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Beta Outside Your Genre: Opposites Attract

Not to bring up a sensitive subject, but Amy Poehler and Will Arnett have broken up*. I know, I know. It makes me extremely, horribly sad.
While moping about this recently I started thinking: what could have soured in their relationship? I started to imagine what it must have been like to be married to someone who does the same thing you do---in Amy and Will's case, they're both actors, and comedians. There's a lot of community and support in a relationship like that, but there must also be some degree of competitiveness.

Then I thought, what if I was in a long-term relationship with a fellow novelist? And that novelist also wrote contemporary fiction? How could I read their work without thinking, "How would I have written this scene?" At least for me, that would be downright impossible. I know because I've been a critique partner/beta reader for friends who also write contemporary fiction, and I have that thought all the time.

Opposites Attract

If you're feeling a similar sense of competitiveness cloud your judgment while beta reading, or in accepting notes from others, I recommend seeking out friends who write in genres outside of your own. 

It can be intimidating to think of critiquing genres you don't know entirely well. But really, that outsider perspective is what makes you such a valuable asset. When I beta read a high fantasy book, I don't think at all about how I would write it since I've never done it. That lets me relax and truly be a reader, taking the story at face value and giving notes that are much more useful. Likewise, in my last round of receiving critique, one of the best set of notes I got was from someone who writes action-packed thrillers. She saw things others didn't, and her feedback was tremendously helpful.

I'm not suggesting that you only get feedback from critique partners of different genres---just don't be hesitant to ask for their help, or to dive in and critique something different yourself. Sometimes it's true that opposites attract.

Though I'd give anything for Will and Amy to reunite.

*This is old news, technically, but the pain hasn't abated.

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  1. Such a great post, and I totally agree! One of my critique partners writes adult urban fantasy, so we both give helpful notes. I just recently started working with an MG author and am excited to see her feedback, too!

  2. I never thought about it, but I guess it makes sense.

  3. I recently gave my latest work to a friend who writes a different genre then me and although i haven't got feedback yet, (I gave it to her yesterday) I am very excited to.
    There are two reasons I am excited to see what she thinks,
    1. she has a totally different skill set then I do, and I always love to see other peoples prespectives.
    and 2. she is very factual, unlike me, and i cant wait to see how she takes all my weird ideas.
    Sometimes you need someone who knows where you're coming from and if you're lucky where you're going, but other times you need a little help from you're opposite!

  4. I suspect one of the reasons I haven't had any luck with finding betas or CPs is because I write serious historicals, not one of the more popular or lightweight genres. It seems like people I've met in the writing blogosphere who write fantasy and contemporary have such an easier, quicker time finding partners. I think it's best to stick with people who really know historical and are passionate about it, if you write in that genre. Someone more familiar with fantasy, sci-fi, or contemporary probably isn't as tuned into past attitudes, period touches, and historical references.

  5. This is really sound advice. I beta for a few friends who don't write YA like me and they do the same for me. They'll notice things that my YA friends wouldn't, things that I wouldn't even think about it, and it turns out they are right.

    I was so sad when Amy and Will broke up ... I have to wonder if it has something to do with Up All Night constantly knocking Parks & Rec off the schedule.

  6. Good advice re: different genres, but it's still gotta be the right person. I write fantasy, and I find a good beta reader who isn't a fantasy fan can call me out on stuff that one just assumes a fantasy fan will know . . . but I've had more than one who simply could not wrap their heads around fantasy at all, and freaked out every time magical elements appeared, as if those elements were some kind of extended typo in the work. :P But of course, "Not everyone is the right beta reader for your work" is hardly news.


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