Writing Tip: CPs vs. Betas

Photo credit: mrurbain on Flickr
I’m going to start this post by saying I’ve seen varying definitions of CPs vs. beta readers throughout the interwebs, so this is just how I see it. Your definitions may vary. And that’s okay.

(My) quick definitions:

  • CP (Critique Partner): Someone you regularly trade manuscripts with, with whom you give (and received) detailed critiques on each other’s WIPs. You may even trade the same manuscript several times. This is a long-term deal.

  • Beta Reader (Beta): Someone you share your manuscript with for overall feedback, oftentimes focused on a couple particular aspects. Usually this is a one-off, but if you find a couple really awesome betas, it can be a longer-term relationship. This differs from CPs, however, because it’s very much dependent MS to MS, while CP relationships are assumed to be an every (or almost every) MS deal.

    Note: I’ve seen other writers use betas a little differently, and that’s totally fine! Do whatever works best for you. For me, betas are an extra set of eyes with expertise my CPs don’t have. 

Personally, I have three main CPs (I recommend you stick with odd numbers, because it saves you when you get contradictory feedback, which is somewhat inevitable). They see just about all of my manuscripts (with only a couple exceptions), and I’ve been working with each of them for at least over a year. They know my writer ticks (sometimes better than I do), have seen my manuscripts in not-so-fabulous shape, and continually push me to do better. Basically, they are the best.

My CPs see my earliest work, which is to say usually the second draft (which, depending on the WIP, may or may not have gone through more than a round of revision already). Sometimes I send all three the MS at once, sometimes because of scheduling things (or other reasons) I send them the MS in different feedback rounds. Sometimes they see the same MS more than once. It depends on the WIP.

Fun fact: this right here is where I stopped before querying what is now Beyond the Red. Possibly this is part of the reason I had so much revising to do after signing with the Agent of Awesome, but that was, originally, the end of my CP process.

No longer!

Once I’ve received feedback from all three and implemented their suggestions, I now move on (or at least, I will be with the current WIP) to the in-betweeners.

The what? Right. So, I also have readers who kind of fall in between CPs and betas. Some of them I’ve given feedback on MSs, some of them we’ve agreed we should totally trade but haven’t yet, some of them I’ve traded with, then fallen out of touch with, then started planning on trading with again. They are all excellent and have been sorted into respective critique rounds, after my CPs.  Not all WIPs are sent to in-betweeners, and like betas, it varies MS to MS. (As of right now, most of my in-betweeners have not seen my work, but that will change shortly.)

From there come the betas. Beta readers, for me, are the last stop between revisions and Agent of Awesome. They help me catch stuff my previous readers didn’t, and I usually use them for really specific issues that weren’t addressed enough earlier (for example: representation). I also ask for general, overall feedback and thoughts, which helps me determine just how much more I need to tweak the MS before sending it off.

What makes betas different from CPs or in-betweeners is I tend to pick them with pretty specific qualifications, and whether or not they see future WIPs largely depends on the needs of that particular project. So this is assumed to be a temporary deal, unless I know a future project will have similar needs, in which case… :)

So that’s how I view the (rather blurry) line between CPs and betas—now I want to hear from you.

Do you use both? How do you define them?

Twitter-sized bites:
Confused about the diff. between CPs & betas? @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts on these important writer relationships. (Click to tweet
Do you use CPs and betas? How do you define the difference? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)


Ana @ Butterflies of the Imagi said...

YES! THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS POST, AVA! I have been wondering about this for a long time, but I've never found a clear explanation about the difference between CPs and betas. Now I think I understand. So basically, CPs are more of a long term relationship, while betas are more of a one-time thing. However, betas can become CPs. None of my novels are ready for others to read yet, but when they are, I think my CP/Beta process will be pretty complicated, too. I'm currently revising a space mystery, so of course I want the ending to be unpredictable. Therefore, I think I'll probably allow betas to read it one by one. If the first beta thinks its predictable, I'll revise it, and then send it off to the next beta. That way my betas can better judge the predictableness without already knowing the ending.

A.E. Albert said...

I find beta readers are more vague. Their give an opinion from the perspective of a reader. They like the plot, the mood, the character development, etc. A Cp is more critical. They pick apart the book, scene by scene. You're right, the CP is best used in the beginning, yet both are necessary. Writing is truly a team effort.

Ava Jae said...

You're welcome, Ana! I know for a long time I was wondering the difference, which is what lead me to write this now that I've had experience with both. :)

I think your summary is about right. It can vary writer to writer as I mentioned in the post, but that's often a good differentiation between the two. Good luck!

Ava Jae said...

As I mentioned in the post, I think different writers use them for different reasons. But I've definitely heard of writers working with betas 100% for overall feedback, rather than for a specific reason like the way I've worked with betas. There's no wrong way to go about it. :)

And I agree—writing is absolutely a team effort.

MK said...

I was *just* wondering about this. Of course you've got it covered. If you ever need a new CP/beta reader, please let me know!

Ava Jae said...

Will do! :)

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