Monday, June 22, 2015

You Got Feedback, Now What?

Feedback can make you want to twirl or tear your hair out. But when you get it from a critique partner, beta reader or maybe even an agent what do you do next? You’re drowning in notes and suggestions, some seem awesome, some don’t make sense, and others conflict with each other. How do you break down all the notes and decide what is useful and what information you should be listening to? Surely that agent critique holds more weight than your critique partners, right?

Well that may not always be the case. There are a number of things to consider before diving into revisions. If you aren’t careful you can give yourself whiplash from all the back and forth and end up with an over edited manuscript and/or query.

Are you saying no for the right reasons?
You should never blindly follow feedback from someone, I don’t care if they are an agent, editor, published author, or critique partner. Writing is subjective and what one person loves someone else might hate. Therefore just because someone is an “industry professional” doesn’t mean he or she knows everything or that his or her suggestions are right for your book. Only you know your book best, so you have to choose advice that works for you, even if that means sometimes ignoring industry experts.

Now I’m not saying you should ignore every agent, editor, and author out there, but you also don’t have to take every piece of advice you get from them as the final word. Honestly, some of my best feedback has come from unagented writers who are readers first. They understand good storytelling because they spend a lot of time reading. But that's not to discredit industry professionals, they can help make your book more marketable or see  your book from a different angle. Each person can bring a unique perspective to your work and it's important to realize not everyone will agree. I recommend not always weighting feedback by who it came from, but really evaluating each piece of advice and trying to decide if it will make your manuscript better or not.

Does the feedback resonate with you?
Are the notes sparking ideas or are they making you nauseous and confused? Well, good notes may still make you nauseated, but they also give you that push and drive to want to work on things. It may not happen right away, in fact a lot people (myself included) need a little time to let it sink in. I know my first instinct is to get defensive and start explaining everything I got feedback on. But once I have a chance to sit back and really think about it, things become a lot clearer. I start getting ideas about the things that need to be changed and how to go about making it happen. The things that don’t resonate don’t seem to fit into my story and I'm able to let them go.

Are you hearing the information from multiple sources?
If you hear some feedback once or maybe twice, it might be okay to ignore something. But if you start hearing something three or more times, it’s probably time to take a step back and re-evaluate. Multiple people saying the same thing usually means you have something that is confusing to the reader, a character and/or plot point that isn’t working or something that isn’t resonating with your readers. But also note, if the same feedback is coming from a public critique on a blog or forum, you may want to scrutinize the advice. Public critiques can be great, but sometimes people repeat things because they see others saying it not because they truly believe it. So you have to weigh the feedback from public settings in a different way.

Are you running from the work?
Writing is hard. Editing is hard. Nothing in this industry is easy. And if you are saying no to a major revision because you're scared, you think it’ll take too long, or you don’t think you can handle all the work, you are probably saying no to a revision for the wrong reason. Don’t run from the work, embrace it. I know some of my best revisions have come out of some of the most extensive notes that I was pretty scared of at the beginning. But in the end the hard work paid off and I ended up with a manuscript that was a million times stronger. It might seem like an uphill battle when you start, but when you finish you’ll be on the top of the mountain enjoying the view.

At the end of a revision, the feedback you received should make your manuscript shine. If you are ever unsure about some feedback it never hurts to try it out. You can always go back to your previous draft if it doesn’t work out. Feedback is designed to help you improve your work not cripple you and/or your manuscript. Always be sure to take the necessary time to think through the advice before diving into edits. A little extra time up front will provide the clarity you need to make your next draft the best one yet!

How do you decide which feedback is valuable to you?


  1. Good post! Sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed when I get feedback from my two writing groups. They are good critiquers, and so that means my work is cut out for me. But I don't take every single suggestion. I do a mark-up copy with everyone's comments color-coded on one copy. They I look at where the colors come together, both good and bad. If a line or section is particularly colorful, I pay special attention to it. Sometimes the comments disagree with each other - which makes it my call. Sometimes everyone liked it (so that's a keeper). And sometimes everyone had one problem or another with it, which means re-thinking for sure. It's work to get all those comments down on my base copy, but it has proved invaluable for making my manuscripts better.

    1. That is some great advice. I think that's a perfect way to see what overlaps and what doesn't. It can be tricky to navigate through all that feedback at once, but it sounds like you have developed a good system :)

  2. Oh my stars, you've been visiting my mind, I think. This post describes my tossing and turning (nights) and mulling and weighing (days) all last week. Agent feedback sent me to revision, revision got a nah-ah from first beta, a maybe from second, and a strong yes from a third. By this weekend I was on the revision wagon again.

    I think the most important thing is to let it sit, sink, and get back to work.
    Great post.

    1. Yeah I have this problem quite frequently too which is why I wanted to blog about it. My first instinct is to try and fix everything and then I end up with an over edited mess. So as you said time to let it sink in is super important :)