It doesn’t matter where you are in the publication pathway, feedback is something we all deal with in one form or another.
Critique Partners and Groups
This is the essential first step when it comes to feedback. Most often, it takes place with the exchange of material between critique partners or within a group. Often the writer will send a chapter or several chapters to her partner for detailed feedback (including line edits). Some writers attend monthly meetings and read their chapter to the group. The
individuals will then provide constructive criticism. Your goals, writing level
(both yours and those providing the feedback), time frame in which you want to
finish the story, and how you respond to feedback will determine which method
is best for you. Some people thrive on face-to-face feedback. Other people
would rather have their teeth extracted without sedation. For them, online
feedback is the ideal choice.
When you receive feedback, it’s best that you zip your mouth shut before you say something you’ll regret. You need time to digest the information. You might not agree with the person now, but 24 hours later you might decide they’re the most intelligent person to walk this planet, because they pointed out something you missed. Now, if you didn’t keep your mouth shut and you ranted on about how the individuals are idiots, you might not be invited back to the group. Or worst yet, your poor behavior will become common knowledge.
Some contests provide feedback via blogs. Other writers, and possibly an agent or editor, do drive-by critiques. Sometimes the agent or editor will request partials and fulls. The feedback can be as simple as ‘Loved this!’ which does nothing to help you improve the piece if it’s lacking. Or it can be more helpful, by pointing out what you excelled at and what left the reader confused. Sometimes it can be misguided in an attempt to make your entry look weak so the judge will select another one—most likely the one belonging to the person who cut yours to pieces. This usually doesn’t have the effect the individual was looking for, but it doesn’t help you, either, if you’re looking for constructive feedback. The other issue that can happen is similar to the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ scenario. One person finds fault with something (that might not even be a real problem), and everyone jumps on it and echoes the same sentiment. This is often the result of lazy critiquing. The writers involved in the contest have to critique five to ten other entries, and this is the easiest way to do it with minimum effort.
The best thing to do with contests is say nothing when you get feedback. And please don’t waste your time justifying why you did something or waste time answering questions left by an individual (which were most likely rhetorical anyway). You will only come off as defensive. Take what you need from the feedback and ignore everything else. Do, though, pay attention to what the industry expert says. I’ve seen agents love an excerpt that everyone tore apart. Trust what the expert has to say.
Yes, querying, the word so many writers dread—and for good reason. Unfortunately, there are a lot of writers who believe querying is a fancy word for feedback. But alas, this is not so. These days you’re lucky if you even get a form rejection. The benefit of this is you now know your query or requested material wasn’t lost in cyberspace. Sometimes an agent or editor will reject your material, but with a kindly worded explanation as to why the story or writing didn’t work for them. Remember, it is subjective. Just because one agent didn’t connect with your characters, it doesn’t mean you need to rewrite the book. However, if your query or requested material continues to be rejected because agents and editors didn’t connect with your characters, that is a warning you need to do some serious rethinking about your characters, your story, and possibly your writing.
No matter how the agent or editor responds to your query, DO NOT email back and tell her that she is a moron for not seeing how brilliant your book is and how you will be the next JK Rowling. I can guarantee that won’t change her mind. And if you keep harassing her with your tirades, news will get around to other agents and editors. I don’t think I need to spell out what that potentially means to your career.
After all the feedback and rejections you’ve dealt with along the way, your skin might be a little thicker, but the ultimate test comes now, once your book is published. Your baby has been released into the world, but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to love it. There will be people who dislike your book because they don’t like your trope, they don’t like your characters, they don’t like that your heroine’s favorite color is indigo. But that’s okay because you haven’t love every book you’ve read, right? Now, there will be people who thrive on cutting books down and thrive on calling authors names that should never be spoken in public. No one knows why these people are bullies, and it doesn’t matter the reason. The main thing is you IGNORE THEM. Never feed the trolls. And while you’re at it, don’t let your friends and family feed them, either. The trolls could retaliate, and you’ll be the victim not them.
And it’s not just the trolls you need to ignore. It’s best for everyone concern that you don’t respond to reviews, especially when you don’t agree with them. Remember, reviews aren’t for the author; they’re for the reader. Let readers do their thing, and you do yours—writing the next book.
Where are you on the ‘rites of feedback’ pathway?
Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes Young Adult and New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website. She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN (Carina Press, HQN) is now available.