What Writing a Book Taught Me About Feedback

Posted May 22, 2014 by Amanda Shofner in Editing / 0 Comments

Elusive Memories

Elusive Memories would not be the book it is without the feedback it received. It morphed and changed, and though the final product is miles away from the first draft, they’re all good miles. Feedback took Elusive Memories from a bare bones story to a fleshed out story.

And I learned a few things along the way.

Mindset is everything

Many go into the editing process assuming their first draft was good and they only need to clean up a few minor errors before passing it on to someone else. And that’s the worst mindset you can have, both for the editing process and receiving feedback.

I looked at my first draft—and second draft—as the structure or framework of my story. I knew the story had a long way to go before it was publishable, and that I needed feedback (and more editing) to get it where it needed to go.

And that’s not because I’m a terrible writer. It’s because I know I’m too emotionally involved in my story to be objective and see its flaws. And I’m honest enough to admit my writing is never going to be perfect the first (or second) time around.

You should be too.

Be clear about the feedback you need—and pick the right people

During self-edits, I made notes on where I thought my story was particularly lacking and elements I had added (like new characters!). When I asked my betas for feedback, I told them to pay close attention to my self-identified weak spots.

I also said I was interested in the WHYs, not solutions. Explanations like, “I’m confused here because…” or “I don’t understand X, Y, Z” are more helpful than “You should do…” The former help me identify problems, but leave the solution up to me. The latter doesn’t identify the problem—is that section truly problematic or is the reader saying, “If I wrote it, I’d do it this way…”?

Readers read the same book differently. I got to see this in action when I combined all my comments into one document. What one reader focused on, the rest skipped over. Some feedback was more helpful than the rest, and this is usually where you have to learn how to think critically about the feedback given and whether it’s relevant.

But sometimes? Two or more readers pointed out the exact same problem. And that signaled a change was needed. But your readers need to be the type of person who isn’t afraid to be critical and who can adequately explain their thought process to you. And they’re not easy to find.

Feedback isn’t always constructive or negative

I asked my betas to use the comment function on Microsoft Word to write out what they were thinking as they read the book. This allowed me to experience the book as a reader did.

Sometimes they made connections I’d never intended them to make. Sometimes I got to laugh in evil glee over their reactions. Sometimes their comments or questions spurred me to think harder about what I wanted my novel to accomplish—to not just write a good book, but write a great one.

The feedback that was only “Grrr!” at a character’s actions? Still some of the most valuable feedback I got because it showed they were invested in the story. That validation was just as valuable as the constructive comments.

All that feedback gets overwhelming

I merged all my beta feedback into one document. The number of comments topped out at 500. Looking at my draft made me whimper. What the hell was I going to do with FIVE-HUNDRED COMMENTS?

After some much needed wallowing, I pushed through my overwhelm and categorized the comments. General thoughts or reactions that didn’t require my attention got deleted. For the remaining comments, I considered each one and whether it truly was an issue I needed to address. Not all of them were.

I learned how to take the power back and be systematic and critical about my book. Hunching over my book murmuring, “It’s fine the way it is. I don’t need to make changes” is incredibly unproductive. It’s also a lie.

Feedback makes you write a better book, but you have to be willing to listen and make changes

Some people are unwilling to listen to feedback. When you have the power to accept—or reject—feedback, it can be easy to think your readers are “reading it wrong” or “missing the point.” And while that may indeed be the case…

Your readers are representative of the people who will pick up your book later. And those people may struggle with the same issue. Your readers may be reading it wrong or missing the point because YOU didn’t communicate it clearly enough. Learning to accept you’re not as awesome as you want to be is tough.

But you’ll be a better writer when you do.

What’s your biggest struggle with feedback?

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