What Feedback Should You Apply To Your Story?

I started following this hilarious account on Twitter called Guy In Your MFA.

feedback

He represents that potentially fictional, douchey guy who is obviously brilliant in his writing, wants to tell you how yours is all wrong, and will not accept that his work needs any changes whatsoever.

feedback1

Of course he’s a parody, but parodies are based on real people, right?

The first tweet in this post is what gave me the idea for the post, because I’ve seen feedback not too different from that appear as real comments in my critique group. Also, a critique partner (CP) recently told me one of the trickiest parts of the group is remembering not all feedback need be applied. It reminded me of my early days in the group – as a new writer, jumping into a gathering of other writers (who you assume all must have more experience than you do) can be overwhelming. You post a story, a handful of other writers submit comments on your work, and not knowing where any of them are coming from, it can be hard to know which comments are “legit.”

If you haven’t experienced this, I’ll save you the suspense: they won’t all be legit. The trick is learning how to pick out the ones that are.

So how the hell do you do that, anyway?

The following steps outline my process in the critique group and when I get feedback from beta readers. They are not the same as editor feedback, which I’ll get to next.

1. Wait until all the feedback is in.

It can be tempting to make changes with the first critique or feedback email, but refrain. It’s much easier to see the changes that absolutely must happen when a handful of readers say the same thing. Then, you’re left with individual suggestions, with which you must…

2. Decide if those changes would make the story work better. 

Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes making a suggested change makes the story more grammatically correct but messes up a character’s voice, for example. But sometimes, a CP or beta reader is the only one who had keen enough eyes to notice an issue and make the suggestion! Just because only one person suggested something doesn’t mean it’s not legit. In this case, it helps to…

book sandwich3. Consider the source. 

I have a small handful of close CPs whose feedback I’ll apply nearly 100% of the time – notice I said “nearly,” because even my writing BFFs make suggestions I won’t apply, but only after thorough consideration. I have to decide if my “Yeah, but…” reaction to a suggested change is coming from me being defensive about my book baby or if it’s because their suggestion is rooted in something they don’t know about the overall story – like it refers to an event that has yet to happen or to something they forgot about.

On the other side, if you’re in a critique group long enough, you start to recognize when a Guy In Your MFA appears and can pretty much ignore all of his suggestions. You can read them – he may get lucky and accidentally say something helpful – but don’t if he’s just crapping all over your work. It happens. Not all writers have tact.

This point applies to betas as well, who usually are not “writers,” as CPs would be. Consider the background of the beta, how much they like to read, and of course, if they’re making the same suggestions as other betas. Sometimes our betas worry about hurting our feelings, so I’ve found having a questionnaire ready to go is helpful. Design one with questions that might have come up in the critique group, like if a character’s motivations were strong enough, or if the settings were detailed enough, for example.

Now, what about editor feedback?

If you’re working with a professional editor, the process is a little different. You already know the source – they’re trained to look for specific literary elements. They should provide you with an editing letter outlining major issues/considerations as well as your MS with specific notes. Since this is someone you paid (or your publisher hired) to do this, their suggestions should be thoroughly considered before you decide not to apply them.

That said, let me insert a big fat but into this point…

Not all editors are good. If you’re getting several suggestions that seem “off” (or as in my own experience, you sense they used an online editing tool rather than read the story), discuss them with a trusted CP before deciding what to do. Which brings me to my final point…

Get someone else on your team. 

This stuff works better with a buddy. If you’re struggling with whether to apply a suggestion, ask a trusted writing partner who has read the story what they think. Talking it out is sometimes the best way to decide if the suggestion is a good one.

And remember, no one knows your story like you do. Writing is an art, and if a suggestion doesn’t feel right for the story, don’t use it. I’ve applied suggestions and then gone back and un-applied them – that’s the beauty of the editing process. It’s shaping and reshaping until the final product is the masterpiece you envisioned when you first got the idea for the story.

If you’ve reached this point in your writing, what is your process for deciding what feedback to use? 

11 thoughts on “What Feedback Should You Apply To Your Story?

  1. How do I decide what feedback to use?

    I write with one person in mind, usually, and try to create a story that is interesting to that person; make comments they’ll understand, jokes they’ll get, characters they’ll like (if they are supposed to like them) or dislike (if they’re not supposed to like them), etc.

    I run it through a critique group. If several CPs make the same statement, as in two or three or more, then I’ll consider changing it – IF the CP has demonstrated a capacity to understand the story.

    Then I let the story sit for a month – if I can.

    When I reread it, it’ll be with fresh eyes and no rush involved. I’ll see all sorts of stuff I missed, fix it, and then

    Send it to beta readers. Wow, did I miss a lot of stuff! Typos, and maybe a truck that wasn’t supposed to be there. Usually betas are happy with the story, and many will have helpful feedback. Treasure these people.

    Then, to the trusted author friend or editor. This may be a writing partner, CP, or regular editor. If an editor, they will often have boilerplate comments designed to create more work for themselves by way of undermining your confidence. Others are nearly like fans but can point out the issues.

    Whether editor or trusted author friend, carefully consider doing everything they say.

    Then, consider it some more. Does this person have your best interests at heart? Do you trust them? Sometimes changes cost you your voice. Sometimes it’s technically correct but it sacrifices pace or good storytelling. You didn’t hire them to tell you what you HAVE to do, you hired them to make suggestions, and if you did the other steps right, each suggestion will be a very difficult judgement call. In which case, do what your trusted author friend said. Because trust. And because author. And because friend. I’ve told hundreds of people what was wrong, done it nicely, and we’re still friends. A few didn’t see it that way and we’re not friends because they chose not to be. I get it. My first time around with editing, I didn’t use a lot of the suggestions. My second time, I used almost all of them. The thing is, at that point you almost want to wave a magic wand and have all the suggestions instantly incorporated into your manuscript because you’re tired. That’s when the terrorists win. Stay alert and on guard, and push on one last time toward victory.

    Then see what regular readers think by releasing that sucker.

    And even though you’ve put your soul into it, whether readers love it or hate it, start writing the next one.

    There are only two things that matter: Your opinion of your work and the fans’ opinion of your work. If they love it, you will too. If they hate it, you’ll still love it. So write a story YOU love. The rest doesn’t matter too much by comparison. It’s YOUR name on the cover, so love your story – and then give it brothers and sisters on the bookshelf.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s when the terrorists win. LOL. Boy, do I know that form of book fatigue. There was a meme going around on Facebook that said something about “remember, your new readers don’t know the story inside and out and haven’t read it eight thousand times.” I thought that captured the sentiment rather well.

      You have a great process and keen awareness of how much weight to give comments. Also, I agree that it’s important that we love our work. So much goes into it I’m not sure finishing with our best would be possible if we didn’t love it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Don’t you just hate those critique partners who come across as all-knowing tearing your story apart with comments like: “How can a cop in this futuristic world do that?” when the critiquer knows nothing about that world. I’m telling ya. There are times you wish laws allowed you to shoot critique partners. Damn know-it-alls!

    Good post. I use the rule of two. If two critique partners say the same thing, I need to make a change. If one says I need a comma and another doesn’t, I question if anyone knows how to use commas, because I certainly don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, what do we do about those know-it-alls? 😉 I’ve encountered a couple of those for real. It’s kinda fun to prove them wrong when it’s called for. Maybe I shouldn’t enjoy doing that…

      Just when I think I know how to use commas, I come across one I’m not sure about, look it up, and learn something new! 😀

      Like

  3. Like the article about writing groups. You have to be very selective about the comments and realize that there will be members of the group who will always criticize or find fault. It’s just in their nature. It can even be when it’s a specialist subject they know nothing about- it seems!! There are other comments that are welcome. I find this particularly, where women comment on the dress or remarks of one of my female characters. There are nuances that women pick up on, which a man can be oblivious to. Pointedly, where several in the group find fault with your writing interpretation then this needs addressing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve experienced the other side of that, where my male CPs help me with the nuances of my male characters. I also appreciate specialized feedback – like medical details form someone who knows more about that than I do (but they actually have to know more than I do. 😉 )
      Your “several in the group” point is key. Agreement among CPs and betas is the biggest clue that something needs to change.

      Like

  4. This is really good.
    Two other things I’ve found to be useful, do multiple people say the same thing, and do they read that genre. If 5 people say something even if one of them is that MFA guy, then maybe really consider what is happening.
    If someone never reads your genre and doesn’t like say happily ever afters in a romance? Eh, don’t care.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a great point about the genres. I had a beta who read my YA urban fantasy and who later confessed to not being a reader of YA or fantasy. LOL. She enjoyed the story but some parts were strange to her.

      Liked by 1 person

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