Just like with any profession, the writing world carries its own labels and lingo. One aspect of this world is a group I call “The Writer’s BFFs”, which are broken down into 3 categories:
All three provide moooey-important feedback to help a writer get her/his manuscript into the best shape possible. Some of their tasks overlap, but ultimately their main jobs are very different.
So let’s dig deeper…
Ah, these are those special people I couldn’t get through this journey without! If you are lucky enough to find dedicated writer critique buddies that you truly “jive” with, you have a gold mine. These individuals become your sounding board, brainstormers, cheerleaders, critics, accountability clock, and fellow passenger on the ride through your story. Critique partners are also writers, so they fully understand the proverbial blood we pour from our pens. They help us improve on our craft (as we help them), by sharing experiences and knowledge gained along the way. Critique partners can often overlap editor tasks, though usually not with the same magnifying glass a professional editor uses. In addition to serving all those formal functions, critique buddies are the ones who often become lifelong friends (I know mine are!!)
Professional editors are those hired when the manuscript has been through the ringer of your critique group, has had one or more re-writes, and is ready for the scrutiny of a fresh and very sharp eye. I hired a free-lance editor, the wonderful Jordan Rosenfeld, for my book Arrow of the Mist, and oh-boy was I glad I did! She was a master at line editing (fixing pesky grammatical/punctuation errors, smoothing out the prose, finding areas that needed tightening or expansion). Another overhaul after that and the manuscript was ready for Beta Readers.
They can be writers or non-writers with the purpose of reading for overall readability, hook/interest value, emotional value/connection with characters, character likability, pacing (too slow, too fast), to find areas that are confusing or redundant, exciting or boring, or even areas they don’t really know why they like or don’t like, but they just do. It’s best to find beta readers that are familiar with and enjoy the genre you’re writing in, to avoid issues such as lack of interest solely on the fact they aren’t “into sci-fi”. Other writers as beta readers will most likely overlap some editor and critique partner tasks, as they have a keener eye for the writing. For more on Beta Readers, check out this post at Ask Jami. Another post on the difference between Critique Partners and Beta Readers is over at Rosslyn Elliott’s Blog
At this point, you will probably overhaul the manuscript again…and again and…well, you get the picture. You may run it back through your critique group and new betas, in sort of rinse-wash-repeat mode. Then, when it’s all shiny and polished, and you actually get noticed by an agent or editor, you’ll be instructed to make more revisions by them 😉
Another comparison of these 3 important groups is on Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing