Feedback can be rough, especially when you are first starting out. And I don’t just mean the nasty one- and two-star reviews, or snide comments on social media (I’ll get to those). I mean the constructive criticism from your beta readers, sensitivity readers, and editors.
FEEDBACK IS A DISH BEST EATEN COLD
When you first create something, it’s your baby. Whether you are blind to its faults or overly-aware of them, most constructive criticism smacks, no matter how kindly-put. The best way to resolve this with the best results is to distance yourself.
As I suggested in a previous post, after you’ve finished your manuscript, re-read, and corrected the small issues, it’s time to send it out to your beta readers. As you receive their feedback, make any changes you fully agree on. Everything you are hesitant about or anything that smacks, let it simmer for a few days or a few weeks. This allows emotional responses to take a backseat, and rational responses to take over. When you are ready, re-read the area(s) in question with the suggestions in mind. Maybe even make the changes and save it as a different file (with a very different file name!). Test the suggestion out and see how it works. Phone a friend. Test alternatives. You may find you like it better, or don’t like it at all. You may even tweak their suggestions into something you are more receptive to.
Keep in mind: You don’t have to make any changes just because someone suggests it, even if they are a professional editor! They are simply giving you food for thought.
Aside: If you receive feedback from more than one person – or from a sensitivity reader – saying that something is problematic or potentially harmful, I highly recommend changing it, whether you recognize it as problematic or not; In most situations, you won’t see the issue, as it is outside of your scope of experience.
Now, time for critical feedback: Negative reviews, nasty remarks, etc. The easy, off-handed answer is: Don’t approach negative feedback. Of course, that’s not an easy or practical answer. This [lack of] approach can also be harmful, as negative feedback, however snidely-written, can have nuggets of useful criticism. It just might be a matter of translation and extraction.
A better way of putting it should be: Don’t argue with negative feedback. Then, as Mark Twain puts it, you have two idiots instead of one.
The Benefit of Critical Reviews
Besides having some salvageable constructive criticism, one critical review can prevent more critical reviews. If someone mentions something bothered them, other readers who would have felt the same will pass on the purchase. Likewise, someone may appreciate that certain thing, and invest in your book. I’m seeing a lot of this on Diversity Twitter recently (Oh, the presence of a gay man offended you? Let me have him!).
I also know a few people who will not purchase a book unless it has a few two- or one-star reviews. It gives them a fuller picture of the benefits and flaws. Keen readers know how to vet reviews; Trust them to recognize a nasty or biased tone.
Feedback is, generally speaking, a matter of subjective taste. Good reviewers acknowledge this. For example, the Immerse or Die review for COLOSSUS from @Jefficus (which is not nasty at all, just critical):
He has a couple of pet peeves concerning sentence structures. After reading his review and re-reading the prologue, I recognized what he was referring to. I was even able to apply his feedback as I re-read Sweet NOTHING, which I had just finished. I thanked him for his feedback and told him how useful it was. (He can pry my parrallel declarations from my cold, dead hands, though! 😛 )
I am not perfect, of course. The one time I responded to negative feedback, it was a beta-reader who hoarded all of his negative feedback just so he could write a negative review, which in my eyes made it a personal issue (but probably still the wrong move). Despite that, I still took the few nuggets of potential constructive criticism and will keep them in mind for later.
Taking the constructive from the negative, in my case, is more of a defense mechanism than anything else. I have anxiety, so I tend to mull over things far too long and let them cut far too deep. Convincing myself that some good can come of it allows me to put is aside easier. (I won’t lie, that review got under my skin and effectively halted my progress on the Heather Stokes novels.)
On that same note: If someone gives you a one-star review and cites the way your characters take their coffee, you have my personal permission to dismiss that review (this is not what I originally wrote, but I’m trying to make a conscious effort to keep my posts clean).
And as always, when you read that *one* negative review, it may help to go back to the *many* positive reviews you have, or speak with a mentor, or an enthusiastic reader – or all of the above, whatever it takes. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!
I hope you were able to salvage some nuggets of useful information! If you have an experience you would like to share, or some additional advice, I would love to hear it in the comments below!
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