Welcome to Part Four of the Feedback series! Today it’s time to talk about how to evaluate writing feedback! Be sure to check out Part One: Finding the Right Early Readers for Your Writing, Part Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages, and Part Three: How to Give Helpful Feedback.
Learning to evaluate writing feedback is another essential tool for writers. It’s important to get your work critiqued, but that doesn’t mean you should take every piece of advice you’re given. As I’ve said this a few times during this series, it’s important to remember that not every reader will be the right reader for your book. Because of that, not every reader will give you helpful feedback.
Beyond that, even if a reader is right for your project, you shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s your book. You get to decide what advice you take and what advice you don’t. So, how do you separate the good critiques from the bad?
Here are five things to consider when you evaluate writing feedback:
1) Consider the source
Everyone has different tastes and different perspectives. In order to truly evaluate the feedback you’re getting, it’s important to have a good understanding of your reader’s perspectives and how they line up with your vision for the book. For example, let’s say you’ve written a fantasy novel with a light romance subplot and you get feedback from an early reader who is a massive romance fan. The feedback they give you about the romance in your book is probably going to be pretty solid. If they read and/or write a lot of romance, then they probably have a good grasp of the genre’s characteristics and will be able to help strengthen that subplot.
However, they may also tell you that they think the romance plot needs to be bigger. As a massive romance fan, they naturally want more romance. But if that’s not the kind of book you’re intending to write, then that’s not the kind of feedback you need to act on. Recognizing the difference between what your reader wants from a story and what you want for your story play a massive role in picking out helpful feedback. When both of your interests line up, take that feedback to heart. When they don’t, set that feedback aside.
2) Pay attention to the “why”
When it comes time to evaluate writing feedback, why someone believes something is always more important than the note itself. I was in a workshop once where I had written a short piece about a bunch of teenagers. I intended it to be very dramatic and it was. There was one scene that someone told me they didn’t like because it was very melodramatic. They meant this to be a negative critique, but since I was going for dramatic, it wasn’t as negative the person thought it was. They may not have liked the scene, but their reason for not liking it was exactly what I was trying to achieve. As far as I was concerned, I accomplished my goal.
This can go both ways. Perhaps you get a note from someone that says, “I love this scene. It’s nice for the characters to have a moment where they feel safe.” It might be nice that your reader likes the scene, but if you don’t want your characters to feel safe in that moment, then it’s a sign to revise.
By all means, take in your reader’s options, but base your decision to revise on the reasoning and not the opinion itself.
3) Trust your gut
If someone points out an aspect of your story that’s been bothering you, then chances are whatever they found is worth listening to. Your gut often knows when something in your story isn’t quite sitting right, even if you don’t know what it is or how to fix it. However, your gut also tends to know when something is working. If you’re someone who’s receptive to feedback, but find yourself thinking “absolutely not” to a note, there’s probably a reason for it. Be open to the feedback you get. Consider it seriously. But it’s okay to dismiss a critique simply because it doesn’t feel right. You know your story better than anyone. If it’s not right, it’s not right.
4) Ask follow up questions
If a note is either confusing or feels way off base, it’s okay to ask your reader to clarify. I can’t tell you how many times I was ready to dismiss a note that actually turned out to be helpful once I asked for more information. Don’t dismiss feedback simply because it doesn’t make sense. Double check to make sure you’re understanding the suggestion/problem correctly. If it still seems wrong after you’ve clarified, then disregard it. But don’t risk trashing a good note just because you didn’t follow up with your reader.
5) Don’t take feedback personally
This probably goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. If you’ve asked for feedback on your book, it’s important not to take the feedback you’ve asked for as a personal attack. If you’ve given your book to people you can trust and people who you know want to help and support you, then trust that any feedback they give is in the spirit of wanting to make your book the best it can be.
Granted, sometimes you may find yourself frustrated because someone didn’t like your book at all and didn’t give you anything helpful, but that doesn’t mean you should get angry at them. It means you shouldn’t give them another book of yours to critique. Don’t burn bridges over feedback. You can still be friends with someone even if they don’t get or can’t help you with your writing. Just know that they aren’t the right people to help you in the future.
I hope this helps you evaluate writing feedback!
Find the rest of the feedback series here: Part One: Find the Right Early Readers for Your Writing, Part Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages, Part Three: How to Give Helpful Feedback.
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Now it’s your turn: How do you evaluate writing feedback? Tell me about it in the comments!
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