a draft before beginning to revise. After all, the thing that may seem off while drafting could turn out to be something useful. It could become a plot twist.

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