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March 10, 2011

Should Beta Readers Match Your Market?

Square peg in a round hole

Several months ago, I ran a post about what to look for in a critique partner.  One of the points I’d made was to evaluate whether a potential critique partner was familiar with our genre.  Only someone knowledgeable about our genre would know the expectations for pacing, character development, etc.

However, I recently had cause to wonder if the same held true for beta readers.  Should we consider only beta readers who are familiar with our genre?  Or should we include one or two non-genre readers in our beta pool?

Beta readers who don’t read our genre might not enjoy the story as much, which might taint their feedback.  And they wouldn’t be able to give genre-specific feedback.  But could they provide other things?

No matter what genre they read, a beta reader should be able to provide some valuable feedback:

  • identify confusing sections;
  • evaluate the pacing from a big picture perspective;
  • look for too much telling versus showing;
  • and find weak/missing character motivations, etc.

Most importantly, a beta reader who doesn’t love your genre can tell you what you definitely don’t need to worry about:

  • maybe they hated the main character, but loved the voice;
  • maybe the pacing and story kept them reading despite their “meh” feeling to the genre;
  • maybe they liked some of the characters, but not others;
  • maybe they connected to the main character so much they plowed through a plot they didn’t like;
  • or maybe they liked the premise or overall plot.

Even if someone hates most of the story, they can tell us which parts did work for them. A beta reader outside our market who’s willing to figure out what parts they did enjoy could give us insight into what our strengths are.

And for the aspects that didn’t work for them, they might have ideas to help us.  Yes, they might be way off the mark, just because they don’t understand the genre or the market.  Or maybe the suggestions would work great because they are so far out of the box.  Or maybe their ideas will spark other thoughts we can use.

Sometimes our harshest (i.e.: best) critics are going to be those who aren’t predisposed to love our story.  They wouldn’t gloss over issues just because “that’s how it’s always done.”  They could push us to go deeper with our story, adding more layers.

We know that not everyone is going to love our work.  And yes, it’s more fun to get feedback from readers who love our stories.  But we might learn even more about how to improve things by opening ourselves to feedback from those who don’t love it.

This process wouldn’t be about trying to change our story to make them like it.  If we won a convert to the genre, that would be a bonus, but that shouldn’t be the goal.  Instead, if we go in assuming that they’d dislike our story no matter what we do, we can listen for their completely blank-slate impression of our work.

We’re always trying to get distance from our work to be able to edit it properly.  What better way to gain that distance than by finding a reader who won’t have any predispositions to anything we write.  So while we would probably want most of our beta readers to read our genre, mixing in one or two who don’t might provide us a much broader view than we ever expected.

What do you think?  Have you had betas from outside your genre read your work?  Did you get any benefit from it?  Are you willing to get feedback from someone who might hate your story?  Would you be able to resist wanting to warp your story to make them like it?

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Laura Pauling

I don’t know about finding a beta reader that hates your genre. That might be going too far. But I think it’s good to have a variety of beta readers some within your genre and some without. After receiving many crits, I’ve finally reached the point of only using suggestions and line edits that flow with my vision of the story. I’m willing to consider anything though.

Janice Hardy

I think it’s a great idea to have a variety of readers in your crit group. I have two groups, a WIP group and a polished group. My WIP group is all different genres. My polished group is all in my genre, but not my market (I write MG/YA, only one other writer in that group does). Both groups point out different things, and those outside my genre/market notice things that make me take a second look at something I might take for granted in my genre.

I also think it’s good to have folks who do read your genre and market though. You want readers familiar with what you write to help you write the best book for that genre/market.

Suzanne Johnson

I think it’s important to have both. In fact, my alpha reader–the first one to ever see the WIP in a semi-finished state–does not read my genre at all and, in fact, doesn’t particularly like it. She’s brutal but oh-so-helpful. The Betas within my genre can negate or reinforce some of the things the Alpha points out. The alpha’s questions become the issues I ask my beta readers to look for.

Murphy

Hi Jami:

I think it’s a good idea to have a proportionate balance. Too much – one way or another- could skew the issues and/or problems with the ms.
Murphy

Cheryl Reifsnyder

I love this idea, because so many “break-out” novels have cross-genre appeal. If my characters are engaging enough for my fantasy novel to appeal to the dyed-in-the-wool contemporary fiction readers in my critique group, I know I’m doing something right :). I agree that you don’t want a reader who hates your genre–in my experience, the comments seems to focus on critiquing the genre as a whole rather than your work in particular–but I think it can be incredibly useful to learn what does and does not appeal to the reader who wouldn’t ordinarily pick your book off the shelf. Great post!

Lisa Gail Green

I do have a WONDERFUL beta reader (or two) that write YA but are not big into fantasy. I love their feedback! I think finding a small but varied group of Betas is essential. You want multiple viewpoints, and you want the thoughts to come from “readers”. Can I resist? Sure. But I would definitely look closer at whatever they point out!

Adventures in Children's Publishing

This is so true! I also think that adding critiquers and/or beta readers who don’t love and know your genre can help you add new dimension to your work to encourage a broader readership. Only one of my critique partners writes what I do. That can be tough, but also incredibly rewarding.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

Martina

Gene Lempp
Gene Lempp

It’s actually been difficult to find people that read my genre (science fiction) in my area, but I do have a few that are close to it (as in steam punk). Like Suzanne my “alpha” is brutal which is great, even if they don’t always get the conventions of the genre. The great thing about being the author is that you are in charge of the project, not the testers, and in the end its our choice what suggestions we follow. Having people outside the genre does help with building cross-genre appeal, in my opinion, one can provide all the “needed elements” to entertain the genre crew while smoothing out the “geekness” of the genre to those who may have been turned off to it in the past.
Thanks for another thought provoking and entertaining post Jami!

Rachel Firasek

Jami, great post! I haven’t utilized beta readers all that much, but, I would definitely want them at least somewhat open to my genre.

Rachel Russell
Rachel Russell

As usual, another wonderful, thought-provoking article, Jami! Seriously, it’s starting to get standard for me to link to your blog posts every Sunday on my site. I’ll definitely be linking to this post as well, especially since I’ve been struggling with it!

I think that it’s a good thing to have beta readers that fall into both spectrums: those who enjoy the genre, and those who (while not hate it) don’t generally read it. Both sides have valuable advice they’ll be able to give, as you already stated.

Personally, I’m struggling with this at the moment. The genre I love and have chosen to write in isn’t all that popular in the YA crowd at the moment, and so it’s been rather frustrating trying to find a fellow enthusiast of the type of setting I write in. However, while the few beta readers I have at the moment don’t particularly subscribe to the genre I write in, they have still given highly valuable advice that I’d not discount.

Regina Linton

I like to have a mixed bag of beta readers that way like you said some can help in areas that aren’t biased by the love of the story line or characters. I don’t think that I have always found a perfect match either. So I just go with it. Thanks for the post.

Sadie Hart

I think it’s beneficial to at least have one beta reader who isn’t familiar with your genre. A friend of mine never touches paranormal romances or romances for the most part, but when I ask her to read something she’ll be the first thing to point out stuff I never thought about… because as someone who reads the genre, it’s kind of a given. But for someone new to it? They might benefit from an explanation. She’s also the first to tell me if my paranormal aspects are confusing and she’ll see the flaws in the world building very easily… probably because she doesn’t buy into into magic, and so is looking for an ‘out’.

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[…] as I pointed out in a post from long ago on this in-genre-versus-other-genre-readers question from the author’s perspective, we can point out what we like about the story, which gives the author great insight into their […]

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