Feedback; it isn’t just a radio term

Here’s what Wikipedia says about Feedback:

Feedback is a mechanism, process or signal that is looped back to control a system within itself.

Great holy Twinkies, isn’t that exactly what we writers look for when we write our brilliant tomes? Based on the feedback, we alter our “systems”  – our stories. This elevates feedback to a new level of importance, doesn’t it? It’s the vehicle that tells us we either have a good story or birdcage liner.

But what if the feedback is nonexistent or ill-advised? Then the author has no solid foundation in which to determine their book’s worth. In short, they make bad decisions that impacts their viability of their book.

I agree there are many good books out there that, for whatever reason, didn’t find a home and whose loss to the literary world is tragic. So how do we determine whether our writing is bilge water or the beagle’s overpriced designer water that comes in fussy little bottles?

Feedback.

Most authors who are caught in this net of “I MUST be published” get very little feedback from informed sources. Their mother, auntie, bestest friend, or wayward beagle insists the story is fahbulous, mahvelous, amazing! Pulitzer stuff. The problem is, they aren’t an informed source. There are a ton of layers a book goes through before it lands on the shelves, and the best gift an author can give him/herself and their book is getting feedback from informed sources who understand the marketplace.

Writer Boards:

There are any number of wonderful writer boards and blogs where authors can submit parts of their writing for critique and get their query letters checked over. I would be mindful about posting your work in a totally public forum. Seek boards that are private so that not every Tom, Dick, and Alice can see your work.

Independent Editors:

I know of many very good authors who use independent editors. Now, these folks are a dime a dozen, so choose wisely. I’m talking about folks who brag a clientele who have gone on to being published by solid trade publishers. These are editors who understand the marketplace and the rigors of publishing – because chances are, they worked in the industry at some editorial capacity or they’re well-published.

Beta Readers:

I’m not talking about a couple here and there, but a well-thought-out cross section of readers. Beta readers are your bestest friends because they represent the marketplace. I have an author, Barry Petersen (Jan’s Story, which is utterly brilliant) who chose a cross section of beta readers; people who knew nothing of his story (nonfiction), people who did know his story, and his agent. Aside from his agent, he chose readers, not people who are in the publishing business. These are the people who will tell you your main character is a wimp, or your plot is predictable.

Writer’s Conferences:

I can’t stress this enough. Go. To. A. Conference. This is where you pick all kinds of information that you never realized was out there. There are workshops where you can get crits and improve your writing. There are agent/editor one-on-ones, where you can get feedback on how your first pages struck us. You’ll get feedback on your pitch, your marketing ideas, learn about promotion. This is feedback on steroids, and I dare anyone to attend a conference and not come home a better, wiser writer.

How do I figure out the good feedback from the bad?

I love it when I get all rhetorical-like. The answer is, you don’t. I’ve seen authors go insane with feedback because so much of it is contrary. One beta reader may love a particular scene that another hated. How do you decide? That’s when you listen to your gut. Your gut always knows what feedback makes sense and what is white noise. It takes confidence to be a writer, and this is exactly why.

I have no problem duking it out with my authors during the editing phase. Just because I have an opinion about something doesn’t mean I’m always right. Maybe my problem with a particular character or scene is the result of improper development. Perhaps the way in which it’s written doesn’t showcase its importance to the story. That is why communication is vital. Once I can get the author talking about a character or scene, I can understand more what’s taking place in their minds and help them tailor the problem so that it communicates the intent.

And that’s something writers should think about when the receive feedback that makes their teeth itch. Ask yourself why a particular comment bothers you. Is it because it makes you think outside the box too much? You won’t always get well-detailed feedback. It could be as plain Jane as “I didn’t like your main character.” If you can ask why, do so. If you can’t, take into account as to why someone wouldn’t like your MC.

There’s a lot of detective work that goes on in writing, and the key is to not drive yourself crazy with conflicting feedback, but to lay it out on the table and consider their validity. Your gut will be your Sherlock Holmes.

So in the end, it’s lovely Mom lurves your work,  but let’s be honest; most of our moms would lurve our writing, even if it reeked. Moms are – or should be – totally off limits in the feedback department. Except you, Mom. You can always read my stuff. I just won’t take it to the bank.

Am I in trouble now?

For the most part, you want to be “in trouble,” and feedback will put you in the center of the bull’s eye. That’s what forces you to improve, to dig deeper in order to bring out the very best of your story. Feedback is, hopefully, what prevents you from making bad decisions about your book. Once it’s gone to a vanity press or a POD, it’s gone forever. Unless that was your intent all along, listen to the feedback and let them be your guide.

10 Responses to Feedback; it isn’t just a radio term

  1. Simon Kewin says:

    Marvellous post and great advice. I seriously could do with a beta reader!

  2. NinjaFingers says:

    I really wish I could go to a conference, but they’re simply beyond my current amount of free cash.

    Any thoughts for the *broke* writer?

  3. Pelotard says:

    This is when I usually remind people that even the most outrageously successful authors aren’t bought by more than a tiny fraction even of the people who regularly buy books. All of the others – some 99.5% even for a bestseller – didn’t like it enough to buy it. It’s a safe bet most of them would dislike it.

    So really, someone hating what you wrote isn’t a reason to give up. Someone loving it is a reason to go on.

  4. Pelo,I’m not sure that I completely agree with your assessment. When I see sell-throughs of a half million or a million units – and I’m talking sell-through, not what was shipped – then I’d hazard that the author captured a very large percentage of the book-buying populace.

    But I do agree that because someone didn’t like your writing is a reason to hang up your quill and sell doughnuts on the street corner. If you love what you’re doing, then do it!

  5. Cat Woods says:

    Sometimes good feedback is impossible to find. Even being part of a critique group does not guarantee the commentary is helpful.

    Writing is a fine balance between self-critique and outside-feedback. It takes time, patience and practice to understand the nuances.

  6. Julie Duck says:

    Hi Lynn!

    Bilge water? Brings back memories of being on a boat with mom (who, by the way, does not read my work).

    I’m a beta reader fanatic and find them to be invaluable (it takes a good comb to find a few you can trust). Seriously considering your suggestion about attending the conference in February.

    – Julie

  7. NinjaFingers says:

    Heh.

    I was more looking for tips and hints to get to a conference on a budget (other than finding one that is so close I don’t have to travel, which I’m keeping my eye out for.

    But maybe I can winkle a copy of your book out of somebody in the family for Christmas 😉

  8. Julie, I hope you do go; I’ll see you there!

    Ninja, if you find a conference that looks interesting to you, you might contact them. Oftentimes they have scholarships.

  9. NinjaFingers says:

    The thing is, I’m not the kind of person who gets scholarships. I’m not broke. I *can* afford it…it would just be rather larger a chunk of the savings than I can really justify right now :/. Ah well. I’ll work something out, maybe.

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