I'm pleased to welcome writer and blogger Mint Miller today to talk about her checklist for recognizing good feedback. We've all been there: on the receiving end of a variety of feedback on our writing from a variety of readers, and sometimes cherry-picking the right advice for us isn't always that easy.
Check it out...
Mint is a freelance and fiction writer, lifestyle blogger, and lover of pretty words. She enjoys crafting playful short stories and awesome blog posts for a living. Her hobbies include reading, running, drinking too much chocolate milk, and snuggling dogs. She talks about writing on her blog, Mint Miller Writes, and lifestyle topics across the web.
How to Recognize Good Writing Feedback
and The People Who Give It
So you’ve put yourself out there and started getting feedback on your writing. You’ve found a writing partner, roped a friend into beta-reading, joined a writing workshop, etc. And now, you’ve found yourself in the same dilemma as me and so many other writers—Everyone is giving you completely different feedback!
Some of the feedback is spot-on, identifying the story’s strengths and weaknesses exactly where you expected them. Some of the feedback is terrible. Someone’s telling you to put a serial killer in your rom-com! Some of the feedback sounds reasonable. They picked up on a few problems you didn’t foresee. But every reader disagrees on what the story’s problems are and how to fix them. Who do you listen to?
In my experience getting feedback from my fellow writers, writing mentors, and family, I’ve struggled with that same problem. But it is possible to pick through the dissenting voices to find real value. Feedback is crucial to improving your manuscript—you just have to know how to identify the good advice.
One great way to distinguish helpful feedback from the rest is to look at who is giving you the feedback. What are they like? Why might their advice be good or bad?
You don’t want to listen to writing feedback from just anyone. You would never want to take advice on your fantasy novel from a critic who hates fantasy books. You want feedback from someone who can give you productive, helpful thoughts on your story.
Some feedback is more valuable than others. You need to figure whose voice to listen to first.
Listen to the Target Audience
One reader tells you that the opening scene in your YA paranormal romance is great. Just enough action, characterization, easy-to-follow—it’s exactly everything a good opener ought to be. The next reader? They hate it. It’s too fast, they can’t tell who the characters are, and they got totally lost. You must edit it, they say.
Is it a great opener or not? Is it too fast-paced or just right? You can’t edit it to please both of them, so who’s right?
When you have conflicting feedback from multiple readers, you should put the most weight on opinions from readers in your target demographic. They are usually going to give you the best idea of how your real audience will react to your story.
When you’re writing for teens and young adults, no one will give you a better reader reaction than teens and young adults. When you’re writing for video game fans, real-life video game fans are going to give you the best advice. The best person to critique your essay on parenting is another parent. If you’re writing an MG novel, rope a middle-schooler into giving you their thoughts!
If you want to know how readers will react to your story after it’s published, ask readers in the target demographic before it’s published. They will be your not-so-magical future-telling crystal ball.
Listen to Writers and Experienced Critiquers
There’s another valuable type of feedback-giver: Other writers and people familiar with books. Writers will be the best people to get advice from because they know writing like nobody else. Editors give writing feedback in their careers, so they absolutely know what they’re doing. Also, book reviewers and critics are usually very familiar with stories and what makes a good one, so they can use that experience to help you.
If you must choose between the feedback of a fellow writer and a well-intentioned friend with no other qualifications, put more weight on the writer’s feedback. Writers are familiar with all the nuts and bolts of writing like how to pace a story and construct a good scene. They understand how to look at the structure of a story, not just the content. They’ll be more likely to spot errors that go beyond the surface of your story and possibly be able to offer advice on how to fix it.
The same goes for editors, book reviewers, and critics. They read stories every day. They know the conventions. They have a hawk’s eye for writing mistakes. You’ll get constructive advice from people who know about stories.
Listen to People in Your Genre
People who read and write in your genre are going to be more familiar with the conventions and tropes it comes with. They’ll be able to give you stronger feedback than people who aren’t familiar with your genre.
Romance readers will be familiar with the genre’s love of HEAs and HFNs, without you needing to explain any acronyms. They’ll be able to compare your work in their head against all the other romance novels they’ve read as they give you feedback on yours. They’ll have an instinct for judging your character’s sex appeal, gauging how romantic your setting is, and critiquing all the relationships. They are familiar with all the guidelines of romance writing, though they may not have explicit words for them. A romance reader will give you a much more thoughtful critique for a romance story than a sci-fi fan or a suspense reader would.
Listen to People You Trust
Finally, create a group of people of whose feedback you trust. If someone gives you reliable, helpful feedback a couple times, they are likely to do it again. When you feel like you trust a critic or beta reader, go back to them again.
Find multiple beta readers who click with you, who enjoy reading your writing and give you the kind of feedback you want and need to hear. Join forces with writers who you love swapping critiques with. Partner with writers who know your genre, know good writing, and know how to give you advice. If you use an editor, find one that understands your writing and helps you make it better.
Once you find these people, keep their names! Keep in contact. Thank them graciously for working with you. Return the favor whenever possible. Create an army of friends you trust to give you honest, helpful writing feedback.
How Do I Recognize Good Feedback?
Let’s go back to that first scenario where you’ve written the YA paranormal romance and gotten two very different reactions. Let’s say the first reader is a high schooler who loves reading fantasy and paranormal stories. The second reader is a writer with forty years of experience writing suspense stories.
In this case, you should definitely listen to the first reader. It might sound crazy at first to ignore all those years of experience, but the first reader is a perfect representative of your book’s target demographic. Also, they’re familiar with your genre. What they’re telling you is most likely to agree with what your future readers will tell you.
If you’ve known the second reader, the writer, for many years and have done well by listening to their feedback in the past, that might be a good reason to change your mind and listen to them. But there’s no exact formula. You simply have to weigh the different factors—whether they match your target demographic, whether they are familiar with writing or with your genre, and whether you trust them well—and go with whomever your gut tells you.
Two more things:
Even if some writing feedback is more valuable than others, all feedback is valuable. Also, getting more feedback is always better. The larger your sample size, the more accurate your picture of reader reactions is going to be. If you have some friends who are happy to read your writing, even if they have no special qualifications, go ahead and let them. Every little bit of feedback helps.
So there you have a way to identify good writing feedback and good feedback-givers. Listen to your target audience. Then listen to readers who have experience writing, editing, or reviewing books. Listen closely to those who read and write in your own genre. Finally, listen to people you trust and those who have given you good feedback in the past.
This is how I approach all my writing feedback. Hopefully, this approach will help you make the most of your writing feedback, too!
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