As a writer, obtaining useful feedback on my work before it’s published is a crucial part of the process. It’s also a difficult one. Any artist in any field wants their work to be well-received, and we’re particularly vulnerable when we put it out there. But, to improve our craft, we have to figure this part out.
I’ve come up with some strategies for managing feedback. Just like the article I wrote on working through writer’s block, I think these tips might be helpful to folks outside the writer’s world too.
Ask for what you need.
When I’m looking for feedback on a manuscript, I give my beta readers (those peeps willing to read my document and take the time to share their responses) specific instructions. For example, I want to know if they’re confused at any point, if they find themselves flipping pages from boredom, if they’re responding to characters the way I intend. Asking for the type of feedback I need helps direct the process. If not, it can become somewhat of a free-for-all because everyone has personal preferences.
Trust the experts.
If I’ve hired a reputable free-lance editor, or I’m working with the publisher’s professional editor, I listen to them. They’re job is to make my story stronger. Ninety-nine percent of the time I pay attention when my editor says something needs work. On the rare occasion I disagree, we talk about it.
Pay attention to the things you hear more than once.
If I hear a similar thread in the criticism, I pay attention. With my first novel, enough readers complained that everything worked out too easily for my characters. I recognized the truth in this. I’m uncomfortable making my characters too uncomfortable. In my next novel, I focused on creating more tension for them, and I backed them into some really difficult corners. That book had more emotional depth, a more interesting plot, and got better reviews overall.
Don’t ignore your instincts.
This is still our story and we should be true to it. Even so, if enough people have a problem with a certain section, it’s worth asking why. Is there a way to address their concerns without changing the vision? For example, I had one of my main characters commit an ethically challenging act of violence. In his mind, it was the only way to assure the mission’s success and his team’s safety. The end justified the means for him in this case. It bothered some of my readers because he’s set up as a heroic figure. I believed this scene illustrated one of the terrible costs of war – the fact that good people sometimes have to make terrible decisions. Instead of changing his decision, I added more scenes showing fallout from that choice, mostly the cost to his mental health.
Do ignore the nasty.
Or better yet, find a way to laugh about it. One reader said that my first book was as boring as a bowl of tepid oatmeal. My story may be a lot of things, but it’s a multiple award-winning space opera with battles, spaceships, and evil villains. It’s not boring. I know this. Still, I fixated on that comment for a while, alternating between anger and self-doubt. Now, I joke that I’m going to have t-shirts printed with my worst reviews. Have some perspective. A couple of nasty comments aren’t going to make or break your writing career.
Criticism is hard, but necessary! At the end of the day, I hope every subsequent book I write is better than the last.
And on another note…
I’ll be at the Greenwich Hotel this Wednesday, September 25th, 6:30-8:00 pm for LIVELY LITERATI!
It's sci-fi/fantasy night at the Greenwich Hotel! Join us for a 'lively' evening of literature featuring Tabitha Lord and Mike Squatrito. Our host Guy Natelli will ask embarrassing questions, we'll read from our newest releases, and there will be time for an open mic. FREE ADMISSION, but sadly, no Romulan Ale! Hope to see you there!