How to Deal with Feedback (Without Freaking Out)

Posted January 23, 2014 by Amanda Shofner in Editing / 4 Comments


If you think sending out your manuscript is the scariest part of the editing process, just wait until you start receiving feedback. That email and attachment will mock you while it sits in your inbox waiting for you to work up the nerve to open it.

But I have a little secret about feedback, and one you might want to take to heart. Feedback is a suggestion. You don’t have to take it if you don’t like it. But you do have to think critically about what the person is saying and why they’re saying it.

Not all feedback is created equal

Conflicting feedback is not only possible, it’s probable. Every reader brings his or her own assumptions, beliefs, and values to the reading experience. That means they each read a slightly different manuscript.

How they process what you wrote and the suggestions they give are all viewed through their own lens. You might have one person say, “This dialogue is hilarious!” while another says, “This dialogue makes your character look like an ass.” You might have someone say, “This passage is so right. People need to hear this!” and someone else say, “I don’t understand what you’re trying to say here.”

Who do you believe?

Maybe your character is supposed to sound like an ass. The critical feedback may be a sign that you’ve done what you intended to do. But if your character isn’t an ass, you’ll want to dig deeper. What is it about that particular passage that makes your character sound so terrible?

Feedback is a suggestion and you have control over the suggestions you take.

You don’t have to incorporate ALL suggestions into your manuscript. You’re the author, the one who knows it all and how it all fits together. And while your beta readers or content editor will point out problems you need to address, you may have other problems you decide aren’t problems at all.

“What feedback should I use?” doesn’t have a good answer

Don’t get wrapped up in the idea that what your beta readers say is the law or something you must change. Scribble notes on your printed copy. Think about what a change would do to your overall manuscript. Would it help?

Every change should make your manuscript better and stronger. That’s the standard for deciding what feedback to use. Does it make your book better? The goal of editing is precisely that: making your book the best it can be.

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4 responses to “How to Deal with Feedback (Without Freaking Out)

  1. I couldn’t have said it better! There’s a such a balance between being open to feedback and taking ALL critique as absolute truth. Everyone has different opinions on published books, so of course they’re going to have conflicting advice on your manuscript!

    One sign I look for when people critique my work is any repeated comments. If several people are bringing up the same issue, I know it’s a real problem that needs to be fixed.

    • That’s a great point, Ashley. Repeated comments are definitely a sign of something that needs work.

      I think there must be some kind of feedback progression. Where we go from not wanting feedback to feeling like we have to use it all to learning how to sift through it.

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