by Raelene Gorlinsky
Last week we discussed critique groups as a way for an author to get feedback on her/his writing. There is another source of information that I also recommend - reader discussion groups. Now, this isn't for feedback or support for your specific book or you as a writer - this is for learning about your audience and your genre. You are producing a product, you must understand the expectations and desires of those people you are trying to sell to.
Reader discussion groups are typically run by a library or bookstore, are organized by genre (for example, the mystery readers group or the romance readers group), and meet monthly to discuss books. The most common scenario is that the group picks a specific book that they will read during the next month and will discuss at the next meeting. They may also have time for the participants to mention other books in the genre they've just read. A group may have a goal with their reading selection - perhaps they focus on new authors, or they may rotate through subgenres. Some groups have occasional author visits.
When I lived in Oregon, I belonged to a quite large and active romance reader group run by a woman at the local chain bookstore. When I moved to Ohio, I discovered that there are fewer such groups here, but I did find a small romance reader discussion group at a local library. We try to alternate type of romance - historical one month, paranormal the next, then contemporary. Some months we just can't agree on a new release we are all willing to read, and so we declare it "free read month", and at the next meeting we will each describe several romance books we just read. Oh, and when selecting the monthly book, being practical and poor, we do generally pick only mass market paperbacks. Yes, we have an author visit a time or two a year, and read that author's new release the previous month. But we meet a half hour before the time the author is given, so that we can openly discuss the book! We are demanding readers and don't hesitate to talk about what we didn't like, but we don't want to wound an author in person with our opinions.
When you as an author join such a group, you must firmly put aside your public writer hat and be strictly a reader participant. You will not be popular or welcome if you talk about your books, or want the group to read them. But your author self should be lurking, absorbing everything you hear. Really listen to what these readers are saying about what they liked or didn't like in the book being discussed, what worked in the book and why, what threw them out of the story. This is your audience, the people you are writing for, and you should consider their comments and take a hard look at your own work from their perspective. And of course, since you will have read and analyzed the monthly book yourself, you will be studying your competition and what is currently being published.
It's called market research.