Critiques and beta readers… they’re how our craft gets richer, our writing more fab-tabulous, and our manuscripts closer to published. But do we all know how to accept the feedback when it comes?
I think I’m better now. I’ve taken a crash course in how to receive feedback. Here are my top five tips:
1. Take it and nod
Seriously people. Someone’s just taken the time to read your work and give you feedback. That’s huge. So maybe the feedback isn’t what you wanted to hear…?
I know. This is your baby. You’ve just spent months, if not years, writing it. You want to defend it (and you) for all you’re worth.
Don’t. Just nod.
Listen. Make notes.
And say thank you. (Like you mean it.)
Even if you don’t feel thankful the first few times, after a couple of sessions you are going to start to love feedback like you love a freshly brewed pot of French Earl Grey. I promise.
2. Try and understand why they missed your point
Maybe your beta reader got confused by something in your book that you think is key. It’s easy to think ‘they didn’t even get it, what do they know?’ and then screw their feedback into a tight ball and use it to score a three-pointer in the bin.
But stop for a moment and think about that.
They read your book…
…and didn’t get something you think is ultra-important?
You need to go back and make it clearer.
A while back I received feedback on my first manuscript from a prize I’d submitted it to. I was so stoked to get anything beyond a ‘thanks but no thanks’. Thing is, they totally misread a major part of my plot.
As in, TOTALLY like REALLY like COMPLETELY.
I could’ve dismissed their feedback as irrelevant and decided they couldn’t read to save their double-stacked bookshelves. Instead, I took a deep breath and admitted to myself:
Professional readers usually only confuse badly made plot points.
I thought it was clear, but I needed to go back into my MS and make it even clearer.
If you get this sort of feedback face to face, the first thing you want to do is explain everything. But think about this:
When we submit to a publisher, we won’t be in their office when they read our manuscript, explaining the great point we were trying to make.
Equally, don’t burden your critique reader with your explanations. Go back to the manuscript and make it easier for readers to see the truth you want them to see.
3. Sit on it. Long enough to hatch something
With feedback, I write it all down and read through it several times. And then I put it aside. For as long as I can stand.
One month, maybe more.
It stops me from doing something rash.
Let your mind dwell on it in the background. That’s how awesomesauce gets made.
If you race into changing things, you might be making work for yourself.
4. Grain of salt time. Who gave you the feedback?
How I deal with feedback differs depending on who it’s come from.
I have a rocking beta reader. I value her supreme judgement. But it wasn’t always this way. Starting out I remember her telling me, several times, that I had an issue with my first manuscript (poor first manuscripts… they get all the bad press, don’t they). She thought some of the world-building didn’t suit the intended reader age. I dug my heels in. Tossed my head knowingly. I needed that world-building to make my plot plausible.
Or so I thought.
I sent the manuscript to a major publisher. Six months later, gentle but clear rejection. One big reason? The very issue my poor beta reader had seen. I kicked myself and brainstormed and wrote it completely out of my MS (which is difficult to do while you’re still kicking yourself). Turns out I didn’t need that controversial bit of world-building. Turns out the story reads dump-truck-loads better without it. I just wish I’d realised that, before I sent it to the publisher.
Lesson learned. In future, listen to my beta reader.
However it’s not always like that. Here’s my take on feedback sources:
These can be a range of people and experience, even genres. If everyone says the same thing, you probably should listen to it. Otherwise, feel free to weigh things up and decide to pass on some of the feedback.
Hey, if you trust them, trust what they tell you. They just spent how many days reading your MS? That’s commitment…
And if you don’t trust them… mate! Why did you send it to them?
Only a complete lunatic tosses aside what major publishers say. Those guys have their fingers on the vibrant pulse of your genre. They know what’s selling, they know what’s missing. Feedback from a publisher is like literary gold.
I believe in thanking a publisher for feedback. Here in Australia if your submission isn’t accepted, you usually don’t hear a thing. So if a publisher takes the time to give you valuable feedback, I reckon you should take the time to say thanks.
No matter whose feedback it is, it is still your final decision whether to incorporate it or not. And it will still be your voice and writing style.
5. And finally… get back to it!
Sit on that feedback. But don’t forget it or give in.
Pick the manuscript back up. Eat a few squares of chocolate.
Tell yourself you are an awesome writer and how lucky you are to have wonderful people willing to give you feedback. Eat some more chocolate.
And rewrite that story. And send it out again.
Because if you’re not in the game, you’re never going to win.