It’s easier than ever to find someone to comment on your work. But whether you participate in an online critique group, meet up in person, post excerpts on Wattpad, or have a writing partner, getting the wrong feedback can be worse than no feedback at all. These tips will help you find your perfect feedback match.
Find a genre match
Friends and family might offer feedback, but are they your target audience? Do they read that genre? Do they have expertise in crafting a story arc or interesting characters?
If you answered no to any of those questions, keep hunting for an editor, writing group, critique partner, or coach who knows and enjoys the genre you write. Basically, the better the match, the better the quality of the feedback.
Prioritize storyline tracking
Are you writing multiple chapters? Can your writing group, editor, critique partner, or coach stay engaged as a story line evolves? If so, they won’t be confused when they spot the twist in chapter six because they recall the hints in chapter three, which they read two months ago.
Contrast that with someone who drops into the middle of your magnum opus and complains about what’s missing. You react with alarm—“They didn’t understand this at all! I need to revise everything!”—and start over.
In an article on Jane Friedman’s website, editor and coach Lisa Cooper Ellison cautions against “workshopping scenes along the way” based on feedback from a writing group. “Instead of drafting new chapters, you’ll feel compelled to revise and then resubmit... hoping they’ll confirm you’re on the right track.” In short: how much information the reviewer has can affect the utility of the feedback.
Go personal, not anonymous
Think twice about offering your work on any platform that allows commentors to remain anonymous. The “online disinhibition effect” is at play here.
Writing for Cognition Today in 2020, Aditya Shukla noted that “the internet offers online anonymity and psychological distance “that allows us to lower our filters, increase impulsivity and aggression, and drop inhibitions,” potentially leading to aggressive tones, harsh criticism, and personal attacks. Basically, don’t bother. The odds of receiving useful feedback from anonymous readers are virtually nil.
Stay true to your vision
It’s dangerous to view feedback as a quest for validation and approval. Your project can turn into a mishmash of other people’s ideas, not to mention a confusing and endless chore. To overcome this tendency, have a clear vision of your project. Own it, top to bottom.
Donna Van Braswell, author of Daughter of the Ancients, shared her experiences with me through Facebook. She had a firm grasp of her book’s direction when an editor dismissed her manuscript with “I don’t care about your main character.” Months later, the editor approached her again, apparently wondering why she had not revised and resubmitted. Instead of rushing to cater to this editor, her response was: “Why would I? I couldn’t imagine why you would want to work with a character you don’t care about.”
Know your ideal reader
Who are you writing for? One way of knowing your ideal reader is by creating a “marketing persona.” Scribble down as many facets of your ideal reader’s life as you can: age, education, shopping preferences, movies and television shows that they love. What else is on their bookshelf? Knowing your ideal reader is a critical part of owning your project and will help you weed through conflicting advice.
Be ready for the right feedback
Okay, the perfect editor, coach, or writing partner has covered your manuscript in red ink. But it was perfect!
Getting the right feedback doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be easy to swallow. Treat it as a learning experience.
Southern mystery and suspense author Maggie Toussaint wrote on Facebook about the first time she got feedback from a writing contest with a critique element. As she tells the tale: “Literally, I had to put my head between my knees so I wouldn’t throw up. It seemed my story idea was great, but my execution was lacking, and this reviewer pointed out every error.... I took a few deep breaths and tried to read the entire piece without bias.”
Toussaint rewrote the submission. When she was done, “the story lifted off the page.”
Now she works with a trusted critique partner and, if an issue is found, “it almost always means the element wasn’t executed or motivated strongly enough.... The key was learning to listen to constructive criticism, being willing to try it, and developing my own inner ear,” she says.
Is the feedback process worth it? Absolutely, says author P.D. Halt, and her debut novel proves it.
After getting demoralizing, rather than helpful, feedback on her manuscript, she entered it in the Claymore Award competition sponsored by the Killer Nashville conference. She didn’t win, but she shared that she received “a truly constructive critique and felt encouraged to continue.”
Once published, When Death Imitates Art was a finalist for the Killer Nashville 2019 Silver Falchion in the Best Suspense category. The novel was named as one of the best books of 2020 by Kirkus Reviews.