beta reader vs. test reader vs. critique partner

July 3, 2010

I have mentioned in various blog posts that I work with beta readers, test readers, and critique partners. I’ve been asked to explain how beta reading differs from test reading or from being a critique partner.

Keep in mind that different writers have different “titles” for their “creative staff.” For example, I’ve recently heard writers refer to the people who read chapter for chapter as the writer writes them as “alpha readers,” while they refer to the people who read the whole story after it’s finished as “beta readers.”

So here’s an explanation of the terms I use.

For me, a beta reader is a reader first and foremost. Someone who can tell me what scenes made her laugh, cry, or throw a pen at the computer screen in anger. Someone who can tell me when I have a character acting “out of character” or when a line of dialogue sounds off. Someone who lets me know when I forget to put the information in my head on the page. Ideally, beta readers are good at spelling and grammar and can help me avoid awkward phrases.

Beta readers don’t need to be writers, but they need to be willing to provide very detailed feedback.

My critique partners are writers, though. They might provide some of the same information that my beta reader does, but they also comment on “technical” elements of fiction. For example, in my work-in-progress, Hidden Truths, I had the following paragraph in a scene written from Amy’s point of view:

“Your father won’t sell her, will he?” Rika asked, effortlessly switching to male pronouns since the ranch hands and a few neighbors were within hearing distance.

And one of my critique partners told me that using “effortlessly” violates POV, since Amy can’t know whether switching to male pronouns is easy or hard for Rika.

She’s right, of course.

Some beta readers might be able to point out things like violations of POV too. The difference between beta readers and critique partners is that I beta read for my critique partners and they beta read for me. We learn from each other and apply what we learn to our writing and to each other’s manuscripts. Sometimes, they give advice that I have given them in the past, and it’s a good reminder to practice what you preach.

For me, test readers aren’t expected to provide the same level and detail of feedback. They might tell me that they didn’t care much for character X or that they loved scene Y or that the ending was too much of a leap for them. They don’t read the story chapter for chapter as I write them, but read bigger parts or even the complete story.

That said, some of my test readers went well beyond that and provided me with much more detailed information — which was great.



  1. Thanks for the explanation. I always wondered what the differences between the different people reading for you were. That makes it clear.

  2. I’ve been trying to locate beta readers, without success. Any suggestions? I’m more thn happy to reciprocate. You can check on summaries of my novels and see a sample of my short stories at http://JamesOsborneNovels.

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