Feedback, feedback, and more feedback

writer feedbackFor aspiring writers, both beginners and those at more professional levels, you really can’t overdo it on the feedback. Julie Wilson at the Book Madam & Associates blogs makes that point in an excellent way, by asking several authors what they do to get their manuscript absolutely polished and ready to submit.

Pretty universally, the answer is to have the book read and critiqued as much as possible, before it ever gets to an editor or publisher. That means everyone from your spouse to your best friend to your writer’s group to your agent — whoever is willing to give you an honest critique.

This is a frightening prospect, of course. This is your baby, and you’re bound to get many suggestions for changes. Your writerly pride will get wounded, and after a while you may be tempted to feel like the book isn’t worth anything at all. But don’t despair. The purpose of all of this is not to make you feel worthless, but simply to show you a few blind spots, and find ways to improve both your writing and this particular story.

Remember that if you’re trying to publish, then you’re not just writing for yourself; you’re writing for an audience. And these initial readers are that audience. Some might be reading with a more critical eye than others, but if they find a glaring contradiction, or several of the readers get “stuck” on the same chapter, that means there’s really something there. And if they see problems, then your “real” readers — the ones you want to buy the book — will also see them. If you can rid of problem areas before re trying to sell the book to those readers, they’ll be much more likely to buy.

The other side of the coin is that you don’t have to make every change suggested by everyone. Sometimes critics want to turn a book into something they would have written, instead of something you wrote. If you sense your book’s entire theme or plot changing into something that isn’t yours at all, that’s a signal that many of those changes aren’t really necessary. You remain the final judge.

But be open and listen to all the suggestions before taking some of them to heart or rejecting others. And leave as much time as possible between hearing their suggestions and deciding what to do about them. That will give you time to get over the initial shock and feeling of being “attacked,” and you’ll be much more able to assess the suggestions objectively.

Get all the feedback you can, and it will help you become a better writer, and produce better books.

2 thoughts on “Feedback, feedback, and more feedback

  • Give it to people to read. That’s the horribly scary, terrifying part, though. I mean… why should I assume that *anyone* wants to read my drivel, right?

    • Boy, do I know that feeling, NWH. Especially when I remember my earlier novels and realize they probably were drivel! But after we’ve been writing for a while, we keep getting better as we polish our skills and hone our ideas.

      And I still remember the very first time a couple of friends read a novel of mine and we got together to chat about it over dinner one evening. It was thrilling to know that they liked it — but it was even more thrilling to hear my characters’ names on their lips. The characters had finally come alive, outside my own head, and felt so real that I could almost touch them.

      The friends didn’t just say they liked it, though. They also asked questions. “Why did he do this at that point? That seemed a little odd.” Or “Did we already know about this/that, or does that need some explanation?” This was very helpful, and made the novel much better once I had dealt with those things.

      I sometimes think the way people give their feedback is half the deal. Asked in the form of questions, over dinner, my friends’ feedback was very easy to take. But I also had someone sit me down after a later novel, simply listing all the things he thought were wrong with it. I was so discouraged that I didn’t pick it up again for six years.

      So the people giving the feedback do have to be careful how they do it too.

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