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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.