Critique Partner: a fellow writer who you exchange chapters, manuscripts, partials with for feedback.
Beta Reader: a reader who gives feedback to an author on their work in progress.
Definitions for these two roles vary, but at their heart they provide feedback to the writer. Editing help for free, it hardly gets any better! But not all advice is useful, so how do you become a better beta reader or CP?
Yes, I seem to keep saying that, but it applies in so many areas. The more you read the better you’ll become, even subconsciously, at recognizing issues with plot, characters, pacing, you name it! So keep reading!
Beyond that fun assignment, there are a number of things you can consciously do to become a better beta/CP.
First, and I’ll argue the most important: make sure you read the genre they are writing in and vice versa. You may have well meaning writing friends, but if they only read say, historicals, they may not be the best fit for your fantasy.
Second: determine what kind of feedback the writer is looking for. If someone wants commentary throughout of what works and what doesn’t, but you read it through and offer your impression at the end, they won’t be happy. Is it a line edit? Would correcting typos help or get in the way of unraveling the plot hole? So many questions that need answering!
Third: be specific when pointing out problems. Telling someone the story just didn’t hook you isn’t nearly as helpful as hearing their character’s personality changes after the third chapter without any reason why. Or if a scene isn’t necessary, help point out why it drags or lacks connection to the goals/plot.
Fourth: let the author tell their story. It’s a fine line to help improve a story and attempting to make it sound like your voice. You’re offering suggestions, but in the end it’s their opinion that matters.
And here’s a fifth that’s more than a cherry on top: remember to point out what works. Even writers who want feedback and are expecting their work to be torn apart need to hear some positives sprinkled in here and there. There are always good parts to be found, make sure you point some out!