The Truth about Feedback


Today’s topic is feedback and how to deal with it.  We all have to do it at some point.  Whether it’s from a critique partner, beta and gamma readers, agents, editors, or fans.  And as my husband so crassly put it: “Opinions are like butt holes.  Everybody has one.”

While it may be crass, it is most certainly true.  You take thirty people on the street and ask them their opinion on something you’ll get thirty different answers.  Unless, of course you ask a group of people, then some will agree with each other, just to fit in with the crowd.  But, for the most part, everyone has different tastes. 

So onto the topic.  You’ve finished your novel and you know how important it is to get other people to read it, so you’ve sent it off to friends and family, a few beta readers, and your critique group who’ve you been with since the first word of the first draft and you’re waiting for those five star reviews to roll in.  You’re super excited about it and you know it’s the greatest, and then the first one from you’re family comes in at agrees with you.

Then another, and another, and you’re on top of the world.  Then the report from a beta reader and she loves it, but there’s a lot of things she didn’t like or didn’t agree with.  Then another comes in saying she hated the first chapter and didn’t read past it.  And now your critique partner’s come in and says it’s great, but this, this, and this need to change and don’t worry, it’s not that big of a change she’d like to see.

So, what’s your response?  Do you a) yell at the ones who don’t think it’s great for their obvious stupidity for not seeing what a genius you are.  After all, your mom likes it, why don’t they?  b) You go run and hide in the corner to cry your eyes out and then give up.  Or c) you pick and choose at the advice and use it to make a better version and submit yourself to another round of heart wrenching criticism.

Well, if you chose C then you win the chocolate cookie.  Go on, you know you want it.  I’ll wait here until you get it….Done?  Great. 

Yes, in an ideal world C would be the correct choice, but is it the one we do?  Nope.  Not even close.  Most of the time it’s a combination of a and b and then, if we’re smart, we’ll move onto c pretty quickly. 

So, why did the critiques vary so much?  Well, the obvious choice is opinion.  It all boils down to someone’s opinion.  What they want to see.  But it’s more complicated than that. 

Take, for example, your friends and family’s critique.  How much of what they told you was tainted by the fact that they knew you?  That they were thinking the whole time they were reading it, that they’d have to live, or work with you after they told you what they thought?  Probably a lot, right?  You betcha.  So, you know automatically that anything they’re going to say is going to be tinged on the side of they-don’t-want-to-hurt-your-feelings. So, anytime you read their reviews, remember to take it with a shaker full of salt.
So, why did one Beta totally love it and the other hate it.  That’s probably personal opinion.  Did you get beta readers that read in your genre?  Or did you choose people at random?  It’s usually better to get someone who reads in your genre, who knows all it’s intricacies and quirks.  And who’s familiar with its voice.  Otherwise, you’ll end up with a person who doesn’t like what you write and will stop reading after the first paragraph.
            Now onto your critique partner, more than likely they’ve know you for a while and they know the story, at least in passing.  So, they’ll be similar to your friends and family, but they also want to help you. In this case, it’s best to look at the criticism with an eye toward the truth.  Did they really like your voice?  Or were they just being friendly?  Did they think you’re characters had depth?  Or again, were they just being nice?  Sometimes, even though you like your critique partner if you think they are becoming biased, it’s time to move on.  You want someone who’s going to be honest with you, even if it hurts your feelings.

            Even when you get lucky enough to get feedback from agents, you’ll see how much they’re opinions differ.  Because, for the most part, it is there opinion.  A lot of their job relies on their gut instinct.  So, again, everyone’s feedback will differ. Take for instance me.  The very first rejection I got, told me they really liked my story and I did a good job with isolating my MC from the rest of the world, but there wasn’t enough external conflict for him.  Another told me I did a great job with characterization and it was well written, did a good job with conflict, but they just didn’t fall in love with it, and the latest one told me my characters were flat.

            See how different they all are?  And how they all contradict each other.  Are any of them right?  Or wrong?  No. And Yes.  It just depends on what you take from it and where they are coming from.  The first agent doesn’t rep a lot of romance, so maybe the conflict wasn’t enough for him because of what he does rep.  The second just didn’t feel it.  It’s hard to qualify that, but would she have taken the time to tell me specific things about my manuscript, read the whole thing, and then lie about it?  Doubtful.  And the last, I’m not sure what this one was about.  Since I’ve never had that particular feedback before from anyone.  So, I’ve decided to go ahead and curb that critique until I hear something similar from other people.  If/when I do, then I’ll have to go back and flesh them out.  But until then, I’ll just pull out my ole salt shaker.

            But did I get angry about them?  One I did.  Did I cry and want to quit?  Sure, but I didn’t (well I did cry with one of those rejections, but I didn’t quit).  Am I remembering the critiques to use if I revise the MSS?  Darn tootin’.  How else am I supposed to get better?

            Now is any of these responses wrong?  No, not really; unless you go and take it too far and for instance, start arguing with the person.  Say I’d done that with the critique from agent three that I hadn’t agreed with.  What do you think he’s going to do?  Say, well I guess if other people didn’t feel that way, I won’t too.  Why don’t you send it again so I can have another go?  No, of course not.  He’s going to delete the email, block my IP address and tell everyone in the industry what an idiot I was.  Not something you want to happen if you want to be published. 

You have to remember they’re entitled to their opinion.  You may not like it and you don’t have to take it, but you can’t force them to change their mind.  The best thing to do, if you really feel like they were wrong, is not ask them to critique it again, or not submit to them again.  But, don’t take it out on them.  It’s not cool and it isn’t going to help you. 

If you feel like you absolutely need to vent, go talk with another writer friend who understands what you’re going through.  If you’re of legal drinking age, go get a beer with friends, but please before you hit the send button on that nasty email, think how you’d feel if you’d taken the time to offer advice and someone told you, you were an idiot for not seeing it’s genius.  You wouldn’t like it, and neither would they.  Take a few deep breaths and then hit the button.  The DELETE button. 

            Until next time, keep on truckin’ and go and buy yourself a giant salt shaker to douse those critiques with.  You’ll need it. 

            Tomorrow’s post:  The Writers’ Hate On For Agents and why we shouldn’t

2 Responses to “The Truth about Feedback”

  1. Allie says:

    >I am really glad I read this. I'm not a confrontational person by any means, but I know that when I start submitting one of my manuscripts, it's going to suck to get rejected. And when I do and want to lose my cool, I'll just come back and read your blog and go grab down some alcohol with a friend and complain lol.

    I'm convinced the agent that said your characters are flat must be on crack. Seriously.

  2. jasouders says:

    >Thanks, Allie. I need that vote of confidence. As we all do from time to time. LOL.