BETA READERS & CRITIQUE PARTNERS
Writing a book is hard work. It doesn't matter if it's 3000 words or 300,000 words. Having a strong beginning, middle and end, presenting your conflict, resolving that conflict (among other things) and leaving your reader satisfied, is mission critical.
There are two things you should do before you ever consider submitting a manuscript to a publisher or before self-publishing—let others read it. Here's who you need:
Beta readers—the people you trust to give you honest, fair, non-judgmental feedback about your book:
Is the plot believable?
Are there plot holes or unresolved issues?
Were the conflicts conflicted enough?
Was your conflict resolved to your beta’s satisfaction?
Did your beta like your characters, or hate them, as you’d intended?
You have to trust your beta reader to be fair and honest, and they need to know they can trust you to take their criticism and suggestions with an open mind. What you choose to do with their evaluation is up to you, but their time spent on your story was a gift from them, so make sure you thank them.
Critique Partners—I once read about a famous author who said she’d never use a crit partner because she’d stab them if they ever criticized her work. Really? I’m glad that works for her, but us lesser mortals definitely need critique partners, and we’ll keep our knives in the kitchen drawer.
Don’t confuse critique partners with beta readers. A beta could be the nice lady in your gardening club who’s read Reader’s Digest condensed books and Harlequin romances her entire life (and I adore Harlequin romances, cut my romance-loving teeth on them in fact, so no disrespect meant). She has no idea how to write a story, but knows a good story and if it works for her when she reads one.
A good core group of critique partners is your very best friend. They’re the people, preferably authors and/or writing professionals with experience in your genre, who know what they’re talking about when it comes to all of the elements necessary in a story like yours. They're the people who will help you polish your story and get it ready for submission to a publisher, query agents, or publish it yourself. A good crit partner will help you with:
Plot—Is it believable? Why or why not. Does your plot have any holes, and if so, where are they and partners should give you suggestions for filling them. Will your reader fall in love as intended, get completely creeped out when necessary, cry in all the right places? Your critique partners will let you know.
Conflict—are your conflicts, internal and external, believable, able to be resolved, and if not, why not? Resolution of conflict? Did it happen satisfactorily? Why or why not?
Characters—are your main characters believable? Are their actions consistent with their personalities? Is the hero a jerk or a wuss, is the heroine plastic or TSTL? Your critique partners will help you make the characters fit the story.
Pacing—is the story flowing, does it arc where it needs to, does it drag when it shouldn’t? Is there tension building where it needs to build? Is the climax satisfactory (get your mind out of the gutter, you know what I’m talking about).
Technical stuff—headhopping, grammar mistakes, POV issues, dangling modifiers and any other whiskey tango foxtrot areas that will get your story shoved in slush pile upon receipt. And we like to avoid slush.
The End—nothing is worse than an unsatisfactory ending. Like the kind that seems tacked on and the reader has that huh, is this it? reaction. Or an ending that doesn’t say the end, but rambles because the author (a) was so in love with the story that s/he didn’t want it to end or (b) couldn’t figure out how to end it successfully or (c) is setting the reader up for the sequel. In any event, your critique partners should give you suggestions on a satisfactory conclusion to your story when you can’t think of one.
Like beta readers, you need to trust your critique partner’s expertise, honesty and judgment. If you don’t, you’ll second guess everything they tell you, which serves no purpose except to make you feel hurt or angry.
By publishing a story, you’re asking people to give you their valuable time when they read it. Time they’ll never get back. Don't make them regret the investment, make them appreciate it!