Hi friends –
A good writer is very brave. They’re willing to ask for feedback on their novel, and they know that often, that feedback can sting. So how do we deal with painful feedback, and how do we sort out helpful from unhelpful notes?
Tip #1: Give Yourself Time to Digest Feedback
You’ve just opened the feedback email from a critique partner (CP) and ouch. They really hated the ending. They thought your dialogue was stilted. They thought you shouldn’t have included zombie unicorns in the third act. In fact, it seems like there wasn’t anything they liked about your book!
Take some time to breathe. To stew, even. Get mad – but not online. Write down your feelings in a journal. Treat yourself to ice cream. Watch a romcom. Cry.
Then, after at least a day has passed, look at the email again. Maybe at a second glance, it’s not so bad. Maybe now you see, yeah, including zombie unicorns was a bad idea. Maybe you see that they were complimenting your stilted dialogue, since that’s how you intended it to come across. Or maybe you re-read their email and realize, wait, they didn’t get your book at all.
And that’s okay.
Tip #2: Focus on the Core of Your Story
Sometimes your CP will give you GREAT notes for turning your MG comedy into an Adult thriller. It could be great, insightful feedback, but if that’s not the book you want to write at the moment, don’t write it. You don’t have to change your book at ALL if you don’t want to.
When you revise and when you look over the notes given to you by CPs and beta readers, keep in mind the core of your story. What piece of your book do you want to preserve, no matter what? What’s the theme that you want to make sure doesn’t get lost? Or is it your fun, snarky tone? Or the strong relationship your main character has with their dad?
Whatever the core of the book is, identify it and hold tight to it.
Example: If the father/daughter relationship in the book is what makes your heart beat for writing this story, don’t cut it when your CP says they didn’t like the daughter. Instead, focus on the ways that their feedback enhances this core of your book. Consider that ways that making the daughter more likable would add – or would take away – from the core of your book, the parental relationship.
Tip #3: Compare to Your Edit Letter + Your Other CPs
Ideally, you should have more than just one CP on your team. That way, when you get feedback, you can compare it.
If three of your CPs hated the ending and the fourth loved it, talk to all of them and figure out why.
If all of your CPs think you should cut the father character, maybe hear them out.
If three of your CPs loved the setting and the fourth didn’t, remember that taste is subjective. Maybe they had some solid reasoning behind why they didn’t like the setting, for example, but if your book is a space opera and CP number 4 only likes to read contemporary romances, that could be why they disagreed from your other CPs.
Tip #4: Phone a Friend (Sometimes Literally)
If you got PULVERIZED by a critique partner in an email, maybe ask for clarification. What about your protagonist did they hate? Was it totally subjective, or is there a way you could make that character stronger?
Sometimes, if you’re really brave, scheduling a phone call helps. A lot can get lost in translation when someone communicates via text. Hearing a human voice can help… and it can help remind you that your CP isn’t a monster but is just a friend who wants to help you with your book.
Otherwise, ask them if they have time to brainstorm with you in a Google doc or similar. Let them share their ideas for how to strengthen the story. Work back and forth. Suggest possible changes, and together, decide if they’d work to the benefit or detriment of your story.
Tip #5: Consider Personalities and Taste
As I said above, keep in mind that if your CP doesn’t really read in your genre or age category, they may react to certain settings or tropes in a way that your target audience wouldn’t. Your book won’t be able to please everybody. A good CP will say, “Hey, maybe I’m not the best fit for this project.” A rainbow unicorn CP will say, “I don’t normally read projects like this, but I have some thoughts that may help this be stronger.”
Something else to remember: the mood your CP was in when they wrote your edit letter. Maybe you just gave this CP some really harsh feedback. Maybe they got a harsh agent rejection. Maybe they’re going through something at home. Sometimes, this can come out in an edit letter in what I call revenge-editing. Remember that sometimes, the words on the screen that we read as unkind or snarky are actually fueled by a whole background of emotions and context that we can’t see.
Tip #6: Remember Who You Are, Simba
When I get rejections or am feeling insecure about my book or my writing, I like to look back to compliments people have given me about my story. Or I read a favorite scene. Sometimes I write a letter to myself about all the things I like in my book. I remember why I’m doing this to begin with. Why writing makes me happy. I also like to make a list of truths: I’m smart and resourceful, my stories have made people smile, this isn’t the only story I’ll ever write. When the darkness of doubt creeps in, it helps to have someone or something to turn to to the good things that come along with this painful, soul-bearing art-and-career path we’ve chosen as writers.
Tip #7: Say No
I believe overall as an author you should be fairly flexible. Editing is a huge part of writing. Even when you get an agent. Even when you get a book deal. You’ll still be editing! And sometimes, you’ll change things that you once swore you’d never change. It happens!
But sometimes, you can say no.
You don’t have to implement a change just because a CP suggested it.
You can put your foot down and decide, “Robot unicorns are integral to my story and I WON’T take them out.” If this decision goes against ALL of your CP feedback, well, I guess you’re really committed to those unicorns. But at the end of the day, this is your book. Fight for the core of your story, use your CP notes to strengthen it, and let it be something you’re proud to share with the world someday.