Sharing your work, getting feedback, and making edits are key phases of the writing process. Who should you share your work with? And when you get feedback from multiple sources, how do you decide which edits to make? Managing criticism is essential to your writing, and ultimately your publishing career.
Outside of friends and family, you should be sharing your work with peers, readers, and industry professionals. You can connect with peers in writing groups of various shapes and sizes from select circles in specialized genres for specific audiences, to large gatherings of writers from all categories. These groups often form organically from connections made in workshops, courses, or the online community, but there are plenty of public groups just a google search away as well. If you find someone whose feedback particularly resonates with you, consider engaging them as a critique partner, regularly exchanging pages for feedback.
In addition to other writers, you’ll want to get targeted feedback from readers of your genre—what we call beta readers. Again, these relationships are usually an extension of your social sphere. Consider who you know that is the appropriate audience for your work, and ask if they’d be willing to read. The kind of feedback you receive from a beta reader will likely be less specific than from your peers, with a more global feeling of the work—essentially, whether they liked it or not, and if they would buy it. But this kind of emotional feedback is equally important.
Finally, you’ll likely want a professional perspective when you are ready to submit to agents and editors. A freelance editor can help you make your work market-ready, getting you closer to your publishing goals.
But how do you effectively manage feedback from multiple sources? Especially when it can so often be conflicting? It’s important to understand that each feedback group has its own agenda: peers will largely be interested in the writing technique; readers will be most concerned with entertainment and enjoyment; while industry professionals will consider the sales potential and marketability as well as the art. All forms of feedback are relevant, but some can be more essential to your work than others. In the end, you are responsible for determining what is right for your manuscript, and preserving the integrity of your own project.
Not all criticism is constructive. Feedback can be too vague—I just don’t like it; too detailed—I’d like to know the entire origin story of this character from the beginning; or too personal—The story I want to read is blank. Constructive criticism usually takes the form of asking questions for comprehension, clarity, and consistency. It’s also important to pay attention to anything flagged as bumping the reader out of the story, and distractions in the text, even down to a language level. For example, I’m constantly jarred out of stories by culturally insensitive representations, and frequently distracted by repetitive word choice or phrasing.
One reader might love a particular character or scene, and another might hate it. So how do you reconcile conflicting criticism? You are going to have to decide for yourself—your vote is the tie-breaker. What do you think? You are always going to be your first editor. You might consider feedback from an industry professional as more effective than your best friend, but it’s also important to know when to push back on criticism. I often ask my clients for sweeping changes, removing or adding entire plot lines or characters. Please do not scrap your whole manuscript and start again! It’s important to know when to discard criticism, and make sure the story remains yours.
The most important tool in your writer’s belt for managing criticism is learning how to listen. Again, all feedback is valuable, whether you take it on or not. It is completely natural to feel protective of your work, and it is difficult not to get defensive. Hear out your readers in their feedback, and give yourself the time and space to process without needing to react immediately. Then you can accept and reject feedback as you see fit!
Writing groups, critique partners, beta readers, and freelance editors will be essential to your support network especially in the case of early critics at home. Managing criticism from those you live with can be tough, and sometimes you’ll just have to close the door and write!
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